Director, Partners for Democratic Change
Topics: training the trainers, cultural frames, reconciliation
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
- Community Boards
- Partners for Democratic Change Centers around the World
- Training Trainers at PDCI
Q: Can you give me a brief overview of your work?
A: Okay. You wanted both Community Boards and Partners for Democratic Change. The origin of Community Boards starts with work I did as a lawyer heading a task group for the California Assembly on Criminal Justice in 1974. The purpose to create a new penal code for the state of California, which was done in the '74 legislative period by the task force. I had two lawyers look at ways you could keep young people out of the juvenile system.
There had been some recent research, quite compelling research, that young people who had contacts in the juvenile justice system ended up having more contacts. So, in other words, the idea being basically that if you entered the system, the chances of getting out were going to be slimmer the more times you were entered in the system. So the notion was that if you wanted to keep people out of the juvenile justice system, you needed to find a way so they didn't enter it to begin with. That was basically the essence of that.
We looked at different programs around the United States and in Europe that were keeping young people out of the system but not through a diversion process. This normally meant you would enter the system, your case would be evaluated, and you'd be diverted. Rather, the intent was to create a prophylactic in front of the justice system, and police officers and other people who had a way of finding, through different mechanisms, ways that you didn't enter the juvenile justice system at all. One of the interesting models was one in King County were they had these kind of citizen review panels, where officers or school people could refer a case. You were required to go if you were a minor.
There was a program in Scotland somewhat similar to that, a little more peer-oriented for young people. At the end of the legislative period when the legislative work was done I started to teach at USF law school and kept thinking about the idea, what if you created panels in neighborhoods where people could hear disputes and resolve them without cases going to court? That was earlier on. Then I wrote some papers around that and circulated it in the city of San Francisco, started to hold meetings with church groups and community organizations and different organizations in different parts of the city.
As you well know, San Francisco is a highly diverse community of the Asian community, Hispanic, African American, and the Anglo communities are the four probably dominant groups in the city, and there are sub-groups amongst those groups. So I spent a good part of my teaching period at USF law school kind of doing evening and weekend community meetings and testing out the idea. What would it look like if you had an alternative to the justice system?
Of course this was the '70s, the war had just ended in Vietnam, and San Francisco was a very political community. This was kind of considered as a wonderfully lofty and highly idealistic idea.
We like it, but it'll go nowhere, was the original thought. I pursued it, and in '76 took a fellowship with the Robert Kennedy Memorial. I started in earnest looking at building these kinds of panels, these neighborhood community boards, raised some money around it, hired some staff. Basically in the early days the idea was to create a community base out of which you would generate cases. One of the seminal questions at that time were, if somebody had a dispute, how would they know you existed? If you existed and took the case, what the devil would you do with it, exactly? How would you resolve it? And would people in neighborhoods step forward and be trained to be sitting on panels anyway? So these were the hard questions in the early years. So a lot of work went into it and a lot of mistakes were made in trying to figure out, well, how do you build a base for this service idea? We went through a lot of Alinsky-style organizers in the early days, and basically came up with a formula. You could design a social system for organizing around a service delivery.
People in neighborhoods, we found, were attracted to the idea of being trained to help neighbors resolve disputes. Probably the most interesting thing was that people who had disputes would come to a panel. That was, of course, the key of the whole process, would people who had disputes come to a panel? And if so, why would they come? What would motivate them? It turns out people will come to panels, as we now know, and they come for a whole set of different reasons. Middle class people come when they have juvenile issues because they don't want records on their kids. The middle-class professional people are very sensitive about that. People in different communities and barrios are very sensitive about police, so they're motivated to find more social orientation.
Hispanic communities, generally, and Asian communities have a very strong interest in social processes over institutional processes. By that I mean they have more interest in seeing social and peer pressure, and social and normative values being applied, than institutional pressure and law enforcement being applied. So, although the program started with a youth orientation, it quickly became clear that there was no reason to limit it to that. So if adults had a dispute, or neighbors had a dispute, or merchants had a dispute with consumers and vice versa, there was no reason not to take the case. Quickly the panels, neighborhood boards became open to anybody who wanted to voluntarily step forward with a dispute.
In the early days we were only training people to be on panels, and we came up with a very simple and straightforward dispute settlement model.
The model is now applied in most of the neighborhood and school mediation programs and the conciliation programs around the country, and I would say similarly internationally.. I think at this point community boards, as a concept is probably something like it's a generic term at this point. Having a neighborhood panel or board has become synonymous with a non-institutional structure and mechanism for the voluntary settlement of a dispute. In the early days people were trained to be on panels, and it also became clear that not everybody was so good at panel work, or sitting on a panel of three to hear a dispute, but loved the program. They loved the idea of building a neighborhood service of this nature. Some people were much better at speaking at churches and doing outreach work.
So I would say over a period of time from 1977 or 1976 to maybe 1980 that three or four year period, a lot of work went into building a social base for the program in the neighborhood. That was a lot of organizing and drawing out people from the neighborhood who would want to sit on panels and training them.
