Principles of intercultural dialogue in non-formal learning activities
Intercultural dialogue is a process that takes place between people with different backgrounds. It is guided by readiness, respect and openness; it is a dialogue between equals. The role of non-formal learning/education with respect to intercultural dialogue is to create spaces and conditions for it to happen, to support participants in understanding and overcoming their stereotypes and prejudices, in being open and motivated to cooperate for a better, fairer and more inclusive society. Intercultural dialogue enables people with different perspectives and worldviews to work and live together. Intercultural dialogue and related concepts are explained below from the perspective non-formal learning/education activities.
Intercultural dialogue is defined as an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different background, on the basis of mutual understanding and respect. The ultimate purpose of this exchange is to create a cooperative and willing environment for overcoming political and social tensions.
In an intercultural setting, the cultural, religious, socio-economic and political backgrounds are the so-called ‘differences’, while the common ground is the inner-readiness and openness to deal with these differences through dialogue. The focus here is neither on agreement nor on ‘finding the truth’, but on understanding different perspectives, on active and respectful listening and commitment to human rights and social action.
Often people are inclined to take the easy way. In the case of intercultural dialogue this means maintaining a superficial level of interaction through creating an environment of respect and exchange of views, by avoiding ’hot’ topics, fields of tensions, core problems in the society, major contradictions, etc. However, in order to be meaningful, intercultural dialogue needs to go beyond solely celebrating diversity and cultural heritage to creating spaces and conditions for sincere sharing and even for challenging the values and assumptions that shape our understanding of the world, our perceptions, our attitudes, our behaviours as well as the established social order.
Intercultural dialogue is not only a platform for communication; it is a means for learning about each other and learning from one another. It is an ongoing process that can contribute to social transformation, to creating a better world, a world of equal opportunities and social justice.
In this perspective the main dimensions of intercultural dialogue are: respectful sharing of opinions, appreciation of diversity, meaningful interaction, dialogue between equals, learning about each other, learning from one another, and social transformation.
The approach to intercultural dialogue presented in this tool is a human rights-based approach. The focus is not only on culture and cultural differences, but on identity in its broader sense, on social and political context and power relations. Culture is seen as a dynamic and multi-faceted process that is influenced by the interaction between people. People are not seen as simply members of cultural groups. Other aspects like gender, sexuality, social and political context in which we live play an equally important role in shaping our identity. Participants in intercultural learning activities are not seen as ambassadors of their countries; they are not responsible for the decisions of their governments and are not expected to behave according to ‘their cultures’.
In intercultural dialogue, we should not suspend our feelings and opinions and become neutral, but we should suspend our value judgements. While we need a clear perspective in a complex system on the basis of our individual or collective interests, this excessive need for stability often leads us to forget about other combinations of interests and other possible perspectives on the same issue at stake. When we learn to suspend our value judgements we are more open to understand the fact that the world can be viewed from different perspectives. There is not just ‘one truth’; people have ‘different truths’ which are not necessarily antagonistic but which are contextualised and should be interpreted in the context in which they appear. The purpose of intercultural dialogue is hence not to find the absolute truth, but to find common grounds for cooperation, for living together in a fairer society.
Failing to understand the global interconnectedness, the more complex cultural, social and political context in which we live, can lead to intercultural misunderstandings and conflicts. Intercultural dialogue serves both as a tool to prevent conflicts and to engage in conflict transformation. Non-formal learning activities create safe but challenging spaces in which learning can happen, in order for participants to develop their intercultural competence and more specifically, develop certain attitudes, skills and knowledge related to it, including:
- knowledge about the historical and cultural background of the people around us, about the social and political contexts in which we live;
- attitudes like respect for otherness, inner-readiness, openness and curiosity, empathy and solidarity; and,
- skills like critical thinking and multi-perspectivity, the ability to understand how stereotypes function, in order to avoid using them, and the ability to confront prejudices and discrimination when we encounter them.
