OTPIC Officially Retired
As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.
The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.
Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy, "Guidelines for Making the Program Work," chapt. in Managing Public Disputes, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988), pp. 157-196.
Carpenter and Kennedy offer guidelines for avoiding procedural problems when managing public disputes. Their guidelines address six basic activities which will likely play a role in any dispute resolution process. These activities include making meetings productive, managing activities between meetings, involving constituents, keeping the public informed, dealing with the media, and using third parties.
Although the meeting may be managed by one of the parties, the manager must be free to concentrate his or her attention on running the meeting. An agenda, listing the items to be discussed and the time each item is expected to take, should be made available to all participants. The manager should then keep the discussion focused on the current agenda item. He or she should limit overly long participant speeches, and keep participants from jumping ahead to later agenda items.
The manager should also watch for misunderstanding or confusion. When a participant seems confused, it is helpful for the manager to step in and ask the speaker for further clarification. When a speaker is having difficulty expressing a point, the manager should try to draw them out and further explore their idea. Summarizing the previous discussion can also clarify and unify the participants' understanding of the meetings progress. The manager is also responsible for seeing that an accurate record is kept of the meeting. It can be very helpful to keep a running record of key ideas and agreements displayed where all the participants can see and refer back to it.
Allowing a few participants to dominate discussion can be detrimental. The meeting manager should ensure that all parties have an opportunity to speak. Quiet people should be asked directly whether they would like to comment on the discussion. Establishing and enforcing discussion ground rules helps to keep the discussion fair. The manager should also monitor the meeting dynamics. He or she should keep a positive attitude and reassure participants when they become frustrated with the process.
The manager is well placed to identify problems with the discussion process. When there seems to be a problem, the manager should describe the problem as she sees it to the participants. If the participants agree with the manager's assessment of the problem, they should work together to find an alternative process. A topic may need to be broken down further, the group may need a brief recess, or perhaps the issue should be referred to a subcommittee. When the participants seem near an agreement, the manager may need to press for closure. The manager should write down the precise terms of the agreement, and get an explicit signature of agreement from every participant.
Activities Between Meetings
What happens between meetings is as important as what happens in meetings. Between sessions the manager should meet with the participants to check for any problems which did not get expressed in the meeting. The manager should also take steps to correct any misunderstandings which occurred during the meeting. When new information arises between meetings, the manager should make sure that all the participants receive that information before the next session begins. The inter-session is also a good time to test new ideas. Parties may be more willing to propose and consider new ideas informally and privately. The manager should ask the participants privately for any new ideas and introduce new ideas to the other parties informally and anonymously. The manager may also use the time between sessions to arrange for technical experts to explain and clarify an issue for the parties' next meeting. Finally, the manager must plan the next meeting. She must write up an agenda, assign responsibility for agenda items, and secure the appropriate resource materials and personnel.
To be effective, a negotiated settlement must have the support of the relevant constituencies. The authors list seven factors which affect the ability of negotiators to adequately represent their constituencies. First, broad or large coalitions are more difficult to represent than smaller, more homogeneous, groups. Second, groups are easier to represent when they have capable, accepted leaders. Third, the nature of the group's decision-making process plays a role. Fourth, the easier it is to communicate with the group's membership, the easier it is to represent them. Fifth, outside influences on the group need to be assessed, since they can either help or hinder the negotiations. Sixth, constituencies are more likely to accept an agreement when they understand and have had some experience with the negotiation process generally. Seventh, how much risk does the negotiator incur in representing their group?
Managers can help build effective, supportive constituencies. Managers should ensure that all the separate interests in a dispute are represented, even if that means adding more participants to the negotiations. They should encourage and assist the participants in keeping their constituencies informed by creating regular and predictable means of communication with the larger groups. Constituencies also need to be educated with regards to the principles of negotiation, so that they are less likely to rush the process, to become frustrated with the pace, or feel insecure about the fairness of the process. The use of task groups is another way of keeping the constituency involved in and informed about the negotiation process. Support for a representative can be undermined by disagreements within their group,so managers also need to respond promptly to resolve disagreements within groups. Meetings should be scheduled to allow enough time for the representatives to communicate with their constituencies between sessions. Managers must be particularly cautious to maintain good constituent communication toward the end of negotiations. Caught up in the excitement of the approaching settlement, negotiators may press on to a settlement without taking the time to keep their constituencies informed and involved.