We did mass trainings. By 1980 we were training 125-150 people at a time, very large mass training program. The trainings were done usually in schools, over a 40-hour training program. It might start with like Friday evening, Saturday, part of Sunday, Tuesday evening, Thursday evening, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday you graduated. Because of working class neighborhoods, and basically you could only do it in the evenings or on weekends because they were not professional people that could just take off work. These were free trainings; that was an inducement. Part of the strategy of building a community base was to do mass training. We saw this as a way not only of creating an awareness about the program, but also disseminating skills that people could use in their homes and worksites, social settings, not just on panels. We would do them four or five times a year, so we were training five to six hundred people a year. At the height of it we were probably training fifteen to eighteen hundred people a year. When we were really going we were doing it every other month.
The word spread in San Francisco that this is a great training, and you can use it in a lot of different ways. Disputants were often our strongest advocates. Disputants became often our best panelists. We actively drew from the disputant pool, of people who'd gone through it, who wanted to be on a panel. Over time it became clear that you could do the outreach functions by training community volunteers to do it.
The outreach function became a community function, and staff merely were coordinating community members who had learned how to do outreach in their neighborhoods. Then we learned the casework you could do, so we made that a community function, getting people to come to a panel, and setting up a case for a panel. Finally all the training work and some of the training for trainer work were community functions. Community boards, by the early mid-eighties, were almost complete volunteer service delivery systems. The staff was merely coordinating the people who were doing the work, but the staff wasn't doing the work themselves.
Q: More administration at that point?
A: They were doing administration. They were setting up the logistics for training. They were coordinating outreach workers, coordinating trainers, and serving as trainers themselves for more senior trainers; doing all the things that an organized service needs. Increasingly the philosophy of community boards was to make the function civic functions that would be performed in the neighborhoods. You didn't need a lot of people to do that, but you need competent people who were willing to perform in a professional way. They of course didn't have to be professionals. You didn't have to license people to do this work, You wanted people who would take it seriously and do it in a competent, professional manner. So Community Boards was both a political vehicle in San Francisco in the sense that it was offering another justice model, so it was very attractive to a lot of people.
It was attractive to funders as well because it had a very new and innovative model for social service delivery.
Social justice was primarily delivered by people in neighborhoods, who didn't have a state power, but provided a forum for people who wanted to talk through the differences they had with the person that had a dispute. I think its strength remains that these are entities that don't need state authority that should never have state authority. So my own bias is these should not be diversion programs for institutional structures. They should be separate systems at neighborhood level. It's a civic orientation. It's a civic system that is operating and people use it because it's in their self-interest to use it. They're motivated to use it because they want something out of it.
Generally they want to tell the other side what a terrible person they are. They want to moan and groan and they want to say really and truly what an S.O.B. you are, and what a terrible neighbor you've been, or what a dishonest person you are. They want to have an opportunity to talk directly with the other person. I think one of the great strengths of these conciliating models is that they give a forum for direct expression of hostility and issues. The emotive quality of a dispute drops dramatically if a person can talk directly to the other person in a relatively safe environment, and that's what the panels offer, that kind of environment.
Even though I think it's very important that the panels be trained well, candidly I think that's a second consideration to creating an environment where people can communicate with one another, even if they're very emotional about it. Once they've done that the tensions and hostilities in the dispute then generally have a tendency to diminish. There's just so much moaning and groaning human beings can do about an issue if they have an honest forum to talk.
It's when we don't give a forum or provide an opportunity to interact directly with the person you're most concerned with or have the issue with, that's when I think disputes have a tendency to become violent. The vast majority of disputes in the United States that go violent are precisely between people who know one another, not between strangers. There are very, very few stranger hostilities, really. Generally they're in one of three categories of disputes that go hostile or disputes even before they go hostile that are between ex-lovers, ex-roommates, and ex-business partners. Those are the three categories that we know of that are prone A) to generate disputes and B) to generate violence if you don't deal with those disputes at an appropriate level. I think what community boards and programs like that provide is an early intervention or prevention model, because the reality is that institutional justice is always after the fact. You simply can't get into a court system. You simply can't get a police officer to arrest somebody unless there is some violence, some riot, some trespass, some burglary, and some property damaged or stolen.
In other words, unless you can prove or allege that the act has taken place that you are most concerned about not taking place, unless you can allege it, you can't get into the system. So the reality is, all justice in America is after the fact. There's no prevention or intervention in it all. It has no capacity for that, nor is it intended and designed to be that way. It's an after-the-fact-oriented justice model to basically weigh evidence and decide guilt and innocence. That model is not designed to as a community model to reduce tensions and hostilities between disputing parties, even when the police know there's tension and hostility between disputing parties.
Every police department in the country has station houses that will tell you they've been to family homes and they've been to places numerous times and that they know there is family violence at those homes. We know there's spousal abuse here, but nobody makes a complaint, so they have no ability to do anything. On the other hand a neighbor, a parishioner or a person in a social club can make an intervention. They certainly can knock on the door of a neighborhood person, precisely because they don't have state authority.
The moment these panels or people have state authority, they can't do that.
Q: So people don't come to the board with a problem?
A: They do. Generally the problems are generated out of the neighborhoods because people call the panel, call the office.
Q: The disputants or the neighbors of the disputants?
A: It could be either, but generally of course, the only people who'd come to a panel, and be encouraged to come to a panel, would be the disputants. Now the disputants may bring family members, and somebody may bring their next-door neighbor. Our general sense has always been that's fine. Bring as many people as you want because the more likely the disputants will behave better if the wife is there, if the husband is there, if the kids are there, if the uncle or aunt or mother is there, if the neighbor is there. In other words, you'll get better performance. Those are the people who've heard the story ten million times anyway, and they're not real parties, but they're biased kind of cheerleaders of the disputants, so you might as well have them there In other words, you'll get better performance.
