Director, Institute for Environmental Negotiation, University of Virginia
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
A: I do like processes that have people listening to each other. For instance, one thing that we've done quite effectively is using circles.
We had the tobacco farmers sitting inside a circle surrounded by the health advocates, people from public agencies, researchers, and public officials. The farmers are talking amongst themselves, addressing what the impact is, what are they facing now, what are the challenges they are facing now, how does that make them feel, what are their biggest fears, what are their biggest concerns, and so on.
It's that chance to talk without interruptions to each other, and generally as facilitator I'm not even in the circle either, and so they're really starting to talk with each other. People inside the circle find it powerful because they are able to voice what is inside of them, without someone responding immediately, arguing immediately, questioning immediately, and then you give people on the outside the chance to ask questions. For people on the outside it's generally very powerful also. Lets bring in the health community now: why do you do the work that you do, what's powerful about it for you, what does that mean for you? My experience has been that most people want to do the right thing, and they want to get their needs met, but they want to be respectful of other people
Q: It sounds like a bit of a fish bowl experiment.
A: Some people call it fish bowl, its sort of a funny name for it. I would like to think of it in terms of circles, but you can call it "fish bowl" when it shifts. There are different ways of structuring it, you might have preset questions or you might not have so many preset questions. You might give people on the outside more of a chance to ask questions or you might not, it might just be a time for us to sit and listen depending on what the level of controversy is, which I find that helpful for.