Informing the Public
Negotiations proceed best when there is some degree of privacy. However, the public both wants and has a right to be informed about public policy decisions. Moreover, an informed public is more likely to be supportive of the negotiated decisions and less likely to generate new conflicts based on rumor, suspicion and misunderstandings. The authors offer five techniques for keeping the public informed, and three basic principles which should govern any dealings with the public. One way to inform the public is by inviting members of major interest groups to participate in negotiations. These individuals are then charged with reporting back to their interest groups. Another way is to invite group members to observe negotiations, or to serve on subcommittees. Public meetings can be used both to inform the public about the negotiations, and to get public feedback on the process. Briefing sessions may be held by the negotiating team as a whole, or by each party separately, and may be directed toward either the public at large, or toward affected public officials. Regular mass mailings can also be useful.
Whatever technique is employed, any dealings with the public should observe three principles. First, negotiators must acknowledge the public's right to know, and make it clear to the public that they respect that right. Second, managers must be flexible in planning the negotiations. For instance, they must be willing to make reasonable scheduling changes in order to accommodate other public schedules. Finally, negotiators must expect opposition and understand that the public generally has reason to be wary of new or private decision-making procedures.
Very often, the relationship between reporter and decision makers is distrustful. Decision makers suspect reporters of incompetence, bias, and of sensationalizing events, and so try to avoid the press. Reporters are suspicious of secrecy and avoidance, and feel that it is the press' duty to reveal the truth. Because of their suspicions, and because negotiations generally proceed better in private, managers will often be tempted to close meetings to the press and public. However, the very act of closing a meeting will arouse opposition in the media.
Carpenter and Kennedy suggest three cases in which it may be appropriate to hold closed meetings: when proprietary information is involved; when a party has been injured by unfair reporting in the past and requests a closed meeting; and when the parties' relationship is already so bad that any public scrutiny would make reconciliation impossible. Even in these cases, further steps will need to be taken to reassure the media. Decisions to close a meeting should be made one meeting at a time. All of the parties must publicly support the closure. Each closed meeting should be followed by a press release, and individual parties should refrain from talking to the press. The media can be helpful to conflict managers if managers follow some basic guidelines in dealing with the media. First the manager should seek to educate the reporter about the issues at hand. The manager should be honest and open, and respond to the reporter's questions as fully and accurately as possible. Managers should also ask reporters for their views of the situation. Reporters often have a good sense of who the key actors are in a situation, and what the differing perspectives are. Finally, involve the media in developing a media strategy. Treating the media as members of the community rather than as adversaries will often result in much more cooperative behavior and objective reporting. Press editorials may even come to support conflict management approaches.
Sometimes it may be helpful to bring a third party to mediate a dispute. A third party mediator is "any disinterested person brought in by agreement of the disputing parties to help them resolve their differences."[p. 187] Third party mediators should be chosen on the basis of their impartiality, their conflict management skills, and their ability to handle confidential information with sensitivity and discretion. Mediators may be useful in a number of situations. A mediator may be brought in to handle a deadlocked conflict, when direct interactions between the parties are no longer productive. When the parties will not listen to one another, mediators may be used to restore communication between the parties. Third parties can be useful in conflicts involving sensitive information. They can serve as fact finders. They can also handle information that the parties are not willing to reveal directly to each other. Mediators may be helpful in resolving disagreements within a party, and so in keeping constituencies unified and supportive. When negotiation progress is stalled, mediators can draw on their conflict management skills to suggest alternative procedures which will get the negotiations moving again.
Mediators employ seven basic skills. First, they analyze conflicts to identify the issues and stakeholders. Second, the mediator develops a strategy or program to address the conflict. Generally a mediator works with the parties to define their goals and develop a process for reaching those goals. Third, mediators create a system of communication between the parties. Fourth, mediators manage the negotiation process and guide the parties through it. Fifth, mediators also help the parties to identify their information needs, and to collect, organize and evaluate information. Sixth, mediators help unify constituency groups and work to resolve disagreements within one group or party. Seventh, mediators provide a neutral meeting place for the parties. In addition to these seven skills, the authors point out that sometimes the mere presence of a mediator gives the parties the (self-fulfilling) expectation that the character of negotiations will change for the better.
When hiring a mediator, one should consider their personal credibility and the credibility of their institution by examining both the mediator's and the institution's past performance. Ask the mediator for a thorough description of the mediation process that she uses, and check to see that she is experienced in handling the particular type of dispute at hand. Also consider whether the mediator's fee is reasonable, and whether she can be available for the whole negotiation process. Several candidates should be interviewed before hiring anyone. For complex multiparty disputes a team of mediators may be needed. The mediator works for the disputants, and so the manager should monitor the mediator's performance. Mediators should ask the parties for feedback on the negotiation process and on the mediator's own performance, and make adjustments as needed. Generally, each party must express satisfaction with the mediator and the process in order for the mediator to be retained.
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