Jay Rothman on Scaling Up Interventions to Work at the Community Level

This was my (Heidi Burgess's) second interview with Jay Rothman, held on August 22, 2023.  Our first discussion, held on June 26, 2023, focused on Jay and Daniela Cohen's intervention in the deep-rooted, protracted conflict over a school bond issue in Yellow Springs, Ohio (USA).  (I'd call this conflict "intractable," but Jay doesn't like that term, and even if it was, it perhaps no longer is, due to Jay and Daniella's intervention.) In this conversation we compare that intervention to a much larger, but similar one that Jay did in Cincinnati, Ohio over 20 years ago. That intervention related to police profiling and excessive use of force against blacks. Both of these interventions are excellent examples of ways to "scale up" small scale, "table-oriented" conflict transformation processes, to large scale processes that worked to significantly transform (and in the case of Yellow Springs, potentially resolve) highly challenging, apparently intractable conflicts.


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Heidi: Hi, this is Heidi Burgess. I'm here today with Jay Rothman, who is President and founder of the Aria group, which is a conflict analysis and resolution consulting firm out of Yellow Springs, Ohio. This is the second interview I've done with Jay this summer. In the first one, about a month or so ago, maybe two months ago, we talked about his intervention with his partner, Daniela Cohen in a school conflict in Yellow Springs. At the end of that conversation, I said that I was very interested in talking to him about comparing that intervention with another one he did about 20 or 25 years ago in Cincinnati, Ohio, which involved police community relations and police profiling and shooting of blacks, a topic which is quite relevant today, obviously. So, I want to explore some of those things with Jay today.

But first, I want to get an update on Yellow Springs. When we first talked before, if I remember right, the board was going to meet sometime in July or early August to decide on whether they were going to go forward with a bond issue. Did that happen? And what did they decide?

Jay: They decided with consensus again that they're going forward and that they are on the right track. So, in November, it will, indeed, be put up for a vote. And as of now, it seems like the winds are blowing in a favorable direction. We do not hear or feel or sense a kind of resistance or antagonism that was existing before. Now, we don't know. Maybe it is being organized, but if so, it's not known.

What we're hearing is that the board's ability to reach consensus really impacted the community’s sense that this is the way to go.

Heidi: Very cool. I will keep my fingers crossed. I was very much hoping that was going to be your answer and not all thumbs down. So that's great! You will be hearing from me in November if you don't get in touch with me first.

The other thing that I wanted to do, based on the last discussion, was one of the last questions I gave you was “what lessons might people draw from that experience that they could apply in other situations?” And your, first comment was, “boy, I wish I would have had time to think about this.” And then you and Daniela came up with what I thought was a fabulous list of lessons.

If it would be helpful, I can read through those.

Jay: That would be great.

Heidi: Okay. So let's see. You said first that community level conflicts are systems problems, and they have to be dealt with as complex adaptive systems. I'm not sure you use those terms, but that's the term I use, and that's basically, I think, what you meant—I think we're on the same page with that. You talked about needing to keep the process out of the public eye. About the utility, at least in your case, of the identity frame. The situation looked, on the surface, to be just a money issue. And if you delved deeper, you would see that there were, actually, a lot of identities that were in play, which creates a different kind of conflict and a different kind of response than simply a money response. You also said that there was great utility in using a survey to get more people involved.

And then Daniela added to that, the importance of having different kinds of processes, all of which are designed to get different people involved. And gave more people a chance to both be heard and hear other people. She said that it was important to uncover the underlying values underneath the positions and the interests. And attending to who was left out of the process--that was part of how you got to the survey. And then, finally, she talked about perseverance and just keeping at it and being persistent in the face of challenges, which there were some.

Jay: Let me correct a couple of those, and then add one more that I've thought about.

Heidi: Great.

Jay: So the one about keeping it out of the public eye, I think I might have misstated that. I wanted to keep me out of the public eye. We wanted the process to be very known and very owned by the public, because part of the problem was that people were feeling antagonistic dynamics, and were getting either riled up by them and becoming antagonistic themselves, or more often, people were checking out—saying “a plague on all your houses. If this is going to be so contentious and so antagonistic, I want out of this. I either won't vote, or I'll vote against it because I'm just angry at everybody's anger.” Right?

So, we were to committed to changing the trajectory of the community sensibilities. So, we wanted this to be in the public eye and in the media as Daniela said, having multiple processes going on where people could get re-engaged if they were disengaged before.

But I wanted to be out of the public eye myself for two reasons. One was sort of self-tending. And the other was, I think, more in terms of the value of the process. I didn't want to be known as a leader of this process. So, I was active in going to other people and inviting them in. And helping them think through how they might add to a constructive dynamic and help overcome the destructive dynamic that was very much the case in this complex dynamical system.

