Evaluating a Consensus Building Effort
I worry a lot about how to evaluate the success or failure of consensus building efforts in which I get involved. When I try to convince someone in a position of responsibility to commit to consensus building, I need to tell them how they'll be able to gauge the results.
Reaching Agreement on the Nile
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan recently signed a Declaration of Principles aimed at resolving an increasingly contentious dispute over Ethiopia’s ongoing effort to build the $4.6 billion-dollar hydroelectric power plant project called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Africa’s largest. The Declaration does not seek to resolve the larger question of how the overall waters of the Nile will be shared. The fact that the Declaration was signed is an important accomplishment. I want to look closely, though, at the ten principles spelled out in the Declaration because I’m worried that some may be difficult to implement.
What's the Right Thing to do When You are Really Angry About What's Happening in America?
Students are marching in the streets to protest the recent killings of Black Americans. They want those in positions of power to acknowledge that these deaths are, at least in part, the result of unchecked racism that is still very much alive in our country. Whatever progress has been made over the past fifty years to address inequality, unfairness, racial bias, ignorance, lack of empathy and unequal opportunities, there is still a long way to go before everyday life in America aligns with the ideals we espouse as a nation.
Retire Already! Why?
This article discusses retirement in non-traditional fields such as mediation and teaching. Should there be a set retirement age?
You've Got to Go Slow to Go Fast
I don’t like to put things off. I’m for getting everything done as quickly as possible. And even though I’m trained as a planner, I’ve always been more focused on the present than the future. So, when we started the Consensus Building Institute (CBI) in 1983, I was committed to moving quickly to launch a not-for-profit organization that would offer mediation and other neutral services in as many locations as possible, as quickly as possible. We didn’t have a business plan.
What is Sustainable City Development?
By 2025, Malaysia intends to be a developed, not a developing, nation. In addition to explicit economic development targets, there is also growing environmental awareness (with a national commitment to becoming a low-carbon society), as well as an emerging commitment to social development. Our question, then, is "has all of this translated in some measurable way to more sustainable patterns of city development?" And, what more can be done to ensure that this happens?
Why Don't Judges Just Settle Legal Disputes?
In some Canadian provinces, they take what is called Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR) very seriously. During designated periods, litigants can choose to have a judge (in Provincial Court matters) or a Justice (in Court of Queen's bench matters) help them settle their law suit in a confidential pre-trial conference.
Advanced Negotiation Training
Larry Susskind discusses his thought process for examining what an advanced mediation class should include. He examines what the basics of a basic mediation class should cover, and what he thinks an advanced class should cover.
What To Do in a Risky and Uncertain World
Have you ever noticed that all the writing about risk perception and risk assessment assumes a unitary mind? One single decision-maker is always trying to figure out what to do in the face of some potential hazard -- a possible earthquake, tornado, hurricane, sea level rise, terrorist plot, and something equally terrible. In actuality, most risk management choices involve collective decisions.
Learning from Malaysia, Learning In Malaysia
I am pleased to be part of the five year Sustainable Cities Partnership that MIT just initiated with the Universiti of Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Malaysia' #1 Engineering and Science School. More about the Partnership below.
Participatory Action Research (PAR) vs. Applied Social Science as We Know It
There are a number of authors like Bent Flyvbjerg who have done a masterful job spelling out all the reasons why social scientists should stop aspiring to be natural scientists. See his books Real Social Science and Making Social Science Matter for a full explanation. The statistical tools available in the social sciences can only help us understand, not prove, why things happen.
An Online University? Are You Crazy?
I wish some of the people who are so excited about the prospect of online college courses being taught by famous faculty members understood a little bit more about what a university education is really supposed to accomplish. The reason students (ought to) go to college is to enhance their capacity to function in the world-at-large once they graduate -- to function as citizens, productive workers, parents and as potential leaders in all walks of life.
