Former CRS Mediator, New York and Washington, D.C. Offices; Associate Professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Q: Okay. How much direction do you give to minority communities, or how much assistance would you give them in terms of identifying their issues, or prioritizing their issues for them?
A: In caucus, the risk is you get into more of an evaluative procedure with the minority side, comparatively less so with the white side. The risk is that the evaluation will become known in the joint sessions and then there you are, blown out of the water. Again, my experience -- I don't know what other CRS people have done -- but my own experience then, and still is, is to be very transparent about this and say, in effect, to both sides, "Now I sense that there's a need..." Particularly what happens is that there's a frustration on the part of the establishment's side in the process, and it allows you to say, "What I think is happening here is that the minority side doesn't really have a good sense as to how to organize the issues. I think I need to spend some time with them to be able to do that. Would you let me do that?" So when you're meeting with the minority side in caucuses, it's much more than an evaluative procedure. I mean, think about this: "What are the consequences of taking this action now?" Now eventually, that gets evened-out, my sense is, by doing it jointly so as you get closer to the actual agreement. Then you're sitting there with both sides and you're doing much more of an evaluative procedure toward the end than you were in the beginning, because people trust you. I think that I have much more comfort -- by the way, it doesn't matter if it's mediation; I could be doing a problem-solving workshop -- as a facilitator starting out in a much more clearly-defined position of neutrality -- neutral in the sense of being neutral and non-evaluative, and then becoming increasingly so as trust is built up between the parties and as trust is built up with me. So by the time we get to the point of people getting ready to sign off on an agreement of some sort, you're fully-prepared then to say, "Well first of all, let me tell you my own experience," and I'll go into some experience, and I'll say, "Let me give you a perspective about this from another point of view...you can do this, but here's another possibility...here are some resources you can look at if you want to go beyond me, in a sense..."
Q: But you wouldn't do that up-front in caucus?
A: I wouldn't in the very beginning, because I think that the danger is, you're taking over the negotiation for one side, and then when you come back into the joint session, that side is looking at you saying, "Well, your turn!" (Laughter)