We talked about this last time, but that race between the virtuous and the vicious cycles was key. There was a very vicious cycle. It was 6 years old already. And we were, in four months, being invited to try to change that to a virtuous cycle. So, we didn't want that to be looked at as “look what Rothman and the ARIA group are doing!” I wanted it to be “ Look at what all of us are doing!” And that that has always been my approach.

And there's also a revenge effect to that that I might discuss when we come to Cincinnati.

The good effect was a lot of people really felt like they had a lot of leadership and a role in changing the trajectory. And they did. From the school professionals to the school board, to the Community Foundation, to the volunteer mediators, to the media, there was just a growing sense of, “yes, this doesn't have to be so contentious.” “ Yes, this is about our future together.” “ Yes, we can do this.“

So that was all, I think, really important, and valuable. Again, not that we didn't want it to be public. We did want it to be public. But I didn’t want my personal role to be public because I was doing this at home. And that's risky, right? When you mediate or you facilitate, you get on a plane and go away, you know. And if it's gone well and people are happy, or it's gone badly and people are mad, all right, you still leave. Right? But when you go home and it's right here, then it's very uncomfortable. So, there was some self-protection there that I also was doing.

Now the revenge effect of that, both for me locally, and then largely in Cincinnati, which we'll come to, is, given that people didn't know that we did it, they didn't know to talk with us before, during or after and say, you know, “way to go!” or “what are you doing there?” Or, “Hey, we're having some challenges here. Can you help us with that?”  We made ourselves insignificant. And that's great.

But to some extent, when things are not going so well I might have said, ”Hey, we have some ideas here.”  And people say, “Yes? so do I. I have some ideas. So, who are you?” And I say, “nobody, I’m just a villager.”

In Cincinnati, that became worse, and we'll talk about that. The other thing that I want to add in terms of a lesson learned, this is what I would have done differently. Towards the end, we did this survey, and the survey was a way to get a lot of people involved. And indeed, we got a fifth of the population involved through the survey, including a lot of people, I think, who had been disaffected.

Some of the responses said you know, “thank you for asking us. We feel like nobody has cared about our opinion. So, thank you for creating a non-contentious approach to having the ability to share our views and have our voice heard.” People said that in the survey.

What also happened is the first survey we had was kind of blown up by some people who were eager for the adversarial dynamics to continue. And so we had a very short time to redo the survey and get it back to the school board before they had to make a decision.

And what we realized is that we needed to get help. We needed to get help from the community leaders to make sure the survey felt valid to everybody across different positions and different stakeholder groups. And two, we needed their help in getting out the voice, getting people to fill out the survey. And believe that it was valuable opportunity.

So, we pulled together this group of about 12 people in the last three weeks of our four-month intervention. I wish I brought them together in the first three weeks. In hindsight, I didn't because I didn't exactly know what I was doing and having 12 people tell me what I should do, might make me even more confused. But they were a great group of people, and they really did both give legitimacy to the process and power to it.

So, you know, having a kind of local community leadership group to support and guide and critique what we were doing, I think would have been very helpful throughout. So, I think that was an important lesson. Not so insightful, but if it's a local project, and particularly if I don't want to be the one who's being identified as initiating or guiding that project, then bring in community leaders and ask and have them be the voice in the face of what we're doing.

So. I think that was an important lesson learned about what to do differently.

Heidi: Do you think that had you brought them in earlier that the process would have evolved differently?

Jay:  I think I might have suffered a lot less! You know, Daniela and I really carried this. We had the staff of the Foundation, who, we actually began to understand, were our clients. Was the school board our client, was a school staff our client, was the community?  No, the Community Foundation leaders who commissioned us to do this were our client.

And so, we went back to them almost every week and said, “help!” What are we doing here? How do we do this differently? And they were enormously helpful. If we'd had a community group alongside of them, or maybe with them, I think it would have taken the burden off us, shared some of the difficulties, as well as some of the decisions in an effective way. I think it would have helped a lot. Also, you know, I had to be decisive, and it could have confused me. But, I think that tradeoff would have been worth it.

Heidi: Okay. I mean, I was thinking that it potentially it could be a situation of “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Jay:  Right, right. That's what I mean by confusing me with too much advice and input. But, you know, part of what I would have needed to do, as I did with the survey, is say, “ Here's a question I'm going to ask in the survey. Is this a good question? How would you reword this question if it's not good? “  So, I’d have used very specific requests, not what should I do? But, rather, “this is my plan. Would like you to tell me what's problematic about this plan from your perspective, or what's good about this plan.” And then I'm going to decide, given that input, what to do. So, I think, you know, having an advisory board and say, “What should I do” would be problematic. Having an advisory board and saying, “Here's my plan, give me a critique,” I think, would be helpful. Or “I'm stuck now, what do you suggest?”

