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Building Bridges Through Negotiation

Re-published with permission from Program for Community Problem Solving (PCPS) a division of the National Civic League.

In September of this year, a team of stakeholders in Garrett County, Maryland started
negotiations with a team of state officials to go “Vision to Scale” – that is to deepen and broader
their efforts at systems reform to reach more children and families and improve their life
outcomes. The goal of the negotiations is to creatively engage the state’s Subcabinet on
Children, Youth, and Families to build better supports for local level activities and in particular,
Garrett’s focus on economically stable families. While the mantra is “no new money”, everyone
recognizes that part of the challenge is reallocating existing dollars. And unlike past efforts,
where the state has prescribed solutions, sometimes to the dismay of the locals, or the
community has generated efforts that have not been fully integrated with other state and local
initiatives, the negotiation process offers an opportunity to weave it all together, effectively, with
state and local support.

While discussions between local and state officials are routine, Garrett is one of a handful of
counties around the country that are engaged in a formal negotiation process, with established
teams and protocols, specifically focused on the “system” and making changes that achieve
better outcomes. And like the outcome, the process works best when it is jointly developed by
local and state stakeholders.

The negotiation process in Maryland is guided by a protocol that was developed by a team of
state and local stakeholders and staffed by the Program for Community Problem Solving. Prior
to the beginning of negotiations, the state and local teams are offered a training program in
negotiation skills in order to level the playing field and begin to build the relationships that are
central to success. Further, negotiations will be assisted by a facilitator that has been jointly
selected from a pool created for this purpose.

In Ohio, seven counties are preparing to begin negotiations with the state on the devolution of
the welfare system that will ultimately reach all of Ohio’s 88 counties. Supported by the Ohio
Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management, this effort will help each county
develop the supports necessary to support the welfare-to-work transition and jointly develop
goals for the effort.

In Illinois, seven local areas are negotiating with the state on human services systems service.
Ranging from a coalition of seven southern rural counties to an impoverished neighborhood in
Chicago, these efforts parallel those of Maryland in seeking to build transformative efforts that
achieve better outcomes for children and families.

Many of these efforts are rooted in a major paradigm shift. Rather than prescribe the specific
use of funds, as is common in the human service arena, increased flexibility in the use of funds
is exchanged for increased accountability. Mark Friedman, has been particularly eloquent in
describing this emerging framework, “Collaboratives need to ask who is accountable; for what
outcomes (or results); with what money; with what standards and safeguards; under what risks,
rewards, and penalties; and for what period of time.

The use of formal negotiations and collaborative problem solving to manage state-local
partnerships can be applied to other issues as well. For example, working with the Coalition to
Improve Management in State and Local Government, the Keystone Center, and the National
Institute for Dispute Resolution PCPS has worked on effort to create a “Negotiated
Environmental Strategy” that would create a vehicle to bring federal, state, and local efforts to
the table along with other community stakeholders. Built upon the Negotiated Investment
Strategy, which was pioneered by Jim Kunde and Carl Moore, among others, this effort
recognizes that the federal government plays a much more visible role in environmental issues,
especially those that relate to enforcement.

Indeed, the notion of performance partnerships, often achieved through negotiation, are
beginning to permeate the reinventing government movement. Performance Partnerships seek to
establish Federal-State partnerships where increased flexibility is granted in exchange for
increased accountability for results.

Negotiations, in this context, are not the shuttle diplomacy or smoke-free backrooms that often
characterize international or labor-management negotiations. They are problem-solving,
collaborative, face-to-face deliberations that not only can resolve tough issues, but build
effective working relationships to implement the agreements.

With the dramatic changes in intergovernmental relations occurring through devolution, it is
important to develop strategies that can help build intergovernmental partnerships that work.
Negotiations appear to bea foundational strategy to help make intergovernmental partnerships

Copies of “Managing the State-Local Negotiation on ‘Vision to Scale’ in the State of Maryland:
A Protocol” are available from PCPS. A description of the negotiated environmental strategy
can be found in Negotiated Approaches to Environmental Decision-making: An Exploration of
Lessons Learned
for $10 available from PCPS. Information on performance partnership, can be
found at


William R. Potapchuk

William Potapchuk is a nationally-recognized leader in the applications of collaborative processes and the development of collaborative partnerships to address urban public policy issues. President of the Community Building Institute, Potapchuk has advised state and federal agencies (including FNS) on the design and implementation of programs to catalyze and support… MORE >

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