The very first hearing Community Boards did was in 1977 and it involved six teenage girls. Almost 30 people were at the hearing. It was high school girls and they all had been very close. The case was referred the board by the school. Everybody was kind of freaked because there were 30 people in the room on the very first case, you know? We decided to have five people on the panel. The disputants were mostly African American girls, except for one, and the panel was African American and Anglo. That's been a principle of community boards, that the panel should be diverse and reflect the neighborhood as much as possible. And the case was referred because one of the girls threw and hit another girl with a full Coke can, and hit her and injured her. Because these girls had been friends forever, the school decided not to call the police and referred it to Community boards. We had done a lot of outreach to the school because when they get cases like that, we would like to get them. So the school made the referral.
All of the kids were interviewed and they agreed to come, and their parents wanted to come, because they didn't understand how this fight had happened. As it turned out the girls, who'd all been friends, broke up over that one girl who was dating a boy who had broken up with that boy. All the girls were in the room, and the boy who was concerned, with his buddies, were outside the room. It turned out that the hearing was really a boy-girl event. The hostility between the girls exploded, and one just threw a can at the other one.
The parents couldn't figure out what had happened because the girls had always been very close and very friendly. It only came out in the hearing that the boy was the problem, and that people were embarrassed.
The things that really generate most disputes between people who have ongoing relationships are embarrassment, loss of face, pride, injury, personal, not physical injury, but injury of the spirit, anger. These are often the ingredients that make people divide up that have ongoing relationships. They don't speak about it and they divide up with their friends, and of course it escalates. That's all. Disputes take on a life of their own. They have their own life. This got out of control, and as we peeled the onion back and looked at the genesis of the conflict, they realized what had gone on. So they made some accommodations with each other and some apologies. The girls asked for the boy to be invited into the room and the boy and his buddies came into the room, so now it was 35 people. The parents of course were just totally amazed that this whole thing had gotten so out of hand. They just were amazed. The boys indicated, particularly this one boy, that yes this had happened and et cetera.
I'm only going into detail about it to say that, generally speaking, most people view these situations in neighborhood programs as petty offenses. My experience has been that there is no such thing as a petty dispute. The animal does not exist. To the people involved in a dispute, it is the most serious, most relevant, pressing issue in their life. They wake up with it, they think about it in the morning, they go to sleep with it, they aggravate over it, they get upset over it, they bring their family into it. These killings that have taken place over the last several years at post offices and jobs that we know of start off with the most incredibly "petty" issue between the people: miscommunication, feeling that somebody got an office and someone else didn't, somebody got a job that they should have had, somebody should have been promoted, the supervisor didn't give a fair review, on and on. The reality is did the action that take place, and was it out of proportion to the incident? To any objective observer, absolutely yes.
To the person who's experiencing the anger and the hostility and has just spent weeks or months living with it, no. So it's in whose shoes do you stand when you ask the question? That's why I think that neighborhood programs are essential in a democratic society.
In a democratic society I think what you're looking to do all the time is create mechanisms for the management of conflict and disputes. What you want to do is transform every conflict that has the potential to be violent into a dispute-management system that gives people an opportunity to communicate, a venue for the expression of differences. In that context, citizens in a democratic society are as safe as they possibly can be and the social structures are as constructive towards the management of differences as possible. Democratic society creates lots of conflicts, and you need to create management systems for those conflicts and make them legitimate disputes then citizens in a democratic society are definitely in danger.
We know this from looking at labor issues in the United States. We have a terribly violent labor history in this country. Now there are really and truly no labor conflicts. There are labor disputes, but you're expected to manage them through collective bargaining processes, negotiation processes, contract processes. You can't just willy-nilly strike in this country. You're going to have to go through a whole process. That's because we've taken the violence out of it and we've transformed issues that could otherwise be conflictual into disputes that can be managed in a recognized manner.
If you go out of those systems you'll be arrested and the state will appear. Otherwise the state doesn't appear at all. So what we want to do in institutional structures in democratic societies is to create as many venues and pathways that legitimate concerns that people have. We ought to say there's nothing wrong with a conflict, as long as it's peacefully expressed and peacefully resolved, and it's managed through dispute settlement mechanisms.
If one doesn't exist, it's the obligation of citizens and democratic governments to create those mechanisms. I think that's a democratic obligation. Community Boards is a vehicle and models like it at the neighborhood level of just creating venues and forums for the early expression and management of differences. It doesn't mean and it doesn't require state authority to do it. And I think we should do more of them. We should have them in schools, we should have them at churches and synagogues and mosques, and we ought to promote the civic nature of dispute management, make it a civic function, not an institutional function exclusively.
Q: You said the justice system is an after-the-fact model. How are the community boards different?
A: Because they get their cases before they come into the system.
Q: Before they go into the justice system?
Q: But it's still after the fact, right.
A: Yes, it can be. It can be you can have some issues take place obviously between people. You know the first step always is to encourage people to communicate directly with one another. Neighbors who have complaints with one another should knock on the doors, "Hi, I'm Ray, lets have a conversation. I have a concern." A lot of neighbors are afraid to do that, either because the person looks different from them, they're shy, their cultural background doesn't allow them to communicate that way, they feel it's a loss of faith, they might be embarrassed, they might be rebuffed, and they have fear.