Heidi:  So yeah, that makes sense. And  it's interesting to me that you say that that's important, given that you are already an insider. I think it would be doubly true as important if you are an outsider coming in.

Jay: I agree with you

Heidi: All right. So, let's move on to Cincinnati. But let me give a little bit of background to my thought here for folks who are watching this discussion. One of the reasons that Guy and I have been really interested in talking to Jay is that it strikes us that he is one of the few people in this field who has always had a really good sense of how to deal effectively with large scale problems. As I've written in many places, most conflict resolution experts, practitioners, work around a table. We call them “table-oriented processes.” Which means that they get two people together, say, in a divorce mediation, sit down with a mediator, and hash out how they're going to divide up the property and deal with the children and that sort of thing. Very simple, of course--divorces aren't simple. Some of them are really, very difficult. But it's still just two people and some kids and a mediator.

Things get a lot more complicated when you're talking about an entire community, such as either Yellow Springs or Cincinnati. One of the things that I want to talk about is the size difference between Yellow Springs and Cincinnati. You were able to get a fairly significant portion of the Yellow Springs citizenry involved because it was such a small community. And I don't know if you were able to do the same thing in Cincinnati. We'll talk about that. But size just increases the complexity because there's so many different people with different agendas, different values, different interests, different concerns. And all interacting and changing the dynamic.

And a lot of people assume that you could do the same thing. You just take the small scale, table- oriented process and get together some leaders at the community level or the national level. Bring 20 of them together at a table, have them hash it out, and voila, you've got an agreement, just like you did with those two people. And you and I both know it doesn't work that way. And that's one of the things that we're really trying to learn more about and help other people learn more about, is how to more effectively design processes that do work at scale.

Particularly because Guy and I are really concerned about the trajectory of the United States right now --and we're certainly not the only ones --almost everybody who lives here is too. And this is an extremely complex problem, and we think that conflict resolution professionals are in a unique position to be able to help America deal with many of these issues, not necessarily at the national level to begin with, although there have been some attempts made to do that. But at least at the local level. And the red/ blue dynamic is being played out in very difficult ways in many localities. And if we could get a handle on that in these localities, it could really do a lot, I think, to change the tenor of the discussion nationwide. So that's why we're really interested in helping conflict resolvers figure out how to work better at scale.

So, let's look at what you did in Cincinnati. When I told you I wanted to do that, you reminded me that you did an audio interview with one of the people who worked with us, Julian Portilla, in 2003, that I had forgotten all about. And I went back and read that and was delighted to see how detailed you got in describing the Cincinnati process and what went on. But you didn't have very many years under your belt at that point. The interview was in 2003 and Cincinnati was 2001 going into 2002. So you only had one year under your belt and now there's been 20 or 23. Something like that. So rather than having you rehash the whole original story, I'd like you to give us a two-minute condensed version. And we'll tell folks who are interested in seeing the details to go back to the original interview. And then after that two- minute summary, we'll move into and what does this imply about dealing with conflicts at scale, comparing that to Yellow Springs, talking about what's happened in the interim 20 years. But give us a two-minute version.

Jay: Okay. So, my training is in international relations. My teachers were John Burton, Ed Azar, Herb Kelman, and the problem-solving workshop approach. I brought that to Jerusalem. I did my dissertation on how to bring that down from the international relations to intergroup relations between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem. And in that, I developed my identity-based conflict approach. Which basically, in that setting, is very clear. It's about my sense of self being threatened and frustrated by the other group's sense of self, which is threatened and frustrated by me. And that that is the frame there.

So then when I came back to the United States, that's what I began to see as very much part of the discourse here, even though many times it was being framed as interests. I said, “I think it is, and beneath those interests are deeper, communal, collective identities that are threatened and frustrated.”

So, when I was asked to intervene in the conflict going on in Cincinnati, Ohio, by a federal judge, it was actually before any unrest or riots happened, three months before. She had been having a lot of cases come before her about racial profiling. About biased policing of the black community in Cincinnati. And she decided to bring me in as a mediator. So, I was asked to mediate between the prospective parties to a federal lawsuit. The police chief, the head of the Black United Front, the police union, and so forth. The major stakeholders. I brought them into a room and said, “I've been asked to mediate between you, and this is what it's about, racial profiling.” The Police chief said, “no thanks. We didn’t do it. We'd rather go to court. We’ll prove we didn’t do it.  What else you got for us, Rothman?”

And I said, well, “I have this thing called ARIA-C3 (also known as or action evaluation)1, two different names for the same process, where we don't talk so much about what happened in the past, but we say, given what happened in the past, in this case, claims of racial profiling, and counterclaims from the police, what do we do in the future? We try to help parties collaboratively envision build a trajectory for a better future based on this conflict dynamic in the past.

