Conflict Resolution in Public Participation
Conflict Resolution in Public Participation
Please watch this video before beginning this chapter: Partners for Democratic Change, “Social Conflicts: A Development Opportunity” Peru Conflict video (in English) [video attached].
If public participation and transparency is emphasized from the beginning of a process, it can be a method to reduce or avoid major conflict. When conflict does arise, consider the conflict prevention and resolution techniques described in this section.
Conflict prevention and resolution refers to a broad set of practices and techniques aimed at reducing the likelihood of conflict and, if conflict emerges, developing effective solutions to those conflict situations. Conflict prevention and resolution can often be most effective with the help of impartial third parties such as a mediator or facilitator.
Conflict prevention and resolution techniques can be applied in many contexts, including adjudications, administrative and civil judicial enforcement actions, permit issuance, protests of contract awards, administration of contracts and grants, , negotiations, and litigation. In addition, these techniques can be used to prevent and resolve internal disputes such as workplace grievances and equal employment opportunity complaints, and to improve labor-management partnerships. Conflict prevention and resolution techniques, with the use of an impartial third-party, can also be effective in contentious collaborative processes, including those designed to build consensus, such as agreement-seeking rulemaking, policy development and stakeholder involvement. Such processes are addressed in the chapter titled “Tools for Consensus Building and Agreement Seeking” but, in a conflictual situation, can be overlaid with an impartial third-party who is skilled in conflict prevention and resolution strategies.
This section describes some common conflict prevention and resolution techniques and tools that practitioners from sponsoring agencies may consider in their public participation efforts. Faster resolution of issues
|Techniques and Tools for Conflict Resolution|
|Convening: involves the use of an impartial third party to help assess the causes of the conflict, identify the persons or entities that would be affected by the outcome of the conflict, and help these parties consider the best way for them to deal with the conflict. The convener may also prepare the parties for participation in a dispute resolution process by providing education to the parties on what the selected process will be like. Some examples include mediation and consensus building.|
|Consensus Building: a process in which people agree to work together to resolve common problems in a relatively informal, cooperative manner. It is a technique that can be used to bring together representatives from different stakeholder groups early in a decision-making process. An impartial third party helps the stakeholders design and implement their own strategy for developing group solutions to the problems.|
|Facilitation: a process used to help a group of stakeholders or parties have constructive discussions about complex or potentially controversial issues. The facilitator provides assistance by helping the parties set ground rules or establish communication agreements for these discussions, promoting effective communication, eliciting creative options, and keeping the group focused. Facilitation can even be used in situations where parties have not yet agreed to attempt to resolve a conflict.|
Mediation: is a process in which an impartial third party (the mediator) assists disputants in reaching a mutually satisfying settlement of their differences. Mediation is voluntary, , and confidential, and the parties can withdraw at any time. The mediator helps the disputants to communicate clearly, listen carefully, and consider creative ways for reaching resolution. The mediator issues no decision or judgement; rather any solution must be agreed upon by, and must satisfy, all of the disputants. There are a number of different mediation styles including facilitative mediators. who do not offer any opinion about the respective strength of the parties’ positions, and evaluative mediators, who will confidentially provide evaluations of each parties’ positions.
A conflict may arise in the public participation process when perspectives from two or more parties are incompatible. Conflicts may be due to a difference of belief, values, understanding, or interests. The nature of the conflict may be between two parties that are at the same level (state-to-state) or different level (federal government to state government), where the power implications may be the same, or different. Involving a mediator or facilitator as early as possible will help to avoid escalation of conflict.
Conflict may show up in numerous ways, including: interpersonal tension, disagreements about facts, verbal arguments, being “stuck” on a problem, resistance to changes, or inability to reach decisions.
Conflict Management and Resolution
Conflict management is the process, generally relying upon an impartial third-party, of using techniques to manage a specific conflict, or a “stream” of conflicts, in situations where conflict may continue to exist, but it is at a manageable level. Conflict resolution refers to the techniques used to resolve the conflict, which implies that the conflict is solvable. Both conflict management and conflict resolution involve techniques and tools that focus communication on identifying the issues and finding solutions that satisfy the parties involved. The general process involves becoming familiar with the landscape, setting the scene, gathering information, clarifying the problem(s), brainstorming possible solutions, and negotiating a solution.
The decision to use a conflict prevention and resolution technique in a particular conflict must reflect an assessment of the specific parties, issues, and other factors. Some governmental and non-governmental organizations are subject to regulations or policies related to the use of conflict prevention and resolution. It is recommended that before employing a specific technique, an assessment should be completed regarding the applicable guidance on particular conflict prevention and resolution techniques for a particular type of dispute.
The participants and the impartial third party should work together to establish a common understanding of how confidentiality protections apply in a specific process. In most cases, this understanding should be recorded in a written confidentiality agreement. This initial work will benefit all parties by clarifying confidentiality expectations before full initiation of the process.
