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Boesten, Ida, 2021. Neutrality: a cornerstone of facilitation practice? : analysing the use of neutrality within facilitation of sustainability dialogue through identity construction. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Urban and Rural Development



There is a growing need for sustainability transitions in the world. Inclusive environmental governance could be a tool to enable these and is therefore getting increasingly popular. The use of stakeholder and citizen dialogues is recognized to be fundamental to strategies for inclusive environmental governance. Here, facilitators come in to elicit equitable and effective dialogues through structuring diverging interests and thoughts together with the participants. Facilitators hold a special place in the process and several scholars identified tensions that the facilitator consequently faces within the practice. To enable the desired dialogue, they must be able to switch smoothly between different roles; On the one hand, the responsibility for a fair process and, on the other hand, ensuring that the values of the participants are sufficiently acknowledged in the dialogue. There is a common understanding about that a facilitator should be neutral, while at the same time actively making sure that all parties get to have a voice in the process. This causes for tensions in the identities of the facilitators. The potential of facilitation is in the effective representation of resource users’ interests in the deliberative process which in turn can contribute to more equitable decisions on resource allocation, access and management rights. Though, the confusion about neutrality tends to make it more difficult to fulfil this potential.

The role of neutrality seems to be underexplored in studies on facilitation practice. This thesis research dives deeper into notions about neutrality that underpin facilitation practice and therefore addresses the research question: How is the concept of neutrality used in the practice of facilitation for sustainability dialogues? This research contributes to the practice by deconstructing the use of the concept of neutrality within facilitation practice for sustainability dialogue and further uncovering tensions with regards to neutrality.

Drawing on an interpretative approach, a frame analysis has been carried out on facilitator identities through facilitation guidance documents and interview data from experienced facilitators active in the field. The analysis revealed four identity frames connected to neutrality, namely the facilitator as mediator, the facilitator as transparent practitioner, the facilitator as value-neutral expert and the facilitator as a multi-partial process guide. Further analysis of underlying ideas and assumptions underpins the conclusion that neutrality is a central concept in facilitation practice. The findings show that two identity frames subscribe to and use neutrality when facilitators explain who they are, namely that of the mediator and that of the value-neutral expert. Contrarily, in the other two identity frames, that of the transparent practitioner and that of the multi-partial process guide, facilitators distinguish their identities by contrasting what they want to be, with neutrality.

The value in this thesis lies in its potential for the findings to be used by facilitators as a language for reflection and explaining choices. If facilitators were to use the findings in clarifying processes and establishing trust, this in turn may lead to more equitable decisions.

Main title:Neutrality: a cornerstone of facilitation practice?
Subtitle:analysing the use of neutrality within facilitation of sustainability dialogue through identity construction
Authors:Boesten, Ida
Supervisor:Westin, Martin
Examiner:Calderon, Camilo
Volume/Sequential designation:UNSPECIFIED
Year of Publication:2021
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:NM026 Environmental communication and management - Master's programme
Supervising department:(NL, NJ) > Dept. of Urban and Rural Development
(LTJ, LTV) > Dept. of Urban and Rural Development
Keywords:facilitation, neutrality, equity, frames, sustainability dialogue, conflict management, planning process, equality, trust, deliberation, multi-partiality, reflective practice, deliberative democracy
Permanent URL:
Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Nature conservation and land resources
Deposited On:02 Jul 2021 08:35
Metadata Last Modified:02 Jul 2021 12:09

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