A lot of Americans don't know their neighbors anymore. So the first time to see your neighbor, to make a complaint for a lot of people is very, very uncomfortable. So you're looking for a third party. Now if you go to the same church you might use a priest or a minister or a rabbi. In more cohesive communities you would find a third party. In San Francisco, maybe 20-30 years ago, if you were Chinese you'd go to the Chinese Family Association. It's very interesting if you look at court records from the turn of the century into the 1900s and throughout the 20th century and earlier, you don't see Chinese or Japanese in American courts in San Francisco. You just don't see them. And the reason you don't see them is not because they don't have disputes. Obviously they have disputes. They just used mechanisms that were culturally normative-value based; they used the Chinese Family Association, Japanese Community Association.
In other words, they took their disputes because they had a homogeneous community. The only time you really see it is when one of the parties is not Chinese, and generally somebody's brought a Chinese to court, not the other way around, a fairly foreign mechanism. So you start looking at urban areas with highly diverse cultural groups, more likely than not the cultural groups will be living close to one another. They will create their own mechanisms for dispute management. If you look at it closely, generally it's a third party -something- family associations, respected elders, and bankers. Some person or group that the two parties will appear before, talk, or who will use shuttle diplomacy, do some mediating between, or who's legitimate. This is very, very common.
It's when these mechanisms break down that we have a big gap between the institutional structure and everything else. So you need to create, really and truly, some mechanism in front of the institutional structure. The other thing too that hasn't been explored well in this country, and is deserving to be explored, is that not only is formal justice after the fact is the most violent, in the sense that violence obviously takes place before you enter it, but so are social services after the fact.
So all social services in the United States, for the most part, come through deviant channels. You can't get social services unless you're on probation or you've gone through a court system and you've been ordered to do psychiatric care, social something, you're a deviant through school systems because you didn't show up in school. You know, your parents abandoned you and you're a welfare recipient and you're getting something. In other words, unless you come through a deviancy channel, it's very hard to get social services in the United States. Only the worst cases are the ones who get the services, so there's very little service orientation for prevention and early intervention.
One of the reasons the system is so bloody expensive is that we get people very, very late who are in the most dire straits. If you put social services next to early intervention/prevention programs, or you say to the Chinese Family Association, "Hey, have you got a kid who's on dope, and needs to get cleaned up, or have you got someone on heroin or alcohol?" You don't have to make a record. You can openly refer them and the state will pay for it. That is closer to California's new policies. Now you're talking about resuscitating civic life because then people have another reason to create these systems because you can see quickly who's in need of help. It would be voluntary and it wouldn't be state mandated, but not everybody needs to be state mandated. It would use more peer and social pressure than it would use institutional pressure - record-keeping and all that. It isn't a panacea and it isn't something for everybody, but for early intervention/prevention, it would pick up a lot of people and situations early on, as opposed to waiting as we do so late. So there's another whole dimension to this that's worth certainly exploring. Next the Community Boards received Ford Foundation grants, and we did what we called Planning and Development Institutes around the United States. We were training people in the Planning and Development Institutes how to create a community board or a school-based mediation program. The school board program is everywhere. It's just literally everywhere. It's probably most successful beyond the neighborhood program. It's international. I think we've totally lost count of where this program shows up these days. It's taken on a huge life of its own. It has definitely gone global. It's a recognition of the importance of training young people and educating young people how to listen, how to communicate, how to negotiate, how not to be afraid of a conflict.
These are skills that you have to teach, and they have to be learned skills. It is not the case that just because you grow up and you're an adult you have them.
Everybody has ears, but very, very few people really listen. You have to train people to listen. I think the earlier we do it at schools, the more likely that we're going to have people who can talk and communicate with one another and not feel so frightened about it and have ways and skills to do it. The school program is probably one of the great successes of Community Boards. Everyone has really been pushing the school program, and everybody's been very proud of it. I think now it's something that's taken for granted, when in the early days when this was all like putting on scenes on granite, but it's not any longer as obvious today.
Q: Talk a little bit about how the Boards are different from the traditional one mediator-two parties model.
A: Well, I think the terminology is important. I've always used a distinction between mediation and conciliation. Many people in the field are not comfortable with this distinction. I think it's helpful to use two separate words to try to make a distinction around the point, the question that you just raised. I think the goal in a mediating process is to get a resolution. In a classic mediating process, you hire a mediator or go to a mediator because the parties want a resolution.
Of course, the classic place you most often see it is in business, professional settings, and labor management. Labor management want a settlement around fringe benefits, working hours, health and safety issues. They want concrete outcomes. The issue at the end of the day is concrete outcomes, what I call "time-place manner." It is very factual. You're going to write them up, you're going to agree to it, etc. In situations where parties have ongoing relationships such as husbands and wives, ex-spouses who are dealing with children and visitation rights and things like that, spousal rights, people who are roommates, these kinds of situations, school situations. There the issue isn't so much the concrete settlement of a specific issue; the real issue is what's the quality of the relationship that generated the dispute to begin with.
