Roundtables: transparency in times of polarization


For its monitoring task, the House of Representatives has various instruments at its disposal. The knowledge about these instruments is decreasing and a public profile is becoming more important for MPs. Partly because of this, the House is increasingly turning to instruments that are visible and easily deployable. This is clearly evident when looking at the number of motions, the implementation of which has been rising for years. The report of the Van der Staaij working group on the working methods of the House, which recommended, among other things, attaching more value to promises and fewer motions, has not been able to turn this tide. This is one of the conclusions in the final monitor of the same working group.

Control from committees

The working group recommended organizing more control from the House committees, including through hearings and roundtable discussions that prepare future plenary debates. This seems to be happening: roundtable discussions and hearings are increasingly being used to prepare the debate on policy or legislation and to ask experts for their perspectives. An example is the roundtable discussion on Tailor-made agreements with industry, about public-private investments in sustainability. This conversation was a clear example of respectful dialogue between business, civil society, government and the House. Here, an informed discussion was held where different perspectives were given space, the number of political expressions “for one’s own audience” was limited, and questions were asked about how standing (government) policy could be improved.

Instrument increasingly political

Many roundtable discussions are amiable. However, it is not always a neutral conversation to gather information and hear multiple perspectives. In fact, roundtable discussions and hearings are also tools that can shape perceptions – and the members of the House are happy to use them for that purpose. Particularly on controversial issues, the roundtable is increasingly being used to put organizations on notice. This does not help the willingness to participate in such discussions and thus the societal dialogue on certain topics.

On the other hand, the information that invitees share with the House is often used to challenge a minister later in a committee debate, think of today’s hearing on New Measures on Grid Congestion where information was gathered for a committee debate on the same topic on Wednesday of this week. In those cases, organizations sometimes find themselves on the very side of the MP in debate with a minister. Finally, for companies, industry associations and civil society organizations, participation is also an opportunity for mutual understanding and better scrutiny of policy.

Participation: yes or no

Without reputational risks, then, participation seems like a no-brainer. In reality, politicians are increasingly trying to confirm an existing image, so there is not always room for nuance, and thus there are risks. In addition, for invitees, much preparation goes into coordinating with internal and external stakeholders, such as the trade or professional association, industry peers, or other stakeholders. Also, a roundtable discussion takes place in a political current event. These can change from day to day. Think of a MP presenting an initiative proposal in the run-up to the round table discussion, or a critical stakeholder seeking out the media on the day of a hearing.

Nowadays, the business community is increasingly expected to be socially engaged, and a roundtable discussion is an excellent opportunity to show that you operate transparently, have a story to tell and want to build a bridge between business, society and politics. Declining an invitation carries risks. In principle, a reputation as a party that puts up a wall and avoids dialogue is not desirable. Besides: those not at the table are on the menu.

The importance of good preparation

So for organizations, good preparation is important, this way misunderstandings are avoided and the chance of unwanted perceptions is at its lowest. In most cases, preparation consists of three parts: an advance position paper, an opening statement and answering questions.

Good preparation brings peace of mind. Technical information is often incorporated into a position paper so that MPs can read it calmly in advance and do not have to start “from scratch” when asking questions. At the start of a hearing or roundtable discussion, an opening statement is often used to give a first impression of (the position of) the organization. This is because there is room here to outline a historical perspective and tell why your organization has added social value or why the issue under discussion is so important. Finally, there are the questions from the House: the most political part of the conversation. Questions can sometimes be politically colored or biased, and good preparation can help answer questions.

Also in 2024

This year, roundtables and hearings on key issues will be back on the agenda. After all, there are many complex policy challenges at play on which opinions vary widely. Think of nitrogen, water quality, climate, drug policy and artificial intelligence. It is important for companies, civil society organizations and industry associations to take invitations to the House seriously – because it is an opportunity to take joint responsibility in shaping and monitoring sound policy.

"This year, roundtables and hearings on key issues will be back on the agenda of the Dutch House of Representatives. After all, there are many complex policy challenges at play on which opinions vary widely."

Public matters

Interested in our service? Contact us.