CCOP Workshop Discusses Online Engagement and Track 2 Diplomacy

Ottawa Dialogue joined the first online edition of the Convener’s Community of Practice (CCOP) Workshop, co-hosted by Dr. Esra Cuhadar, Dr. Peter Jones, Dr. Susan Allen, and Jonathan Cohen on September 10th 2020.

CCOP is a forum for practitioners in the Track II field to exchange views and collaborate on developing best practices. It serves as a space where people who convene dialogues can talk about their work, discuss challenges and successes, get feedback and find community. This online experience-sharing meeting allowed practitioners to engage in open and confidential conversations on adapting their work to a virtual environment in a short period of time, and carrying out dialogue projects under the challenging circumstances of the global pandemic.

A few common concerns were highlighted, such as the difficulty in building trust between opposing parties while navigating concerns over the security and confidentiality of the online space. This is true in already-existing processes, but especially in new ones, because the rigid structures of online meetings do not allow for meaningful relationships to be created between participants.

While virtual spaces can create new opportunities to flatten power dynamics, they can also reinforce the formality of the process, which can in turn accentuate pre-existing hierarchies. Unequal access to Internet among participants, uneven speaking times, and varying availabilities to engage in dialogue in these uncertain times affect group processes and raise questions about inclusivity

From these discussions also emerged a sense that practitioners need to think about new criteria and new ways of approaching the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning frameworks of these dialogue processes. This could be done by finding different ways of showing engagement and communicating the value of what is being done to funders.

A key problem discussed is that of security. While different systems have security features, no online platform can be made completely secure. While it is fundamental of Track Two facilitation to try to create a “safe space,” it may be necessary in this context to admit that this is not currently completely possible. Instead, it may be necessary to try to create “brave spaces” while acknowledging that we must strive to ease the burden this might represent on participants’ shoulders.