Hydropower Conflicts in Southern Chile
Chile is now relying on hydropower to support its amazing economic growth. It is a country without oil, gas or coal reserves of its own. Liquified natural gas (LNG) and coal imports are being increased, and there is some talk of expanding non-conventional renewable resources, but hydro represents at least 35% of the current energy mix and is likely to grow.
Can Games Really Change the Course of History?
There are various ways games can be used to inform, and even alter, high-stakes policy negotiations. I'm going to describe several of them below, but this only works when the actual negotiators take part in the game in advance of undertaking their own "real life" interactions.
How to Give Negotiation Advice
I was asked to comment on a series of presentations being made by students in a class at Harvard Law School. Their assignment was to generate advice to the head of one of the major sports leagues in America facing a tricky international problem.
Informal Problem-solving: Get Help!
Public officials and corporate leaders have to deal with all kinds of conflict (both internal and external). Because they see themselves as leaders, though, they don't want to admit they might need help handling these situations. For some reason, its OK to hire a lawyer if you are facing a lawsuit, but it's not OK to ask for informal problem-solving help before things go from bad to worse.
Fifteen Things We Know about Environmental Dispute Resolution
I was recently asked by my Harvard Law School class to summarize what we know (from actual experience) about environmental dispute resolution. I offered the following list.
Deliberating vs. Deciding in a Public Disputes Context
There still seems to be a big gap between the “deliberation crowd” and “the public dispute resolution crowd.” The deliberation folks (like the fine group called the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation) is betting that people will learn to be more tolerant of contrary views, and maybe even change their own views on controversial topics, by taking part is well-structured dialogues.
Interview with Larry Susskind
This is the complete interview by Robert Benjamin with Larry Susskind, a leading public policy mediator, filmed as part of Mediate.com's "The Mediators: Views from the Eye of the Storm" Series.
Where is Aristotle When We Need Him?!
Aristotle said that wisdom is knowing the right way to do the right thing in a particular circumstance. Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe have written a wonderful book called Practical Wisdom (Riverhead/Penguin, 2010) that explains what this means.
Winning at Win-Win Negotiation!
I hear the phrase "win-win" all the time. I'm not sure that very many people who use it know what they are talking about.
Is it Time to Move the Field of Public Dispute Resolution in a New Direction?
Is it Time to Move the Field of Public Dispute Resolution in a New Direction?
More Water Diplomacy
The Water Diplomacy Framework assumes the future is not knowable (or easily estimated). Therefore, a step-by- step approach, including a major investment in monitoring and re-evaluation is required.
Using Cell Phone Voting to Facilitate Group Decision-Making
The California Folks Got it All Wrong
The Public Policy Institute of California recently released a report on water management in California. The good news is that they paid a lot of attention to the benefits of employing consensus building techniques to resolve water disputes. The bad news is that they really have no idea how consensus building works.
Managing the flow of water, as a river moves through several countries or across sub-state boundaries, can be extremely difficult.
Do You Really Want To Be A "Tough" Negotiator?
There it is again. In the New York Times today, William Daley, President Obama's new Chief of Staff, is described on the front page as "A Tough, Decisive Negotiator." If you read the article, they call him a "skilled negotiator" who is "blunt yet charming." Former Vice President Walter Mondale, says that Daley is "tough, but not a bully." Does tough really equal effective? No, I don't think so.
Talking To Climate Skeptics
On Wednesday, November 10th, I had an opportunity to speak to a packed room of students and community residents at Harvard College seeking advice on how to talk to climate skeptics. The premise was that students would soon be heading home for Thanksgiving. They were looking for advice on how to talk to family and friends around the holiday table who either don't believe that global warming is happening, or accept the fact that the climate is getting warmer, but attribute relatively recent temperature changes to natural rather than man-made causes.
Susskind, Larry: Ethical Practices within Mediation - Video
Larry Susskind shares his strong opinion of upholding ethical principles while mediating disputes. Gives examples of his refusing to mediate for agencies/people who provide too strict of guidelines that don't involve the full participation of the parties.
