During the talks, the larger parties were entitled to three seats at the table, supported by three back-up members; whereas the smaller parties were allocated two seats with three in back-up. For the purposes of voting, however, the parties were entitled to all the seats obtained through the constituency elections in addition to their two automatic 'top up' seats. While the other delegations at the table were overwhelmingly – and initially exclusively – male, the NIWC delegation was exclusively female. These demographics meant that male voices were heard more frequently during the negotiations. The NIWC delegates challenged this dynamic by ensuring that their perspectives were heard and by confronting delegates who monopolised the debate.
The NIWC was careful to ensure that both nationalist and unionist women were at the table at all times. The team of ten women who supported them with political advice and analysis was similarly balanced. Delegates were selected at an open meeting of the NIWC, drawn from those who had been on the regional candidate list. One hurdle the delegates encountered was the attitude of the other elected representatives. The NIWC delegates had assumed initially that they would be treated with respect as equal negotiating partners. Although some grew to respect the NIWC's contributions, others showed disdain. The delegates learned to develop a 'thick skin' and not to take rejection personally. Instead they tried to maintain their focus on the bigger picture and to make strategic allegiances when and where possible.
The NIWC concentrated initially on making recommendations for procedural issues, such as amendments to the Rules of Procedure that governed the day-to-day operation of the talks and suggestions for agenda items and the order in which they should be discussed. They were sensitive to how these matters linked with process issues and were attentive to the underlying relationships between participants. They worked to promote an inclusive process and to prevent a small number of delegates getting drawn into a destructive spiral of blame that could harm the general negotiation ethos. They were later able to broaden the negotiating agenda to include such issues as victims' rights and reconciliation. The NIWC produced high-quality position papers and tried to model a fresh approach to politics based on cooperation, non-competitiveness and a willingness to share ideas. While most parties did not regard the NIWC as a political threat, some of the nationalist mainstream politicians may have perceived the NIWC policies as encroaching on their terrain, which had traditionally been based on strong advocacy for human rights and equality. Thus, even though the NIWC included many women from a unionist background, the agenda it agreed and articulated was one that would be recognised as more traditionally nationalist – at least until the smaller loyalist parties also began to adopt this political ground.
They remained true to their NGO roots and kept their feet firmly in both the world of electoral politics and in the world of public activism. This happened on two levels. First, there was a monthly meeting of the full membership of the Coalition. They discussed positions on forthcoming agenda items and provided information to the membership about developments in the political process. The meetings provided opportunities for the membership to inform the representatives of their perspectives on the process. Because the membership was bi-communal, they provided guidance on approaches acceptable to either or both communities. Second, the NIWC maintained regular contact with a range of community and NGO leaders on specific issues under discussion. The NIWC was careful not to portray itself as having all the answers and gave serious consideration to the views of those consulted. These inputs from both the membership and from these networks meant that the NIWC was confident that its positions could command cross-community support.
After a year, the NIWC decided to formalise some of its decision-making procedures and confirm its status as a political party. It developed a constitution that provided for the annual election of a 12 -15 member executive committee to make policy decisions, which consisted of two representatives from each county plus the publicly elected representatives as ex-officio members. Additionally, there was an option to co-opt additional members if necessary to maintain the cross-community balance of members. Monthly meetings continued to be open to the full membership, which supplemented the decision-making process as necessary.