I said, “look, I think it might be a mistake, because unless you deal with this conflict in the past, building your future is going to be very fraught, but if you're not willing to deal with the past, I could potentially help you work to build more cooperative relations in the future.” The chief said, “sure, that's what we do anyway. I'm not sure you'll do any better than we can do, but it'll keep us out of court for a while, so why not?” The head of the Black United Front said, “if he thinks this is a good idea, I wonder if it is. So, Rothman, what do you have for me? What do you have for the black community here?  Right now we have them [the police] scared, because we have potential federal lawsuits against their behavior. Why would we give that up to do a future-oriented process?”

I said, “only because there's a federal judge who's behind all of this. And if we succeed in coming up with a new agenda for the future, she is going to make sure that it's implemented. She is going to make sure the agenda that you set will go forward.” He said “that's good enough. We'll try.”

So we tried for several months. We really tried. I'd brought them together for dialogue and discussions. But it wasn’t going anywhere.

And then a 17-year-old African-American youth was shot in the back while running away from police to arrest him for misdemeanors; a rookie police officer shot him. And Cincinnati burst into flames. Variously called “unrest” and “riots.” Different political meanings.

And at that point, this group of potential parties to a federal lawsuit, that had been sort of gladiators, all of a sudden, became collaborators and saying, “yes, we do have a different idea.” We have a way to think about visioning into the future.

So, we spent the next year bringing together 3500 people. Basically, through a survey process of asking people, what, why, how? Simple questions. What are your visions for the future of police community relations? Why do you care about them deeply? And how do you want to accomplish them?

We grouped everyone into eight different stakeholder identity groups. Youth, police and their families, city leaders, and so forth, eight different groups. And each group met. After we got their data, we analyzed and organized it, basically through a cluster analysis of what was shared and unique and contrasting across their data. And then we presented it back to them in feedback sessions, four-hour feedback sessions, where each group reached their own internal consensus about the future of police community relations.

Then we brought together the representatives of these groups that were selected by their groups to pull together consensus across the consensus. And we had a database system that helped us to do this, that made it very efficient. So, we had 3500 people sharing data, 800 people coming back to 8 different dialogue groups throughout nine months. And then 80 people representing ten from each of the eight groups, reaching consensus on five principles for the future of police community relations.

Those were then turned back to the federal court. We worked with them to create a legal document that was then affirmed by the Justice Department, and then it went forward--in fits and starts--over the next 20-some years. And it has been fits and starts, but it also has continued.

And as I looked at the data about how things are going, just yesterday, I see there are a couple of things that were very interesting to me. First of all, immediately after the collaborative was formed, the chief stepped down. At the time, he had actually been somewhat adversarial to our process, but at this point, he was very much of an advocate of it. And he was replaced by the first African-American chief of police in the history of Cincinnati. That felt symbolically powerful.

Since then, there have been several more African-American police chiefs, and now there's an African-American female police chief. Maybe there's no direct line from our process to this dynamic. But there was a change in culture and attitude, so maybe its at least correlated.

The other thing is that one of the main leaders of the Black United Front, Iris Roley, was actually recently hired by the city --20 years later --to make sure that the collaborative continues to have legs. So that there is a commitment to ongoing community engagement, which I was concerned was lost soon after the collaborative changed from 3500 people setting an agenda to the federal court designing and implementing that agenda. I felt the community's voice was lost. And so initially, I was distressed that what gave this collaborative so much power was somewhat sidelined by the powerful (e.g. federal court, city leaders, police leaders, etc.). But having Iris Roley being affirmed as sort of the holder of this story and the community participation feels very meaningful now some 22 years later. And being hired by the city to do this suggests the continued commitment that I find very affirming.

So that was more than two minutes. And I probably went into some of the questions you want to ask. But let me stop here and see where you want to take it.

Heidi: Okay. That was very helpful. And my mind's going in many different directions at once. Let's look at the similarities and the differences between Yellow Springs and Cincinnati and look first at whether you were able to get the same sense of being heard in Cincinnati that you had at Yellow Springs. You told the story about how in the Yellow Springs survey people said “finally, people are finally listening to me.” Do you think by getting 3500, I think you said the number was, people involved in Cincinnati, that got the community to feel as if they were being heard? When it went from a bottom-up community process to a top down--I don't know if the consent decree is the proper term, but the legal document that the judge created. Was there a sense that that legal document really did reflect the will of the people, did people still feel like that was theirs? That they were heard? Or was it still a sense of “this is being imposed on us”?

Jay: Yeah. So, let's use John Paul Lederach’s framework of peacebuilding: bottom up, top down, middle out. Right? In many ways, I think that is how process-wise Cincinnati is quite a model. Because, you know, while it was started top down with the federal judge, but she was really willing to set aside her authority to let the process grow from the bottom up. The agenda would be set by the community.