Some of the most commonly used conflict management and conflict prevention and resolution techniques for environmental efforts are summarized in this table and further described later in this section.
|ADR Technique||Benefit||Format Examples|
|Convening: engage with groups to clarify important aspects of the conflict.||Clearly defines the conflict and identifies key issues and parties||Fact-finding, interviews, research, focus groups, individual meetings|
|Consensus Building: engage in a process to work cooperatively to develop a solution that satisfies all or most parties.||Is collaborative; a solution is negotiated and thus all or most parties agree upon the threshold for consensus||Forums, workshops, charrettes, meetings, roundtables|
|Facilitation: involves the use of techniques to improve the flow of information in a meeting between parties to a dispute.||Parties work together to develop a mutually acceptable solution||Decision-making meetings, forums, workshops, charrettes, meetings, roundtables, dialogues|
|Mediation: using the assistance of an impartial third party who is acceptable to all parties and has no decision-making authority.||Helps parties develop options to resolve issues in dispute||Individual meetings, focus groups, formal multi-party meetings|
|Collaborative Approaches: There are many kinds of collaborative approaches. One such process is, Narrative Approaches, which encourage deeper engagement with communities and a framework for understanding conflict dynamics.||Forms a foundations for collaboration, contributes to collaborative relationships||Focus groups, forums, listening sessions, interviews, roundtables|
|Conflict Coaching: one-on-one process to develop an understanding of the conflict, and to develop interaction strategies and skills.||Deeper understanding of the conflict and consequences of actions in order to respond to the conflict more constructively||One-on-one collaboration|
- Identification of issues: what are the presenting and underlying issue(s) that seem to be causing the conflict?
- Identification of actors: who are the stakeholders, what are the relationships among them, and what are their values, interests, concerns, and needs?
- History/distribution: what is the history of the conflict and how is its impact distributed across affected parties or communities?
- Level and intensity: what is the level and intensity of the conflict?
- Political, economic, social, and institutional structures: what are the underlying political, economic, social, and institutional structures regarding this conflict?
- Impacts: what are the impacts to the stakeholders?
|Convening/Conflict Assessment Resources|
Consensus building involves participants engaging in a process and working cooperatively to develop a solution to a problem that satisfies all parties. These processes may range in their degree of formality, length, number of participants, and complexity. Sometimes, consensus-building processes are contentious and can benefit from a impartial third party as a facilitator or mediator; some processes may be self-directed by the group members. Typically, one or more representatives from a range of different interest groups or stakeholder groups come together over a period of time to collaboratively set up guidelines or rules for how discussions will proceed and how decisions will be made. They then apply those rules and guidelines to developing information, sharing their views, and negotiating a solution that the parties find acceptable. It is important that participants agree upon the threshold for consensus – whether they must all, at a minimum, agree that they can “live with” a particular agreement, or whether they must all enthusiastically support the agreement, or somewhere in between.
|Consensus Building Resources|
Facilitation involves the use of techniques to improve the flow of information in a meeting or other process, among multiple participants. The techniques may also be applied to decision-making meetings where a specific outcome is desired (e.g., resolution of a conflict or dispute). The term "facilitator" is often used interchangeably with the term "mediator," but a facilitator may engage in a wide variety of collaborative processes, whereas mediators typically only engage in resolving conflicts that have already emerged between parties and helping the parties to reach an agreement.
A facilitator focuses on the process involved in helping participants resolve a situation or achieve their goals. The facilitator typically works with all of the meeting's participants at once, although they sometimes meet with an individual party or small group of parties, and provides procedural directions as to how the group can move efficiently through the steps of the meeting and arrive at the jointly agreed upon goal. The facilitator is generally an impartial third-party who is not a member of one of the parties. However, sometimes the facilitator can be a member of one of the parties if they have the buy-in from all parties, can engender a sense of trust in the facilitator’s impartiality, and is transparent about the role they are playing at any given time.
Facilitators focus on procedural assistance and remain impartial to the topics or issues under discussion. Facilitating is most appropriate when: (1) the intensity of the parties' emotions about the issues in dispute are low to moderate; (2) the parties or issues are not extremely polarized; (3) the parties have enough trust in each other that they can work together to develop a mutually acceptable solution; or (4) the parties are in a common predicament and they need or will benefit from a jointly-acceptable outcome.
Mediation is the intervention into a dispute or negotiation of an acceptable, impartial third party who has no decision-making authority. The objective of this intervention is to assist the parties in voluntarily reaching an acceptable resolution of issues in dispute. Mediation is useful in highly polarized disputes where the parties have either been unable to initiate a productive dialogue, or where the parties have been talking and have reached a seemingly insurmountable impasse. A mediator, like a facilitator, makes primarily procedural suggestions regarding how parties can reach agreement.
- Interest based: focused on identifying the underlying needs, or interests, of the parties, and developing a mutually acceptable solution that addresses the interests that matter most to the parties.
- Facilitative: focused on guiding participants through a multi-phase process that is designed to result in the parties’ development of a resolution.
- Transformative: focused on the relationship between the parties, and supporting their ability to understand and share their views, regardless of whether a clear resolution is reached.
- Narrative: focused on the story or stories that participants understand about the situation and helping them to understand and forge a new story, or narrative, related to the conflict (more below). This approach can be used in both mediation and consensus building processes and is described in more detail, below.
- Positive Connotation (assign positive intention to a person)
- Circular Questions (questions that make comparisons)
- Externalization (naming a negative feeling or behavior and making it external to the person who may exhibit it)
|Narrative Framework Resources|
|Other Conflict Resolution Resources|
Contacts and Training Opportunities
Success in using impartial third parties, such as mediators and facilitators, depends on finding someone who has the training and experience necessary for the specific need. Likewise, building skills for unassisted collaboration, without a third-party, requires proper training. For assistance, visit https://www.epa.gov/adr/cprc-services.