Overcoming The Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) Syndrome
National Public Radio featured a story this week about growing opposition to renewable energy facilities, particularly wind power. Wind advocates were asked how they might overcome such local opposition -- dubbed the NIMBY syndrome -- in the future. The spokesperson said, "We've got to get in there earlier and educate people." Wrong! How arrogant! You think people are opposed because they don't understand?
Helping Decentralized Organizations Negotiate More Effectively
Suppose you represent a geographically disbursed organization with units, centers or key individuals spread out all over the world or across a large region. Think in terms of multinational corporations with offices in five or six countries; or, the US military with outposts in every corner of Afghanistan; or, an international environmental NGO with branches in various parts of the globe. For these organizations to be able to negotiate effectively, their people need to be able to put their hands on information in a timely way, get reactions from other parts of the organization to proposals raised during negotiations, and find out all that they can about how the organization has handled similar negotiations in the past.
Mediation As Problem-Solving
The Organizational for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is trying to hold multinational corporations to appropriately high standards of corporate social responsibility. OECD member states include thirty of the major economies of the world. Ten years ago, they adopted guidelines regarding human rights, environmental protection, the rights of workers and child protection. Now they are in the throes of a ten year review.
Make Compensatory Payments In The Gulf Coast Now!
We need not wait for a lawsuit or even a federal investigation to start doing something to help the thousands of victims of the oil spill in the Gulf region.
Who Will Guarantee The Safety Of Off-Shore Oil And Gas Facilities?
In 1979, following the accident at Three Mile Island a special commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter recommended that the nuclear power industry take responsibility for setting industry-wide safety standards and ensuring safe operations at all nuclear facilities in the United States.
Mediating Values-Based And Identity-Based Disputes
The Frank Sander Lecture at the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section Meeting of the American Bar Association (San Francisco, April 8, 2010).
Susskind, Larry: Importance of Neutrality/Non-Partisanship - Video
Larry Susskind talks about the importance of non-partisanship in a dispute, comparing it to being a referee for your home-town team. Both teams are depending on the referee to be fair. This type of professional neutrality is a learned response.
In their extraordinary new book, Planning With Complexity (Routledge, 2010), Judith Innes and David Booher make the case for a new way of knowing and deciding.
Susskind, Larry: Expectations in Mediation Process - Video
Larry Susskind speaks of the importance of being transparent and honest with participants and the elected officials in a public dispute to produce reasonable expectations. Highlights importance of fair representation.
Susskind, Larry: Advice: Humility - Video
Larry Susskind's gives basic advice to those coming into the field.
Dispute Prevention: It's A Good Idea, Right?
My own take on this is that "clients" of all kinds must demand that legal service providers emphasize dispute prevention before the idea will spread as rapidly as it should.
No Meaningful Agreement In Copenhagen. No Surprise
Let's see if we can grasp the so-called agreement reached in Copenhagan.
Resolving Complaints About Irresponsible Corporations
Corporations are supposed to pay attention to environmental, health, safety, labor, tax, consumer protection, information disclosure, and human rights laws wherever they set up shop. But, we've all seen and heard stories about multinationals guilty of violations in far-away places. They have been charged with allowing unsafe working conditions, blocking legitimate unionization efforts; ignoring environmental and health standards, bribing officials, and turning a blind eye to human rights violations.
Harmonizing Science, Policy And Politics
At MIT, we are training Science Impact Coordinators (SICs) willing to put themselves in the middle between experts, advocates and regulators. Unless someone is able to manage these difficult interactions, we will miss crucial opportunities to protect dwindling natural resources. What does a graduate student with an undergraduate science degree, a passion for environmental improvement and an interest in managing constructive dialogue in politically-stressed situations need to know to facilitate such interactions? That's what we are trying to determine.
The Life And Death Of Democracy
I'm trying to make my way through John Keane's massive book, The Life and Death of Democracy (Norton, 2009). He reviews three "epochs" in the evolution of democracy: Assembly Democracy, Representative Democracy and what he calls Monitory Democracy. He then tries to make sense of where we are headed next by jumping forward and looking back at our current situation (Memories from the Future).