At first, she critiqued the process as “just talk” in a pejorative way (btw, there’s a chapter in my book by that title). But I think as the process went forward, she understood that this was actually just [as in “justice”] talk, talking about fairness. We were talking about inclusion. We were talking about safety. We were talking about respect. We were talking about fundamental issues. Fundamental needs. And these were being talked about by thousands of people through their survey responses and in the very positive media coverage. And then face-to-face, by hundreds of people. And yes, I think people had a sense that “there's a place for me.”

I remember a conversation with one woman, and she said that “I'm nervous. I'm excited because I'm being asked what I care about, what I want. But I'm nervous that after you ask me, you're going to not pay attention.” And you know, my heart sank a little bit and I said, “I fear that too. But as of now, we have the opportunity to have you set the agenda. What's going to happen with that agenda, I can't promise. But I do know that the judge is seriously interested in hearing what you have to say. And the media is too.”

All over the world, actually, the media was watching. There was a BBC film that was made. There were New York Times articles that were written. They were NPR stories that were told. And we headlined many stories in local media. So, people were very intrigued by the idea that the agenda for the future of police-community relations is going to be bottom up.

Now, in Yellow Springs, it was the opposite. It began top down, as we worked with the school board. There it was said “let's work with the school leadership. Let's work with those decision makers who have to create an opportunity for the community to positively respond.”

And then at the end of the process, actually, in the middle as well, when we did the world cafe, we tried to bring more and more of the community in. So Yellow Springs began sort of top down, then bottom up. Cincinnati was bottom up and then top down.

Heidi: But also, it was started by the judge.

Jay: It was started by the judge. So, it was top down, but then the real direction came from the bottom. They set the agenda. So, yes, in some ways that was also similar in Yellow Springs. In both, leadership took the initiative and responded to the community.

And in some ways, that might be an interesting way to think about what are we doing in our work of civic engagement. To quote Jim Laue, we are ”conflict resolutionaries.” Are we conflict creative engagers? What we're trying to do is create a voice and a space for an agenda to be set by the people who are most influenced by those agendas.

And how are we going to be able to create those agendas in a way that had legs, that really changes policy and impacts lives on a daily basis? So, in Cincinnati, we went bottom up with 3500 voices. Top down was the federal judge and, actually, the courts in general, right? The Justice Department came in and sanctioned what we were doing in Cincinnati. And then middle-out was involved too. The middle-out in Cincinnati were the institutions that were empowered to carry the water.

We created an institution called the Police Community Partnering Center. The police department was another one of those institutions, the Black United Front, which had really been at the core of launching this. So, there were institutional frameworks that then were empowered to carry forward this agenda.

My discomfort and dissatisfaction was that those 3500 people basically lost their voice as things went forward.  So, I'm afraid that that woman who said to me “you know, I'm excited to be asked about my opinion, but is it going to make a difference in the long term? Are they going to listen?” I could say to her, “yes, they are, but you're not going to know it. Because they're not going to keep reaching back to you. They're not going to call out to you. There's room for you to come, but they're not going to keep inviting you.” And I think they needed to. I think the issue of trust, the issue of participation, became much smaller as the focus on policy changed and best police practices for enhancing police-community relations, funding, and so forth became primary. It should have been both and I'm afraid it got a little bit bifurcated.

Now, Iris Roley never lost her involvement. She was always involved. It was kind of amazing how she kept involved. And now that she's officially sanctioned to be involved, I think it's kind of a recognition that these two things of top down and bottom up have to continue. And the institutional frameworks of middle-out are the places where they meet.

So, the Police Community Partnering Center is the ideal place, or at least it was. I'm not sure it unfolded like it might have. But the idea was this is a place where the authority of the police and the participation of the community is continuing to work together to find ways that community-oriented policing can really work, which was the larger frame.

In Yellow Springs now, we had the school board and the professional staff that was trying to figure out how to get out of the antagonistic dynamics they were in. And the survey and the participation from Yellow Springs residents, I think, gave them some courage and strength to go beyond the binaries. For which they were, to some extent, elected, right? The school board was elected representing different values in the community. When the community came together, in the night of the school board vote, a number of folks said to them, “just make a decision. Just find a single voice. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough.”

And the survey said the same thing. Most people said, “just make an affirmative decision that you all can stand behind, and then we'll stand behind your ability to stand behind it.” And that's what happened.

So, this really interesting dynamic of who's leading and who's following was always shifting. The elected leaders are leading and the community's following, but they are getting confused because the leaders are in conflict. Now the leaders are not in conflict and the community is asking them to please just move forward.

And so, they are coordinating their ideas, in a sense that “we are in this together and we're going to get out of this together.”

Heidi:  It strikes me that you're telling the same story in two different ways in two different places. But in both Cincinnati and in Yellow Springs, the top-down/bottom-up nature of this kept on switching.

