Summary of "Adopting Procedures, Educating Parties, and Developing Options"

Summary of

Adopting Procedures, Educating Parties, and Developing Options

By Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy, "Adopting Procedures, Educating Parties, and Developing Options," chapt. in Managing Public Disputes, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988), pp. 116-136.

Carpenter and Kennedy divide the dispute resolution programs into four steps: adopting procedures, educating the parties, developing options, and reaching agreements. In this chapter they discuss the first three steps in the dispute resolution process.

Adopting Procedures

The general procedures which will be used in the program should be clearly presented at the outset. This presentation should include a statement of the problem, the program's goals, the steps in the process, and the method of decision making, and an estimate of the amount of time that the program will take. The parties must also establish rules of conduct, or ground rules. Ground rules can be used to govern the parties' behavior, the procedures used in negotiation, or the range of substantive issues which will be discussed. Ground rules may need to be written down when the parties are distrustful or unfamiliar with each other. In other cases an oral statement of the rules may be sufficient. Usually the program manager drafts a set of ground rules and gives them to the parties before meetings begin. The parties may suggest changes or additions; however, they must all agree to accept some set of rules before negotiations can proceed. If needed, the rules may be changed later in the process. Once again, however, any changes to the rules must be agreed upon by all of the parties.

Educating the Parties

In the early sessions the parties must educate each other regarding their respective concerns, interests, perspectives, assumptions and information. This stage is crucial in that it exposes each side's perspective to the other, and gives each side a sense of having been heard by the other. This non-threatening form of interaction can lay the groundwork for further fruitful interactions in more difficult conditions. The education stage should open with a review of the history and context of the problem from each side's perspective. Parties may do this by recounting the history of their own involvement in the problem. Next, the parties must identify the important issues. Representatives must be careful to present all the issues of concern to their constituencies. The parties must distinguish between primary and secondary issues, and decide the order in which to address the issues. The program manager may elicit issues by having each party explain their concerns to the other, or by having each party present a issue in turn until all the issues have been raised. Once the issues have been presented, discussion should turn to identifying the parties' underlying interests or concerns. For example, the size of a proposed facility might be an issue, while maintaining the environment and limiting traffic are interests. Eliciting the parties' interests can be difficult, as parties tend to leap ahead to proposed solutions rather than focusing on their underlying interests. The authors suggest that "if more than twenty-five participants are involved, they should be asked to divide into small groups so that everyone can participate in the discussion."[p. 130] The education process also gives the parties a chance to examine each other's data. Before they can develop a solution, the parties must agree on the data. When there are differing data, or when the information is complex or technical, it may be helpful to have a technical expert explain the data. Such an expert must be objective, and must be able to make the information accessible to the parties. When the data is more generally accessible, the parties can discuss discrepancies themselves. Differing data may be the result of different starting assumptions, different sources, or different methodologies. Even when the parties cannot agree on a specific fact or figure, they may be able to agree on a range of possible figures, and so proceed.

Developing Options for Solving the Dispute

Having identified the issues and interests and agreed on the facts, the parties are now ready to develop possible solutions to the problem. These possible solutions may focus on particular issues, or may take the form of comprehensive proposals. Parties are discouraged from evaluating the potential solutions, and encouraged to develop multiple proposals based on their interests. The authors note that "at this stage the goal is to produce the broadest possible selection of alternatives."[p. 132] Generating a broad range of alternatives is key to finding a solution which best satisfies all the parties' interests. Carpenter and Kennedy suggest a number of techniques for generating options. The parties may work together as a whole to brainstorm for alternatives. More complex disputes may be broken down into issues, and each issue addressed by a separate task group. Outside experts can be called upon to present options when the parties are too distrustful of one another to work together creatively. This approach is also useful when the dispute is very technical. In a variation on the traditional negotiation process, each party may be asked to generate a proposal which would meet everyone's interests. Often, visible public figures will be reluctant to associate themselves with such tentative and preliminary options. In such cases an intermediary can conduct separate, private brainstorming sessions with each side. The results of those sessions are then presented anonymously to the group for further discussion.

Once a broad array of possible solutions have been presented, they parties may then move on to the final step in the dispute resolution process: evaluating the proposals and reaching an agreement.