These attitudes, skills and knowledge are qualities that empower and enable people to live in a contemporary and a pluralistic society, to engage in respectful communication, to interact with each other as equals, to understand different worldviews and to contribute to social transformation. Criteria 9, 10 and 11 refer specifically to intercultural competence.
Intercultural competence is not automatically acquired, but can be developed though learning processes, both in formal and non-formal learning/education settings, as well as in informal ones. This is not to say that we can only engage in intercultural dialogue after we completely develop our intercultural competence. The learning process needs to be understood as a long-term one, which can be developed in organised settings or through daily interactions and in which the learners’ contribution is crucial for achieving individual learning objectives. Therefore, all of us have, at one moment in time, a certain level of this competence, while there is always room for improvement. Engaging in intercultural dialogue and social transformation can help us further develop our competence.
In order to organise non-formal learning/education activities that contribute to intercultural dialogue, taking into account the principles mentioned above, the tool of indicators for intercultural dialogue is developed around the three main phases of an activity (preparation, implementation, and follow-up), can serve as a reference point.
The intercultural dimension is transversal – throughout the activity – but it can be also addressed in dedicated sessions. This document refers both to activities which focus mainly on intercultural dialogue and to activities that focus on other topics, but which embed an intercultural perspective.
In the preparation phase of non-formal education activities the focus is on setting objectives, selecting and preparing participants, providing a strong team of trainers and planning the programme. Looking at these aspects through the intercultural lenses means specifically mentioning the intercultural dialogue in the objectives, ensuring a certain level of diversity of participants, involving trainers that are able to facilitate intercultural learning processes and plan activities that go beyond the ‘celebration of diversity’ to tackling stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination and other challenges of diversity.
In the implementation phase of non-formal education activities the main focus is on creating learning environments that are both safe and challenging, on delivering relevant contents and contributing to the development of competences. Some of the indicators may seem repetitive to those already mentioned in the preparation phase but they should be considered as a way to check if what was planned actually happens. With regards to intercultural dialogue, besides the aspects mentioned in the preparation phase, the focus should be on linking local and global aspects, while ensuring transferability to the daily reality of participants; allowing them to explore aspects of identity and power relations while developing skills like critical thinking and multi-perspectivity.
In the follow-up phase the focus is on reflecting over the actual output and continuing the development of competences, multiplying the learning and creating/ consolidating partnerships and networks. These aims are very relevant with regards to intercultural dialogue as a continuous process that goes beyond the scope of a single non-formal education activity. Therefore, transferability of intercultural learning is a key aspect to ensure long-term intercultural dialogue in different societies and settings.
Needless to say, all aspects and all phases of an activity need to be prepared beforehand. The criteria and indicators are, however, not all mentioned in the preparation phase. They are mentioned in the phases in which they are more likely to appear, but they should be planned ahead in order to ensure a high quality of the activity. As for any type of educational activity, not only those related to intercultural dialogue, it is good to have a very detailed plan, but at the same time to be flexible and ready to change and adapt certain aspects in the light of the dynamic of the activity and the group of participants.
It is worth noting that the tool of criteria and indicators presented below address only aspects related to intercultural dialogue in non-formal education activities, assuming that the trainers / facilitators / organisers are familiar with the principles of non-formal education in general. Some specific examples and further clarifications are provided in order to facilitate understanding. All the criteria and indicators were created based on long exchanges and discussions among experts. So even if they might seem very straight forward to those involved in the discussion, they might not be so easy to understand for someone who sees them for the first time. This is why you are encouraged to read the examples provided for some of the indicators and also to come up with you own examples and share them in your community of practice.
 White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue: www.coe.int/t/dg4/intercultural/source/white%20paper_final_revised_en.pdf
 For more information concerning the definition of Intercultural Competence:
- Who are the Guidelines for?
- What previous competences are needed to use this tool?
- How to approach this document?
- Principles of intercultural dialogue in non-formal learning activities
- Background information and related resources
- Indicators for intercultural dialogue in non-formal education activities
- Reflection page