Jay: Yes.  And in both instances, you had to have both. But who was more in charge, more dominant, more relevant at any particular time? It kept on switching. It was true in both. Yes. That's a really good insight, Heidi.

And I think it's useful to hang their hat on the question of agenda setting. Who's in charge of setting the agenda or pushing the trajectory, right? Is it going to be those angry people who are accusing each other of bad faith and antagonism and in that way, stirring it up themselves? Or is it going to be those who are saying, “we can solve problems together. We're in a community together. We care about a better future together.”

Who's going to be able to set that agenda? Is it going to be elected officials? Well, the elected officials aren't doing very well. They're antagonistic with each other. Is it going to be the community? In this case, that was the shift. The elected officials were getting closer, but they were still far apart. The community then came together and said with their survey and their input, “please make a decision. We need to move forward. If we don't move forward, we're going to be moving backward very soon.” And so, the community set the agenda, the elected officials then reached consensus, which was kind of an amazing moment for everybody.

And then the community relaxed and said, “okay, we have leaders who are working together. We can support them. We will support them.” I believe that's what's going to happen. In Cincinnati too, we gave them a five- point agenda. They seem to be implementing it. We are going to watch them. In Cincinnati, there was a public process because it was decided that this was a class action which needed to have a public hearing and affirmation before the agreements would be ratified by the Court. So, the judge brought people together to have input into the agreement before it was finalized. And that was a way for the judge to use her chambers as a way to bring the community in. And I think at that moment it was very useful. But as I say, as the process unfolded, the community felt and actually, I think, really was, sort of sidelined. And that was a big mistake.

Now, when I talk about the advantage of me as the third party, making myself small and being unnoticed to some extent, the advantage is personally some self-protection, the advantage is that it really shines light on those who should have the light shined on them. The locals who are going to live and own this in an ongoing way, the elected or paid professionals, the community leaders, and so forth.

But the negative part of it is that when things start going bad or in Cincinnati case, when the community was sidelined, I wasn't there to say, “hey, look at this data. Look what they said. Please start organizing meetings to bring them back.” Right?

There was a big question after the collaborative was over, who's going to monitor this? And it was between me and a U.S. attorney. And to some extent, I sort of did myself out of the role because I was exhausted, but I was willing to do it. And some folks were pushing for me because if I was the monitor, it was clear what my emphasis was going to be monitoring the ownership and involvement of the community. If a U.S. attorney was going to be the monitor, he was going to monitor the implementation of the agreement from a legal perspective.

And so, he did, and he did it very well. And the cost was, I think, that the prize, which was community ownership and belief was weakened a great deal. So the answer is always in all our work, Heidi, it has to be both/and… They should have co-hired us.

Heidi: I do find myself wondering whether it really would have been possible to keep the same level of community involvement over 20 or 30 or a100-year period. I mean, people do get burned out. And other issues will come up. But, the one thing that's interesting about police-community relations is we never seem to get out of having incidents, no matter how good things get. No matter what we do, there's still going to be another incident. Maybe it's just the nature of our country and the prevalence of guns and all that. There's going to be incidents. So that might continue to breathe life in, potentially, life into this process. But I know from my experience in other totally different situations, it's hard to maintain community involvement over a long period of time.

Jay: I agree with you. And here's my idealism and maybe frustration at once. Is that the questions that we ask in our work, whether it was Cincinnati or Yellow Springs, our questions are really, very simple. It's what, why, and how? What do you want? Why do you want it? And that “why” is sort of the deeper part of our identity work. Why does this matter? Why is this deeply meaningful to you as a police officer, or as a black citizen, or as a youth? What's going on in your experience that makes your goal so powerfully important? And then given your what and your why, how do you want to do this?

So, we were very successful at the what and the why. We had these dialogues where people told their stories to each other. First in their own groups and then to some extent across the groups, and they were very meaningful, powerful conversations. I remember one young black woman being interviewed after the meeting where she talked with other youth respondents about her experience. She said, ‘you know, this unrest didn't just happen two months ago. It happened last year. Happened the year before. It happened when you didn't ask me about my experiences and didn't want to know my stories. Now you're asking, now you're hearing for the first time, so please keep listening.” It was just very powerful.

And then what about goals? We had five goals that got synthesized down from 3500 people responses, from 10,000 individual goals. They boiled them down in their focus group discussions. But what got lost was their “how” ideas. They also had at least 10,000 how ideas.

Before I left my role, I was bringing back some of these groups to say, “okay, now we have our goals, the five goals, we have our stories about why these think goals are so important, and you have 10,000 action ideas, which of course group down to maybe 50 or 100 similar categories of actions. Which of these do you want to work on?” They responded: “We want to work on the one where police come into our neighborhoods and walk, and we develop a relationship.” “We want to work on the ones where we actually ride along with the police to see their work.” “We want to work on the one that works on economic dislocation that ultimately breeds conflict, and crime.” “We want to work on the one that ultimately is the bottom of all of this, which is institutional racism, right”? So, they were beginning to sign up for things. And then we moved on. In all of this, the how ideas were set aside. They're still there. And it seems to me that they could have centered those to very good effect of ongoing community engagements.

