Negotiations are processes in which two or more parties with conflicting and compatible goals and preferences voluntarily seek to reach agreement on a decision or transaction.
Assisted Negotiations are negotiations in which a non-partisan facilitator, credible to all parties in the negotiation, helps them to reach agreement.
Public sector disputes can erupt over land use, where to put controversial facilities, transportation planning, water use, regulatory standards, resource allocation, evaluation criteria, and policymaking of all kinds at the federal, state, and local levels.
The good news is that over the last several decades, government agencies, international NGOs, corporations, courthouses, and local groups and agencies have all become more aware of the central importance of negotiation skills and processes as a condition for wise, stable results. Although the national media find examples of consensus and problem solving less compelling than stories of acrimony, recrimination and political maneuvering, many leaders and organizations in a range of sectors have changed the way they negotiate.
For example, in response to overburdened dockets in the 1980s and 1990s, courthouses in many states have developed “multi-door” programs in which many smaller and family cases are referred first to voluntary mediation. Such programs have significantly streamlined caseloads and have generated numerous studies attesting to the more beneficial outcomes they afford participants, who might otherwise wait months or years for a chance to be heard in court, and whose disputes can resolved efficiently based on their interests, rather than the application of case law, which is often a blunt instrument.
In policy disputes, a key move has often been to seek help from a non-partisan facilitator. A credible and effective facilitator will be perceived by all of the participants in a dispute or negotiation as "not having an agenda" with respect to its outcome. Rather, the facilitator's goal is to help
– assess the issues and stakeholder landscape
– convene a credible, broadly representative group of advocates/advisors/negotiators at the table
– help the advisory group to get technical assistance in complex matters in ivolving risk, public health, economic models, environmental impacts, etc.
– ensure that the group deliberates respectfully and creatively, to generate options that leave all groups better off than they would be without a solution
– help the group to brainstorm options that "create value" by meeting all parties interests more effectively
– make sure that the group's final recommendations are implementable within the broad political, legal, and regulatory environment.
"Consensus," as it is commonly used by pundits and lawmakers, refers to a murky middle, a watered-down least-common-denominator agreement that no one objects to. Hence, many people are skeptical about "seeking consensus" because it suggests a weak, ineffective or even unprincipled outcome.
But consensus-building is a social technology based on a broad theory of negotiation analysis and value creation. In consensus building, parties work together (again, often with a third party process manager) to understand one another’s most important interests and to generate options that meet those interests well and can be supported and explained to constituents and other parties in terms of objective criteria.
Organizations that have built up successful track records working with local, state, federal, corporate, NGO, and international groups and agencies include
In addition, federal agencies have incorporated processes like negotiated rulemaking into their process of formulating and improving regulations. Such processes may not generate consensus in every case, but when run well they increase the chances that the affected industries, advocates, groups, and citizens will accept final regulations and rules because these stakeholders are given a say and can make suggestions to revise or structure rules and regulations in ways that address their particular concerns, as long as their suggestions don't leave other groups worse off.
Academic Institutions have set up centers for the interdisciplinary study of negotiation and conflict resolution. Such centers – at Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, George Mason, and elsewhere, have generated an enormous empirical literature on negotiations that now guides many practitioners, trainers, and advisors.
For cases examples and resources, please click here.
Why the fiscal cliff negotiations are more complicated than we think, in Time Magazine, by Hal Movius. (Advice on how to get agreement when each side is divided into factions that are likley ot resist agreements negotiated by party leaders)
How to negotiate when values are at stake, by Lawrence Susskind
Deliberative democracy and dispute resolution, by Lawrence Susskind
This page is edited by Hal Movius