Stakeholder Dialogue for Inclusive Development: A Critical Assessment of Misleading Functions



Dialogue as a concept has been brought to organizational discourse as a promising means for developing different communicative processes between an organization and its stakeholders, and advancing corporate responsibility (CR) and global governance. The more positive effects and outcomes of different dialogical processes have been modelled and reported as the more popular the concept has become. Popularization, however, may lead to selective adoption of assumptions and eradicating the historical roots and standpoints of the actual concept.  We therefore problematize the prevalent adoption of the concept of stakeholder dialogue by drawing on two distinctly different theoretical foundations on dialogue, namely critical pedagogy of Paolo Freire (1970) and deliberative democracy of Jürgen Habermas (1975: 1984). According to our view, the concept of dialogue embraces two different set of functions that are currently combined in stakeholder dialogue models used to promote such activity. The two functions we introduce are a learning function of dialogue and a decision-making function, and we argue that awareness and explicitness of these functions is essential especially in the developing country context. Two conclusions are drawn: First, we call for a more explicit differentiation between the two different functions of dialogue within the current CR discourse. Second, we argue that the current furthering of decision-making based dialogue in connection with global governance mechanisms should be treated with substantive scepticism and that, particularly in the developing country context. We therefore bring forth situational attributes that warrant consideration if and when promoting a certain type of dialogue in a given context.