If you don't deal with the relationship then it's very likely that some variation of that dispute will show up again, just in a different form or a different context. So you really want to look at what will conciliate the parties and bring them back together around the things that concern them the most. What's broken down the relationship between children? What's broken down the relationship between the parent and the teacher? What's broken down in the trust that's at the heart of all relationships? How do you resuscitate trust? How do you make it possible for people to take another step with one another? In a contractual, business, labor management situation, that's less relevant because you're going to make an agreement and you're going to be together.
Labor management is going to be together today and it's going to be together tomorrow. It needs to have a working agreement on what I call "time place and manner." People who are maybe going to school can shun one another, can be cruel to one another, and can abuse one another. You need to build the relationship between those people. You need a conciliating model that is open. The mediating model, the "classic model," is much more shuttle diplomacy. That is, you have the Kissinger-like model of going from one side to the other. They are trying to find the bottom line that is relevant at some point to bring the parties back together, to say, "I think I've got a deal that each of you will accept. Here's the package. None of you are going to get exactly what you want, but you're going to get enough of what you want that you're going to take it." That formula is probably not so workable in an ethnic and national minority situation, children, etc. Where you really want people to really understand one another is from the point of view of how do we make a relationship that's going to make the social work or the relational work we want to do together go forward? It's not a contractual situation.
You want to create the forum and you want to use the dispute as an opportunity to enhance the quality of the relationship by improved understanding. So you don't want to do a shuttle diplomacy model at all; you absolutely don't want to have caucuses and private meetings. It's exactly the opposite; you want everything on the table. Otherwise, how would the other party ever know what motivates you and what's on your mind unless they heard you say it. That's not true in the labor management situation. It's not so important what's in the other person's mind exactly as long as both feel that they've got a fair deal at the end of the day. Would it help to do it? Yes. Is it required? No. Would it help on the other side? Well, if you do a classic mediation model in an ethnic and national minority dispute, as we have these ethnic conciliation commissions all over central and eastern Europe through Partners, it wouldn't help at all, because the parties need to hear one another, because it's in the communication that the trust-building starts.
If you're looking at the Roma who want the police to stop beating them up, and you have a mediator who talks to police, and who talks to Roma, talks to police, talks to Roma, and the mediator says, "I've got a deal for you," it'll last about one week. It'll have no weight to it. It has no emotive quality to it. And even when everybody's operating on the best terms, the first time there's a mistake people will say, "See? I knew it would never work," because they have no organic relationship with the party that they want to have an organic relationship with.
A dispute is a great way to create a new relationship, or an improved relationship, and understand what happened, where the breakdown took place. That requires a mechanism that allows that dialogue to take place and that understanding needs to be realized. That's the reason why I think that conciliation is a model that's open, that's relationship-oriented; you want to use the dispute as a vehicle to enhance the relationship. A mediating process is really and truly a process where you want concrete resolution and concrete outcomes. Will you get improvement in the relationship? Probably. Is it the reason you're doing it? Absolutely not. If you did a classic mediation model on an ethnic and national minority dispute, I just don't think you'll get very far.
Let me put it this way, you won't get as far as you could have gotten if you did the harder work. And I think it is harder work, if you did a conciliation model - a more open and conciliating model, that didn't have the controls that a mediator has when they're doing caucuses and all this stuff, because the person who's most powerful in that is the mediator, whereas in the conciliating model, the parties are, and it's much more difficult, and it's far more messy. The third parties don't have as much control, but everybody's got the same information. It's the information you're looking for, it's the way it's delivered, it's the way you want people to talk with one another, that's what you're looking for, not the material outcome.
Q: Are the boards still going on?
A: Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely. Not only here, not only in San Francisco, but numerous places. We're using that model for the ethnic and conciliation commissions in eastern Europe, so they do a lot of work around Roma issues, and neighbor-to-neighbor issues, community-police relations. Yeah. Definitely.
Q: Let's talk about Partners. What's the origin of Partners?
A: Partners. I stepped down from running Community Boards in '88, and in '89 was asked by the United States Institute of Peace to be a principle investigator on a program to introduce mediating concepts into the former Soviet Union. I did that work with a few colleagues, and we did a series of seminars in November of '89, both in Moscow and then I had contacts and solidarity. I went to Poland in November of '89 and gave a series of seminars also on mediating concepts as strengthening democratic processes. That grant had a training program in it. In March of 1990 we came back to Moscow, seven trainers, some of whom you've interviewed. Chris Moore was one of them, Bill Lincoln, and Gail Sedala were just a wonderful group of people. We trained 100 Soviets in a residential training program. We had four parallel groups with 25 people each, teachers, environmentalists, academics, and labor people. It was just an incredible setting.
It was also the same week that Gorbachev got elected to be president of the Supreme Soviet in March of 1990, and four of the trainers came with me to Warsaw. We trained 65 members of Solidarity Labor, ministry of labor and the ministry of education, and that was really the early origin, because after that work, which went very well. There was a great opportunity there.
You could train people with Americans forever, and have hardly any impact. If we are really going to do this, we need domestic trainers; we need people in the country to do the training. The other part to that was that on the American side, we have enormous knowledge about methods and processes, but if you're going to go to another country, you do what I call, "fall off the cliff" because you have no cultural base in that country. So you can do the best training in the world, and if you don't have a feel for the culture and you can't acculturate the material, I think you can only go so far.
