The facilitation is crucial in the multi-stakeholder negotiations

The Mutual Gain Approach is usually employed to reach a consensus. Consensus, on the other hand, is the way to find solutions for multi-stakeholder issues to achieve the lasting agreement. There are some necessary elements to apply to the mutual gain approach and to reach the consensus: first, the intention or the will must be in place to initiate a process with the participation of all interested parties; second, the design of the participatory process and the third, facilitation of the process by a skilled facilitator. It may be easier to talk about all these in countries where the mechanisms of democracy are well established, and channels of participation are open to all the people. But it is more difficult to find such examples in the countries like mine, where heated negotiations are seen only in carpet sales in the covered bazar. I realized this fact most strikingly when I was adapting Lawrence Susskind’s book “Breaking Robert’s Rules” for Turkey; because it was possible to find examples of such multi-stakeholder negotiation processes only within the framework of the projects financed by the international organizations. I personally undertook facilitation in some of these processes. One of them, which enabled me to gain quite an experience in facilitation, was the negotiations in the participatory process that I coordinated in a region and personally facilitated within the framework of the Project entitled Yildiz Mountains Project in short. It was about the preparation of the management plan, which was required by UNESCO to be the consensus output of the participatory process, to establish the Yildiz Mountains (in the Thrache region of Turkey) as a Biosphere, in which the protection of biodiversity is reconciled with the development needs of the local and wider community, while ensuring the ecological integrity of ecosystems remains intact for the benefit of nature and people.

There were 31 settlements in the project area. Most of these were small forest villages with a population of 100-300 people, far from the city, without internet and intercity transportation services. Another project had been carried out before to protect the biodiversity in the region. A great reaction developed in the public against that project; because there were many measures proposed in the project that would deny accessing the forest to the local people, who make their living from the forest.

When I had involved in the Project, I had never been in the area before; so, I did not know the people living in the region, and their local culture. As an urban and highly educated woman from Ankara, who has never lived in a rural area before, I had concerns about how to facilitate the process in this region where the negative reactions to the previous project were fresh in the minds. These challenges were a reminder of “life is not as easy as the games we played in the MGA Seminars”.

Establishing the area as a biosphere and preparing a management plan were very abstract issues in the face of very concrete needs of the local people such as cutting more trees to earn more, getting financial assistance for fertilizer, fuel and animal feed, finding a girl to marry their sons in the villages whose population is decreasing due to urban migration. It was difficult for me to explain the scope of the project and it was not easy for them to understand as well. Moreover, even heeding a woman from the capital of the country was hard for the villagers, especially for men. Therefore, it was critical to build the trust of the people in the region.

The process had to be well designed and well implemented, with constant feedback. Since the number of settlements was high and the duration of the project was short, I had shared the task of facilitating the meetings to be held in each village with my other two facilitator colleagues.

Due to the culture of the local population, women could not speak in front of men and express their opinions. That’s why we held separate meetings with men and women in each village. First, we tried to listen to them and understand their needs. Then we made it clear which of these needs and demands we could not meet. However, we promised that at the end of the project, we would ensure them to sit at the table with the forest administration, who was considered as the boss by the villagers and against whom they felt weak, to negotiate about the activities that would protect the natural values in the region while increasing the income of the people; so that they would decide together how the area would be managed. And we did how we had promised. Telling them clearly what we can and cannot do from the beginning at the beginning of the project built the trust for us.

The villagers worked all day: men in the forest, women in the fields, rearing animals, housekeeping, cooking and childcare. That’s why we held the meetings at the most convenient time for them: in the afternoon for women, after the evening prayer for men. So, we had to hold meetings in these villages, which are 1-1,5 hours driving distance from the center, after 19:00-20:00 in the evening.

Some of the women were illiterate. To include them in the process, we requested them to express themselves with the pictures they made on flipcharts.

To engage the children of the region with the project, we visited primary schools and asked the students in each school to draw a picture depicting the values of the region on a single canvas with finger paints. Finally, we organized a competition among these paintings produced by primary schools and opened them up to the public’s vote.

The project was completed with the outputs of a draft management plan and a proposed management board which were agreed upon by consensus after heated negotiations.

Has a biosphere been declared in the region? No! Because the government has never submitted the prepared application file to UNESCO. Has all this facilitation, participation, negotiation, and consensus building process went down the drain? No! Because in this process, the local people became stronger; established connections with each other; developed sustainable relationships and networks.

Sema Alpan Atamer