Summary of "Reaching and Carrying Out Agreements"

Summary of

Reaching and Carrying Out Agreements

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

Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Reaching and Carrying Out Agreements," chapt. in Managing Public Disputes, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988), pp. 137-154.

Carpenter and Kennedy divide the dispute resolution programs into four steps: adopting procedures, educating the parties, developing options, and reaching agreements. Before disputants can discuss a solution to their problem they must first agree on the procedures that they will use. They must then educate themselves regarding each side's respective concerns, interests, perspectives, assumptions, and information. Equipped with a better understanding of the issues and interests, the parties may then move on to propose a broad range of possible solutions. In the very last step of the dispute resolution process, the parties evaluate their options and reach an agreement. In this chapter the authors discuss this final step in the dispute resolution process.

Reaching Agreements

There are three general approaches to reaching agreements. Parties may first agree on a general framework for a solution and then proceed to fill in the details. Generally the parties reach an agreement on basic principles, and then apply those principles to the particular issues at hand to produce more concrete, detailed agreements. A second approach is for parties to negotiate each issue separately and independently. Many issues can be negotiated simultaneously by using multiple negotiation teams. This is often called the building block approach. This approach can also help to build confidence in the parties. Parties can start by resolving the easier issues, and then move on to address more difficult issues with this history of successful resolutions behind them. Finally, the parties may draw on comprehensive agreement proposals to develop a final comprehensive settlement. Parties usually bring together elements from different proposals to produce a mutually acceptable comprehensive settlement. The authors observe that these approaches are not mutually exclusive. They can be and often are used in combination.

Although there are different approaches to reaching agreements, each approach follows the same basic steps. The first step is to develop objective criteria for evaluating the options. For example, the parties could agree that to be acceptable a proposal must be cost-effective. Once the criteria have been agreed to, the parties must then apply the criteria to the existing proposals. Unworkable options are dropped. Options that satisfy the criteria can be further evaluated by comparing their advantages and disadvantages. The authors note that it is important to get the explicit agreement of all the parties before any option is either dropped or adopted.

The next step is to reach a consensus agreement on a solution. The parties may trade off or combine options in order to reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Inability to agree on an issue needs not block all agreement. The parties may instead agree to drop that issue, to form a committee to study it further, or to adopt some procedure to address it further. The meeting's chairperson should periodically test the degree of consensus reached and should confirm the agreement by restating it. When all the parties agree, the next step is to write down that agreement. Sometimes, when the parties are distrustful or when there are simply too many parties to make face-to-face negotiation feasible, a third party may be used to draft an agreement. In this case the draft agreement is simply a proposal. Parties comment on the draft, and the intermediary incorporates those comments into the draft agreement, until consensus is reached.

After the negotiators have reached consensus on a draft agreement, that agreement must be reviewed and approved by their respective constituencies. Keeping the constituencies informed throughout the process is key to securing their approval of the final agreement. When constituencies reject an agreement it is sent back to the negotiators for further work. The last step is to finalize the draft agreement. The parties incorporate comments from their constituencies, agree on the exact wording of the agreement, and finally formally sign the agreement.

Carrying Out Agreements

An agreement is only effective if it is carried out. The authors suggest that the best way to ensure that an agreement will be carried out is to include provisions for implementation in the agreement itself. Implementation procedures should be established ahead of time in order to deal with the inevitable misunderstandings and disagreements which will arise as the agreement is put into effect. Depending upon the nature of the conflict and the parties' relationship, these implementation procedures may be formal and detailed, or may be relatively informal and personal. In some cases the parties will be able to cooperate and determine whether each side is meeting the agreement. In other cases formal verification procedures, or even third-party oversight, will be needed.

All implementation procedures, whether formal or personal, share four basic elements. First, there must be some system for monitoring whether the agreement is in fact carried out. The monitoring body may be either a third party or a committee made up of the parties themselves. Second, the specific details of implementation must be worked out. The authors note that "ideally, an agreement will specify precise steps, identify responsible individuals, and define a reasonable time frame for the completion of activities."[p. 152] However, agreements are seldom this precise. And even when they are precise, situations change and unforeseen difficulties arise. The third element then is some provision for renegotiating sections of the agreement in response to new information or changed situations. Fourth, there must be procedures for enforcing the agreement and dealing with violations. The monitoring system is responsible for identifying violations. Often the most effective way to deal with a violation of the agreement is to find out why the party violated the agreement. If the party has legitimate reasons, it may be possible to accommodate their concerns and find an alternate way of satisfying the agreement. If the party is simply being recalcitrant, it may be necessary to invoke sanctions such as fines, loss of privileges, or public pressure.