So the idea was to start creating centers, and to start training people in the country as trainers. That was the early idea. My wife and I and my family moved to Poland in 1991 to set up centers in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, but setup a center on the Slovak and Czech side at the time - two centers in that country - and then one in Moscow, in Russia.
So there were six original centers, and all of the centers were based inside universities, and the reason for that was that it was a politically safe harbor for them. Universities and higher education is highly-esteemed in this part of the world. NGOs were not looked upon with much favor; most people didn't even know what an NGO was.
It seemed like something you used to launder money, or it was George Surrows trying to intervene and affect domestic and foreign policy, so NGOs were highly suspect.
So, we put all the centers in universities, and they stayed there until 1994. By '94 Partners was already a pretty big training organization; we were training a few thousand people a year. And we were also doing a lot of ethnic and national minority work and training, and we were doing a lot of environmental work. The universities got a little nervous about that. We had also made the decision in '94 that we were in the business of creating and sustaining centers.
We wanted sustainable centers, and you really can't get sustainable centers inside a university, not in a developing democracy. You can't track the money. It's very, very difficult. So we gave all the center directors who were academics a choice: either stay at the university and run our academic program, where we were training young academics to lead courses mostly on negotiation, some in mediation, or leave the university and run our new NGO, and be the director of the NGO. Half stayed, half left.
There are 11 national centers, Georgia in the South Caucasus, throughout central and Eastern Europe, and then one in Argentina, which is the first of several centers in Latin America. All the centers have been built around the notion that there are no Americans in these centers. There have never been Americans in the centers. The idea has been to train people in an American model with their job to be to acculturate the model and adapt and change it.
The effect of that has been that we have now a very thick carpet laid from the Baltics to the Balkans in central and Eastern Europe. You could take a trainer from Lithuania, put him with a trainer from Romania, and they could train together in the Ukraine. We've done things like that many, many times. If you went to their own countries it'd be slightly different. They would be training in a slightly different way, based on their own cultural values, but the training methodology, terminology, and process orientation skills are all the same at the regional level. The language of the organization is English, and senior trainers that do international work have to speak English and have to speak Russian; those are the two major qualifications for our senior trainers.
Today, when we setup a center, our two most recent centers are in Kosovo and Albania, all the training of trainers, all the work of developing the cadre of staff, etc., was done east to east. The only part the American side did was developing the financial program and financial systems for the centers. The centers themselves and two new centers, all the training in mediation, negotiation, cooperative planning, citizen participation, the women's program, the ethnic national minority and municipal government program, all those programs that work on core competencies, were all delivered east to east.
Our centers have been very, very financially independent with the exception of one center. The Lithuanian center still gets a little general support funds from us. None of the centers get any general support; they're all self-sufficient at this point. Two of them just bought their own building - the Slovak center and the Romanian centers. That's the new standard in the international partnership among centers, is to buy your own building. Who's got a building is the new joke. We're very close, we meet three times a year for about four days. The first meeting this year was in Bucharest. The second will be in July, in Sofia, Bulgaria and the third will actually be here in the United States, in D.C. And we rotate this around.
There's no hierarchy in Partners, it's an organization that has no headquarters, really. Everybody's equal, and future planning is done at these regional meetings, these international meetings of the partnership. It's all done by consensus, so there's no voting, as such. We just kind of argue out until we feel like we've reached a point where we're all satisfied with something, or we're not and we don't go forward. The organization's very strong, mostly because it operates by relationships and self-interests.
The primary self-interest among the centers is to work with one another and to work internationally. Fortunately, the center directors like one another, and we've been together a long time, I mean our oldest director is going on 11 years, and your youngest is 4, so the relationships are quite tight. There are about 115 staff people in the partnership, about a 150 trainers, we'll train or work with about 35,000 people this year. We're probably the largest training and application organization globally, I think. You would be the person to ask, I would think, after your interviews, you would know. But I don't think there's anybody, to my knowledge anyway, as large as we are. We're completely decentralized, so that's one of our strengths, I think.
Q: What kinds of changes are you hoping that Partners will make to the communities that it works with?
A: Well, Partners has grown exponentially not only geographically but programmatically. Within the partnership, all the programs that any center develops - all the materials, etc. are copyrighted, CD-ROMs and books and all of that - there's no copyright in the partnership. So if you wanted to do a municipal government program and you wanted the materials and training manuals and exercises from the Romanian center, it's available to you. All the centers have committed 10 days a year to the partnership, so we have 11 centers -- counting us, 12 -- so we have 120 days of professional time donated into the partnership.
So if you were a center director from Slovakia and I wanted you in the United States, I'd just have to pay for you to come here. I have up to 10 days of your time, if you have 10 days left, and not assuming that somebody else hasn't claimed them. Or I could take 5 days of your time, if you have 5 days available.
So the partnership is one area of tremendous growth for us. We build about 1 or 2 new centers a year.
We have a three-year strategic plan, and we're halfway through our second year of the three-year strategic plan. In that plan, there are two additional strategies besides new center development. One strategy is affiliates. We are aligning ourselves very closely with conflict resolution organizations that meet certain criteria that want to maturate up, and become stronger, have more core competencies, etc., and want to come into the partnership. There are about 6 or 7 organizations that, by the end of this year, will meet that criteria and probably come into the partnership, or at the beginning of the new year will come in, mostly in Central and Eastern Europe, maybe one or two in Latin America. Then the third strategy is called the spread strategy, which is our most innovative. That is one strategy for us that is moving extremely well. The spread strategy takes the core competencies of change and conflict management and brings them into an organization that has multiple sites around the world, so that we're not building centers, nor graduating affiliates, so to speak. Rather we are spreading methodologies of change and conflict management through humanitarian assistance organizations, through health organizations, through refugee-based organizations.