They created this thing called the Community Police Partnering Center. And has a very interesting origin. We were in negotiations in the Judge’s chambers at the end of the process. And the head of the Fraternal Order of Police was saying, “look, we're behind this. We believe in it,” which has gone up and down during the collaborative and afterwards about how much the police leadership was actually committed to this. But at this point, they said they were committed. They said, however, we think we put ourselves into a bad position, because we're going to be held accountable for our changed behavior and the community isn't. So that's not fair.

And those representing the community said, you’ve got a good point there. So, what can we do? And so they created this institution called the “Police-Community Partnering Center.” And that center should have been the repository of those 10,000 goals. And should have been the place where the police and community come together to plan actions and cooperatively work on this new vision that we have in very concrete specific terms but I’m not sure it ever really got legs (note: I see it was taken over by the Urban League and seems to be active still - https://www.facebook.com/cincycppc/)

So, your comment that people lose energy, I think it's true. And it gets back to the judge’s critique that this is “just talk.” If you just talk too long, that's a problem. But if you talk about justice, just things, that's going to help it be more powerful. But ultimately, you have to translate it into practice and to shared action. And that's what I think could sustain people's involvement over the very long term, right? That gets institutionalized. That gets, you know…now you have not only agendas for changing police community relations, but what's the agenda for our neighborhood? What's the practice that we can do in this place of unrest that can involve [the citizens], that can be participatory and create a sense of forward momentum together?

One other comment I want to make, though, is about the long arc. One of the things I just read about this new police chief, who I think just took office recently, the black woman police chief, is that she said, “I was a lieutenant during the unrest and during the collaborative. And I watched this process, and it inspired me. And I think my leadership role now, reflects on what we accomplished.” So that's the long arc of this work that we can never know and evaluate. And that gives me a good sense of that we don't know the good that we're doing when we help people cooperate.

We can quickly see how it falls apart, but we don't know how, in the long run, in the sort of educational and moral sense, it has created a new trajectory that people can build on and move out from.

Heidi:  Such an interesting point! I am looking at the clock with dismay and realizing, my gosh, we haven't touched a whole bunch of stuff.  I wanted the main thrust of our conversation to focus on what other people can do to scale up our table-oriented processes to larger-scale processes. And I think in our conversation, you've already talked about several. One is to engage top-down, bottom-up, middle-out processes, all at the same time.

And focus on who is setting the agenda and how and allowing that to switch back and forth is helpful. One of the things that you didn't say overtly, but you've been describing for our whole last hour is the notion that you do get people together around a lot of small tables. And then you use some sort of process to bring the ideas from each of those tables together into some sort of consensus.

And I'm interested…and various folks may not realize this, because they have maybe not recently watched the other video. But in Cincinnati, which was a huge amount of data, you were using spreadsheets or whatever--ancient technology. And then in Yellow Springs, you used AI and ChatGPT and the computer to put it all together. And I found myself thinking as you were describing this, wow, if you would have had AI in Cincinnati. But anyway, you still did do small groups, because it seems as if small groups are still a really good way to get people to understand each other. But you have to be able to build in some way to scale that understanding up into something that's going to have as many people as possible saying, “I was heard.” And I guess my question would be in our last 7 minutes, what other things can you pull out of these two experiences that provide lessons on scale up beyond those two.

Jay: Yeah. So, the identity framework that I sort of developed, learned, but really refined in my work in Jerusalem suggests three levels of analysis that we have to pay attention to, I think, sequentially. The first level analysis is the self. The individual necessitous being who has needs and values and hopes and fears. And get them involved individually and give them a sense that “my voice matters and my concerns are really important.” So that's where the Aria C3 survey system (aka Action Evaluation), which now doesn't work very well since the database it is built around is in serious need of upgrading. It's 12 years old, so it needs to be replaced and maybe; AI will be the way to replace it in many ways. Because what it does is help us do this cluster analysis of this very large number of data.

But the starting point is the individual who says, this is what I want. This is why I want it. This is how I want it to happen.  And then, and then in that sense itself, say, “okay, I have made a contribution. My voice is going somewhere.”

And then the next level is “who am I within this group? And who are the other members of my group?” A lot of people say, “I want to go from the individual to the system.” I say, as an identity framework, I want to go from my voice to the group that I identify most strongly with in this situation. In Cincinnati, they had eight groups they could choose from when they filled out the survey.

