Intercultural dialogue is framed as an alternative policy response to globalisation-induced challenges of cultural diversity. It gained momentum as an integration instrument in the 2000s, superseding multiculturalism and assimilation-oriented policies, which were declared as failed.  A number of international organisations, including the EU, the Council of Europe and the United Nations, started championing intercultural dialogue formats for cultural diversity management.

Intercultural dialogue is a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage, on the basis of mutual understanding and respect.Since its inception within international and inter-governmental agencies, such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe, intercultural dialogue  has been employed to advance the agendas of social cohesion, inter-group solidarity, and intercultural understanding.

In its influential 2013 report 'Intercultural Competencies: conceptual and operational framework' UNESCO approaches intercultural dialogue as assuming "that participants agree to listen to and understand multiple perspectives, including even those held by groups or individuals with whom they disagree". 

Intercultural dialogue encourages readiness to question well established value-based certainties by bringing reason, emotion and creativity into play in order to find new shared understandings.




The CoE White Paper On Intercultural Dialogue

In its White Paper the Council of Europe states that intercultural dialogue is “an  open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups belonging to  different cultures that leads to a deeper understanding of the other’s global  perception”. It also suggests that the crucial challenge lies in the identification of the  conditions, or “enabling factors”, that lead to a meaningful process; among these, it  mentions the need to ensure the equal dignity of all those involved and their  voluntary engagement in dialogue, with an open, curious and committed mindset  and an absence of a desire to “win”.

European Year of Intercultural Dialogue

The European Union designated the year 2008 as the European Year of Intercultural  Dialogue, highlighting the value of active citizenship, and it supported the launch of  the civil society Platform for Intercultural Europe, by the European Culture  Foundation and Culture Action Europe, to promote a European community that  values its diverse people and enables their free, full and equal participation in  society.

United Nations’ 2030 Development Agenda

The United Nations’ 2030 Development Agenda pledges “to foster intercultural  understanding, tolerance, mutual respect and an ethic of global citizenship and  shared responsibility” and recognizes “that all cultures and civilizations can  contribute to, and are crucial enablers of, sustainable development”. This is indeed  the first document by the international community that acknowledges that  sustainable development can only be achieved if there is a sense of global  citizenship, based on respect and tolerance.

Following up closely the authentic, local, community responses to the COVID-19 crisis in each of the 14 partner countries across Europe, the project put an additional focus to the initially planned local, national and European debates, seeking to shed light on the new context in which the intercultural dialogue agenda in European towns is being pursued.

In doing so, the project partnership added more activities that address the newest challenges that European towns face in facilitating intercultural dialogue and inclusion of migrants and minorities in times of the socio-economic crisis, caused by the pandemic:

  • 1) The project Network partners debate the impact of COVID-19 on intercultural dialogue and community relations;
  • 2) The Network follows on the local creative community responses to these challenges, in particular - the intercultural dialogue and inclusion initiatives, conducted in digital environment;
  • 3) the Network shifts part of the debates during the hybrid international events, the online citizens debates and the local project events towards discussing the new context of diversity management as well as the challenges and opportunities that the European towns and citizens face during the pandemic.
  • 4) The project partners bring up an additional focus to the design the Network`s Policy Recommendations on effective local and European policy responses to exclusion and marginalization of migrants and minorities, via intercultural dialogue and strategies for inclusion.
  •  5) the Intercultural Dialogue Network debates on the potential for intercultural dialogue to contribute meaningfully to a post COVID-19 context in order to support and further improve intercultural relations and solidarity that have been impacted by the pandemic.


The challenge for ICD in the socio-cultural context of COVID-19 is that not only are these objectives constrained due to lockdown rules and the restrictions on almost all forms of direct human contact and mobility, but also that the pandemic itself has unfortunately generated new forms of ethno-cultural racism, intensified inequalities, and further exposed systematic structural discrimination.

In the context of COVID-19 and its emphasis on physical distancing and immobility, the practice of ICD, in its structured and unstructured forms, has shifted mainly to online platforms.This shift has facilitated and maintained much needed conversations across cultural, religious, ethnic and socio-economic lines. The need for dialogue during COVID-19 has become even more pronounced as the pandemic not only exposed vulnerabilities and inequalities but also caused new forms of discrimination that require urgent action by governments, civil society activists, and health practitioners.