Larry Susskind: Specializations in Mediation as Essential - Video
Larry Susskind describes why specializations within mediation are necessary. The mediator should understand not only the process, but the substance in order to offer options and understand the language within the institutional context.
What Should You Do When The Other Person Is Lying?
There's a lot of confusion about the best way to respond to a lie. One strategy is to ignore it and act as if the statement was never made. I guess folks who take this tack hope they'll avoid giving a false statement any traction. A second response is to suggest that the person making the statement probably didn't realize what he or she was saying. This approach presumes that its always best to give someone the benefit of the doubt and presume there's just a misunderstanding on their part. I don't think so. From my standpoint, the most effective response to a lie is to name it, frame it, and claim it.
How Should You Respond To The Noisy Health Reform Critics?
So, what's the best advice we can give a Congressperson in such a situation? Most aren't going to get the easy ride that President Obama got in New Hampshire. Hard as he tried, he couldn't get any of the 1600 people present to challenge what he was saying. Here are five suggestions that grow out of what we have learned about facilitating public dialogue in politically charged situations:
Hey, C'mon, Why Can't Reds And Blues Agree?
I was thinking about the reds and the blues. You'd think they'd be able to reach agreement once in a while without bashing each other. But, the more I analyze it, the more I realize that the reds and blues are probably doomed. Some of the time, it's not in one side or the other's interest to reach agreement.
Measuring Progress In The Fight Against Climate Change
At a recent Burlington, Vermont meeting hosted by Robert Costanza (the leader of the ecological economics movement) and the Seventh Generation Corporation, we tried to figure out how to measure progress in combatting climate change over the next five years. I'm of the school that says "If you can't measure it, you can't fix it." So, five years from now, what do we have to measure and how do we have to measure it to know that we were making progress in the fight against climate change?
The Sovereignty Claims Of Indigenous Peoples
Think about it from their perspective. Assume you are part of a group that has inhabited a place for at least a thousand years. Your ceremonies and traditions date back a lot farther than those of the interlopers who now control every aspect of your life. Your people have been connected to that particular place for all of recorded history. Yet, now, the national government that surrounds you wants to dictate what you can and cannot do with your land and how your children should be educated.. That national government has sold the mineral rights out from under you (and kept all the money), polluted the waters you depend on, and stripped the forest that has always been your primary source of food. Wouldn't you be angry?
Larry Susskind: Mandatory Mediation - Video
Larry Susskind opposes mandatory mediation because if participants don't see a benefit or positive possibilities, they're being forced into a process that they don't want to participate in, ending up in disagreements and a stalemate.
Urban Planning: The Key Is Collaboration
Urban planning is a profession. People all over the world are trained to be urban planners and they have been for a long time. Above all, planners must know how to reconcile conflicting claims in the face of limited resources. It is not possible to take action in the public arena without political support. So, planners have to know how to generate an informed constituency ready, willing and able to push for change.
Governance: What Does It Mean? And, What Is Good Governance?
When organizations or groups of actors are chided about the way they govern themselves, it often means that they are not paying enough attention to the way they involve (or communicate with) their members prior to making decisions.
Green Technology Innovation
I believe the consensus building approach to collective decision-making is the only way we will be able to promote green technology innovation at sufficient scale to achieve a meaningful shift to more sustainable patterns of development.
Larry Susskind: Developing a Public Dispute Resolution Field - Video
Larry Susskind reflects on the steps and processes of his current international work of developing a public dispute resolution field as well as discussing supply and demand.
Climate Change: Adaptation vs Mitigation
Given such risks, it makes sense to search for low-cost ways of reducing CO2 emissions. Collectively, such steps fall under the heading of mitigation. We also need to be thinking about how to reduce the severity of whatever impacts do occur. These are generally called adaptation measures. In the same way that cities and towns plan ahead for natural disasters like earthquakes, they should take steps to deal with the risks posed by climate change and sea level rise. This is particularly true for coastal communities. There is a consensus building approach to managing the risks associated with climate change.