I got a phone call very early on from a black 21 year-old police officer. She said to me she's 21. She said to me, I have three choices. I could answer as a black person. I can answer as a police person. I could answer as a youth. I'm all three of those. You're making me choose. I said “yes.” In this case, you have to choose which group think you needs your voice most. Which group do you want to influence? Which group do you feel like needs to be addressed? And she said, “okay, then I'll answer as a police officer.” So then she went to her police group, and she said, here's my voice. Now in the context of the police, I want to help us reach agreement. Because if we can't reach agreement as police officers, about what we hope the future will be, then there's no way we can reach agreement at the systems level. Across the groups.”

So that trajectory from the individual to the intragroup to the intergroup or the system, I think, is the way that we scale up. The individual needs a place to say, “this is what I want. This is why and this is how.” The individual then needs a group, a reference group, an an identity group, an interest group where they can work through their differences, and therefore not project them onto the other side, which is what happens. Lots of intergroup conflict is caused by the conflict within groups that gets projected outside.

So, if they can work through their differences and build consensus internally, then to some extent, what Bill Zartman told me he thought I was doing, these groups had been conditioned to start learning how to be collaborative across the groups. If they can deal with the differences in their own groups and reach agreement, then they can work on differences across the groups and reach agreement. And then they do that at that system's level.

So, self, group, system, I think, is the trajectory that I work in and that helps us scale up from the small individual to a larger group to the whole social system that they're embedded in, and in this problem they're trying to solve.

Heidi: Fabulous! So let me end perhaps with what strikes me as practically an impossible question. But it's one that is really burning in my mind.  You said maybe ten minutes ago that you didn't want to work with the people who were trying to tear the community apart, who were trying to still continuously stir things up. You wanted to work with the people who thought that they could build a better future. The big problem that I see in America right now is that there are so few of those people. So many people have just given up, including, I think, people in our field. These people have thrown in the towel and said, “the end is here. We're facing catastrophe.” And in the face of that, they are doing things that 20 years ago, our field would never have countenance doing. How do you get people who are in that kind of mindset to switch to a notion that no, we really can do something, it's worth starting to try some sort of process such as you've described. How do you take people out of the gloom to the hope?

Jay: All right. So let me see if I can answer a super complicated fascinating question philosophically. First of all, I think we have to be careful about language. So, when people say to me, “I'm optimistic,” I say, “whoa, I'm not.” Optimistic says” it will happen.” I say, “I'm hopeful, though.” Hopeful says “it could happen.” And then it also says, and “if it could happen, then I have some agency to try to help it happen.” I think when people are despairing, maybe it's because they were optimistic before, and now they realize that optimism was misplaced. And so, let's change them from being despairing, because their optimism was unfounded or destroyed, to hopeful for possibility.

And then from that hope, have a sense of agency. And the agency in our field is to say, “there are these extremists who are setting the agenda, and we're not going to join either side. Because if we do, then those in the middle who need to grow larger are not going to have our advocacy. Have the advocacy of our field.”, I used to say that a lot in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. People would say to me, so you're working with people who already, to a certain extent, agree with each other. Isn't that a problem”? Don't you need to be working with the extremists who basically want to destroy each other? And I say “No. I'm not probably not going to be able to change their minds or their approaches. But if I can help to support those who already believe that working across their lines is a better thing to do, and give them more skill and will, then extremists are going to get more and more marginalized and those seeking to build alliances are going to grow stronger and wider.”

And I think that's still the calling of our field, which is to have a sense of hope and possibility that things could change, and that if the people who are out there who may be despairing because it seems like the extremists are setting the agenda, help them not give in. And that we're not going to give in. Despite our own doubts, the state of our own fears, that we say, “we still believe deeply in the hopefulness of hope and in the possibility of possibility. And we're going to spend our energy building both-and solutions, building the common foundation on which we are constructing the future that we know is essential if we're going to survive.”

 So, you know on the one hand, that sounds like a lot of nice things to say. But we have, and this is where our field is, I think, really still so relevant. We not only have good ideas and good theories, but we have skills and practices and experiences that say, “this works! It needs more energy. It needs more power. It needs more people. It needs more money. It needs all those things. But we have the foundation to build on. And there's a reason not to despair. There is evidence and experience that says, ‘we are not doomed to fail. There are possibilities and probabilities that with the right energy and the right commitments, we can turn the ship.’ “

Heidi: That's a great place to end. It's the message that we've been trying to put out for a number of years now. I very much appreciate your take on it and just want to thank you for this interview and for everything you've done for the field over the years, I think you're one of the shining lights and I'm so glad that you're still at it.

Jay: Thank you, Heidi. You too. You too. You and Guy just keep on keeping on, and it's inspiring to me.

Heidi: Thank you!


See Jay’s recent book entitled: Re-Envisioning Conflict Resolution: Vision, Action and Evaluation in Creative Conflict Engagement (Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution)