The format for formal international negotiations on environment and development sometimes prevents negotiators from truly listening to each other and adapt pre-existing positions to realize constructive conflict resolution. In this paper we present and analyse “Multi-Actor Dialogue Seminars” (MADS) as an approach to contribute to transformative social learning and conflict resolution, and the contribution to tangible and intangible outcomes in formal negotiations. Unlike negotiations, the objective of MADS is not to agree on a text, but to identify areas of agreement and disagreement, build trust and understanding and identify policy options that are tailored to different cultural-political and value systems. As a case study we use the breakdown of the negotiations at the formal Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Conference in 2010 regarding “innovative financial mechanisms,” and subsequent two international Quito Dialogues using the MADS approach. Through a composite of methods this article reveals the effects of the Quito Dialogues on formal CBD negotiations. The Quito Dialogues contributed to bringing actors out of their deadlock and thereby paving the way for constructive results in the formal CBD negotiations, evident by references in CBD Decisions adopted by 196 CBD Parties. We discuss key design and implementation factors which were decisive for these effects including the importance of a bridging organization, trust building, exploration of both convergences and divergences, involvement of participants with diverse and conflicting views early in the planning, promotion of active listening and addressing diverse knowledge systems and power asymmetries.
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