Danish Dialogues: The Danish-Arab Partnership Programme after Ten Years.March 15, 2013
Over the past decade we’ve heard a lot about the virtues of dialogue in public diplomacy. Dialogue is considered to be both pragmatically and ethically superior to one way models of communication. In consequence I was interested to read Karina Pultz’s paper in the Hague Journal of Diplomacy on a Danish dialogue initiative in the middle east. This looks at the results of a project where a Danish NGO worked with Egyptian and Jordanian partners to appoint 38 ‘dialogue ambassadors’. Working in groups they conducted 71 dialogue sessions with young people in the three countries. These activities involved over 1400 people. The format of the sessions involved an introductory activities to get the group to interact followed by discussions around the issue of the Danish cartoons.
Pultz interviewed some of the participants before and after the sessions and found that they were effective in improving creating more nuanced understanding of the other side in the dialogue and also in causing participants to reflect on their own beliefs. A valuable insight came from one session where the participants did not have sufficient time for the preliminary interaction activities, here responses to the dialogue and to the partners were decidedly negative. In the absence of prior interaction the participants were less willing to listen to the other side’s point of view.
My concern with this paper was that Pultz doesn’t say much about the context of this individual project which led me to wonder what policy impact it could actually have? Hence I went digging for a bit more background.
This project was part of the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme. Dating from 2003 this was an attempt to counter the ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative. The two strategic objectives were to promote reform and democratization in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and to promote ‘dialogue, understanding and cooperation’ between MENA and Denmark. The method for doing this was to develop partnership based projects between Danish NGOs and partners from the region. The initial themes for projects were taken from the Arab Human Development report of 2002: human rights and good governance; women’s empowerment and gender equality and knowledge based societies. Initially the programme focused on Jordan, Morocco and Yemen but has expanded to include other countries in the region. In the wake of the Arab Spring new themes have been added to include explicit democracy support activities and a focus on economic development and job creation. Initially funding was running at about £10m annually but in the next funding period it’s going to be more than £30m – so it’s a considerable amount of money.
If you’re interested here’s an extract from a review of the programme by the Danish Public Accounts Committee from 2010 (unfortunately the full evaluations of the programme are in Danish only), that report noted a certain lack of clarity about the way that programme was being monitored which probably accounts for this document setting out objectives and guidelines. Here’s the latest strategic framework for the programme covering the period 2013-16. Finally there’s a paper by Wegter and Pultz looking at how professionals involved in the programme have been affected by it. One valuable aspect of this study is that they actually ask the question about whether there is any impact beyond those directly involved in the programme via the social network and the extent to which permanent relationships are formed after the end of the formal project period.
The DAPP is an interesting case study in that it works through NGOs, the budget is managed by the development agency of the foreign ministry, and there’s an explicit emphasis on dialogue. Over the years that it’s been running it has involved hundreds of organizations both in Denmark and the Middle East so it makes use of several of the strategies that have been advocated in the PD literature. In my next post I’m going to write about a couple of recent reports which raise questions about this kind of project based, NGO strategy for democracy support work and reading between the lines the DAPP may show some of the same symptoms.