Diffuse Interest Problem Solving

Larry Susskind

Co-Director of the Public Disputes Program, Inter-University Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

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 ???).

Q: In conflicts there are often very well defined parties and then very nebulous parties. Say for example, if they're citing a new airport in Mexico City and there's government and there's contracts, and there's business and then there are residents who may not have an association who may not be banded together then any other sense then that they live in the same neighborhood, and yet their a party to a conflict. Who comes, who do you talk to, whose their representative when there is no you know citizens Inc. to come and sit at the table, what do you do?

A: In the process of preparing the assessment we identify categories of stakeholders some easily representable and some so diffused as to be impossible to represent. We then make a proposal in the assessment regarding each category of stakeholders about the method of selecting representatives for that category of stakeholders. We will say, for Category 1, "It's obvious that so and so has the elected association, so for category one they should be invited. And so and so is in the position of whatever in the government, that's the relevant agency they, their senior designee should come," end of story. In this category of small business owners, there is an association of small business owners but there are a lot of people who are not members. Therefore, we suggest the following procedure for caucusing small business owners.

The convener should invite to a specific event facilitated by us or some other neutral for the purpose of selecting ad hoc representatives for the upcoming exchange if there is going to be one. Invite the association and let them bring five people. Invite the following four small business owners who've been quite critical in our interview of the association. And invite the three other people who are university people in the school of business in the area who've been quite critical of the existing association and ask those three groups if they can think of a fourth that they want to invite. Keep the total number to twenty-five and invite them in an evening where people can come after work. Convene them and ask them to choose a representative jointly, so that for each category we will in the assessment recommend a technique for representing hard to represent groups. Either that will be a kind of vote among the potential existing representatives or it will be a selection by potential surrogate representatives, who may not even at the moment know that they're a surrogate for generations yet unborn. We need generations yet unborn at this table to be represented at this table. The following three NGOs really do have a very long term perspective and if they would be willing to come in the role of surrogate representative for this category, one of these three or let them choose amongst themselves would be very good.

Each category of stakeholders will have to address exactly these questions. You can use surrogates. You can use coalitional representatives. In some instances it's perfectly clear and so sometimes you get started. However sometimes you think you've got everybody there, you think you've done this the right way, criticism is raised and somebody comes forward and says, "Nobody here is representing me. I don't care what you say and we're a stakeholder." If we miss somebody in the conflict assessment, then we miss somebody, but my general sense is that the procedure I'm describing allows you to handle the diffuse interest problem.