What we're doing is looking for organizations in the spread strategy that have nothing to do with conflict and change management. We're looking for organizations that have substantive arenas like health, but don't have the process skills, and have grown to the point where on the ground they need more process skills. What we're doing is we're providing those process skills, and those, I would say, are a rapidly-growing field for us, and one that we'll stay with, as we reformat the strategic plan for another three years next year. It'll be a big growth area for us.
We see democracy building and market sector development as requiring a broad range of change and conflict management skills. This should be a profession in every country, and it should be done professionally in that sense. I mean you don't necessarily have to have a union, but on the other hand - in the "small 'u'" sense - but if you want to create a culture of change and conflict management, you need competent people to do that work who are in the country.
These are market economies, so they're going to need to earn a living. They are going to need to earn a living through training and consulting and mediating and facilitating and all that. Partners are probably one of the one of the major organizations developing a profession of mediators, negotiators, etc. We will continue to do that, and we're very active in legislative work, promoting this field in developing democracies. We'll continue to do that.
My vision of it is that Partners and organizations like it that is promoting this work, and it is not just in the arena of post-conflict. That really is the major work, that's an important area. It's in the area of transitional democracies. Countries that are moving in this direction what you find is that they don't have any oil between the gears. They don't know how to manage differences. They don't know how to negotiate in a way that two people who don't like one another or two political groups have to realize that today they're going to negotiate a compromise, because tomorrow they're going to have to live with each other in the Parliament. The days of enemy psychology, and "I'd prefer you die than I work with you," those days in a developing democracy have to go. There's just no way that that psychology should function, should have any space.
If you're really trying to build a sound, democratic institution, democratic psychology and market structures, that psychology has to change to be a democratic oriented psychology. This means you need people who can manage change, manage differences, settle disputes; this is what I call the oil between the gears. There needs to be many, many more people and countries that can do this work. So, I think we've just seen the beginning - we're just at the iceberg stage of it. I think there's a huge amount of work to be done that is essential to make the democracies viable;to make them work better.
Q: Do Partners affiliates do interventions, or do they primarily do trainings?
A: A lot of both. If you see on our website, we have about 45 case studies that are focused only on the second-generation skills, which we call the change management skills. These change management skills are oriented around multi-stakeholder processes such as environmental issues, community-police relations, decentralization of municipal budgets, housing, and welfare reform.
We're doing a huge project with the World Bank and UNDP in Romania to look at developing social policies that relate to Roma and the implementation of health, schools, sanitation, etc. You need a lot of very skilled people to manage these large group processes - not just to facilitate a meeting, not a one-time shot, but how do you design a whole process that will get you a decentralized health service, that will get you a decentralized budget that the municipality and NGOs will buy into? How do you do that? You need do have people who know how to do it, and who are operating professionally in the sense that they're neutral.
They are not there because there's one political party or one corporation that somehow brought them in; they're there because their professional ethics, no matter who brought them in. Like it is in this country, no matter who brought them in their professional ethics are such that they can manage, in a neutral way, a multi-stakeholder process to reach a social or social justice end, or market sector end. So these centers are doing direct application. They're training trainers. They are training people. They are running programs. They are infusing within these programs core competencies in change and conflict management. They are doing all of it. They are also doing public policy work.
There is nothing like that center to my knowledge in the United States. The reason for that is that we have divided up the work in a professional way in the United States. So you are a professional mediator that does environmental work, therefore you are not going to be hired to do labor. Labor mediators won't be hired to do family mediation. The range of work is to narrow in developing democracies. You want to give people a range of expertise and skills across a lot of these different sectors. A center now will do all of it over time. You already see it in Poland and Hungary. You see it as a professionalization of sectors.
Labor is the first to go, so you have labor mediators meeting special criteria generally set by legislation. You are now going to see in the next stage, family mediators. Then you will start seeing the initial professionalization of the field. In the initial first 5-10 years of a developing democracy, not only do you not see it, you should not see it. You want to house all of that expertise in a place where people can learn from one another lessons. Learn, exchange knowledge, expertise, build on who is good in certain areas and learn from them, train new trainers, young people.
So it is better to house them all in one place and probably is easier to sustain that.
I think that is one of the problems that you see with kind of mom-and-pop conflict resolution programs or centers around the world. Two people or three people that are very engaged and enthusiastic but they are so busy raising money and doing mediations. It is a burn out phenomenon and it is very hard to grow. I think it is better to amalgamate and merge at the initial stage of expertise and bring it together. That has been our experience developing the centers. We will probably stay with it for quite some time we are seeing more and more democracies that mature and learn how to, try to figure out how to manage these more complicated social issues.
You have answered this next questioned in a few different spots, but I am going to ask it any way, to try and tie them together to a certain extent. What role do you see Partners having in a society?
A: You mean in its development in a mature democracy or a developing democracy?
Q: Well that leads to my next question. How would Partners be different in a country transitioning to democracy from a role of Partners in a more established democracy, but before then what is the goal of Partners in this society?