Larry Susskind: Two Sources of Resistance to Mediation - Video
Larry Susskind speaks of the resistance to mediation as coming from two sources - people of authority and power who want to maintain that authority in addition to people who misconstrue the practice b/c of poor mediation experiences. An example is given of the Interior Department's collaborative processes.
Dealing with an Angry Public
On April 30th and May 1st, I offer a two day training program called Dealing with An Angry Public (www.pon.execseminars.com). Along with my Harvard Business School colleague Michael Wheeler and Jeff Ansell, a well known Canadian journalist and media consultant, we show how a consensus building approach can be used to reshape interactions with various publics that are angry with you -- either because of what you have done, what you propose to do or what you stand for.
Why Would Anyone Bother to Cooperate?
In his new book, Free Riding, Richard Tuck challenges long-standing views about social cooperation. Free riding, as most people know, involves a decisions that many of us make not to get involved in group efforts because we can see that the outcome will probably be the same whether or not we participate, and we will reap the benefits in any case.
"Why bring something to the pot-luck supper?
Ethnic And National Reconciliation
I can remember a moment when it seemed impossible that certain groups or nations could ever reconcile: East and West Germany, North and South Vietnam, North Ireland and England, black and white South Africa, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. Today, it seems equally implausible that North and South Korea, Tibet and China, Israel and Palestine, or Suni and Shia in Iraq will ever reconcile. Yet, we should remember that the ruined relationships that seemed impossible to repair not so long ago were dramatically transformed. The question is, "How did that happen?"
There are a great many companies, public agencies and not-for-profit organizations facing severe revenue shortfalls. They have to shrink their operations, find more efficient ways of doing what they do, or identify new revenue sources. Too often, their leaders fail to realize that they can use a consensus building approach -- one that emphasizes engagement, transparency, and accountability -- to accomplish these goals.
Most environmental advocates and planning professionals know that every effort to manage natural resources or deal with threats to public health and environmental sustainability ought to proceed on a step-by-step basis. The systems involved are so complex that most efforts to "solve problems" are likely to have unanticipated results. Policy-makers act like they "understand the problem fully" and "know the best solution" when they pass legislation or adopt new regulations. Those of us most knowledgeable about the human-ecological systems involved, however, realize that the complexity of these systems makes it impossible to anticipate what's going to happen with much certainly.
Governing Communities Of Faith
One response I often get to the idea of a taking a consensus building approach to governance is that it won't work because people with conflicting values and interests can't possibly reach agreement through informal conversation. The only way to settle their differences (peacefully), or so the argument goes, is to let the majority rule. While I don't agree, what possible reason, then, could there be for communities-of-faith (i.e. groups associated with particular temples, parishes, or churches) to operate by majority voting? They are, by definition, groups that share common values and interests.
We care about environmental justice because it doesn't seem fair that poor communities of color should suffer disproportionate health risks. If we can demonstrate that companies have purposely located polluting facilities in minority neighborhoods, the law provides a remedy. When we can't prove intent, though, it's hard to make charges of environmental racism stick.
Siting Energy Facilities
It doesn't seem to matter whether we are talking about energy from fossil fuels or renewable sources, there is strong opposition to proposed generating facilities. The Cape Wind project, a large wind energy facility proposed for the waters off Martha's Vineyard, has been the target of fierce opposition from well-known and well-heeled political opponents. Terrestrial wind projects planned for high ridges in the mountains of New England and in the plains of the western states have been challenged on aesthetic and environmental grounds. Large solar energy plants have been blocked all over California. The same arguments used to contest the building of coal- and gas-fired power plants all over the world, are now being used to haltthe construction of renewable energy facilities: they will have unacceptable environmental and aesthetic impacts;they will unfairly reduce property values; they will preclude other more desirable land uses, and they will cost too much.