A: Partner's goal in mission is primarily is to develop a society in which culture, conflict management and democracy crosses markets of civil society governmental sectors. To promote the idea that democracy market sectors have to create dispute management systems, policies and people to manage them in order for the democracy in the sectors to work at their most proficiently peaceful level.
Our mission is not to promote peace because that is an all encompassing and confusing word to me. I think that Partners' mission is to partly create the infrastructure for democratic society to function as best as possible. Also for market sectors and civil society to engage one another in the most effective promising way as possible, that is our goal. It doesn't have a life in developing democracies for a long period, because it is in the course of doing the trainings in the course of developing the public policies and institutional structures, and the management differences. You are also creating a psychology that says it is ok to create those structures. This is really the most fundamental way creating of the ethos and makes democracy essential, I think.
We are a very large training organization but if you would ask me, for instance, we get a lot of requests to train. We got one the other day from the Philippines from USAID would we train a group of people at the municipal level. Our response was is there training for trainer dimension or do you just want us to train the municipal officials? We want you to train just the municipal officials. Well we are not interested. There are a lot people who are, and here is a great group of trainers that we recommend to you. We think they are great. We would use them if we wanted to. Unless it has a trainer dimension, unless you are going to build a capacity in the country with people indigenous in the country who are serious about this, this is not the right organization.
We are very interested in building a long term capacity, and you can only do that it is about development otherwise, all you do is have a group of people who have for a period of time a modicum of skills. You are not building on those skills because you haven't created anybody who can carry the skill forward. So unless I train you as a trainer you will never get to the stage to be able to train trainers, so if you always get trained and the only people you are training are participants, if I were a funder I would never fund that. Unless something really unusual came up, a special skill or something unique, it is not very sufficient model. It would be much better to have a model where I train you to train participants in your country and then came back 6mo later and the best of your group was trained to train you next group of trainers so you had a vertical development. You certainly want a multiplier effect. Even in the smallest countries, four or five million still have four or five million to reach but you do want to reach whatever the critical mass is you want to reach it. You are not going to reach it if you don't have a capacity building leverage approach, it is just not possible.
So if you are serious about development and you are serious about democracy building you have to discover the leverage effort, otherwise, it is an interesting exercise. Valuable, not to denigrate training in and of itself, but it doesn't go far enough.
What kind of organizations do Partner's organizations generally cooperate with or compete against?
A: We cooperate with a lot of organizations; we cooperate with particularly organizations and particularly the spread strategy. Obviously we are doing a lot of cooperation with health organizations, increasingly so. We do a lot work with IRX here, Mercy Corp, and Project Concern International. Our centers do an enormous range of cooperation with NGOs. We are not in competition with NGOS; quite the contrary. Our interest would be to have as many NGOs as possible learn these skills as possible. The more people who learn the skills, it means the centers and it means as well as on the US side would constantly graduate up to more complex issue partners.
For instance, we set up a center in Argentina and mediation was already for ten years there. There was no reason for us to create a center to do what we call first-generation work, conflict management work. That whole center was dedicated to change management work. You would see several cases of the pioneering work we did in Argentina on the web site, or if you go to the Argentine link at the Argentine web site. What you would see on the web is that it would be almost all change management work. We never even bothered with conflict management work, it was already there. Was it at the same level that we would have done? Probably not, but that did not make a difference at the end of the day. At the end of the day it was there and there was law and public policy and people had already been trained as mediators and trainers. There was no need for us to create a center that did that.
So I would, say one area is the avoidance of redundancy. It is very important that when you go in a country to do an assessment is to find out what is needed and who is doing it. If someone is doing it are they doing it well? If they are doing fine but could do it better with help then so you want to make them a partner or to do something else with that organization. If there is a need and no one is doing it then that begins to set the tone with what the level of work would be for a center. In the case of Argentina, it was clear to us where it was really ready for cooperative planning processes, it just took off and it was ready for it.
We did training of trainers and cooperative planning processes and 1994, 1996, and we didn't do any cases. In 1998 we did trainers of trainers three times in cooperative planning processes, and it took off. I think that the reason for that was that the municipalities, in particular, got to the point in Central Eastern Europe where all of the heavy lifting had been done. They had the financial systems in place. Elections had taken place. The laws had been past about the role of NGOs and how to register. All of these kind of fundamental pieces, the building blocks were in place.
Now they had the same problems as a mayor in NY and San Francisco: how bloody thing is going to run and how are you going to do this exactly. They had the same problems. Those are the tougher issues, What you need then is more facilitative skills. There the going is going to be much slower and the progress is going to be much slower. The big stuff has already been done. The center should be constantly maturating up in skills, in relationship, and processes, in relation to social and political needs over time they will always be maturating, they should be. They must stay at the edge making a difference.
So in that maturation process how would a partner center be different in a more mature democracy than one that is maybe less mature in comparison?
A: Well I don't think you would see a partner center in the United States. We have played with the idea of a center and we have analyzed it a lot. We have never developed a center in the United States because the work is to diffuse and to mature in this country. You couldn't corral labor, environment, and family mediators together. If you did you could only see a house that had many different doors. Our cliental would want to see that level of specialty.
What we have done in the US is we have carved out a very narrow, but quite specific niche. We are primarily interested in promoting change and cooperative planning in particular NGOs, particularly ones that are dealing with i