Monday, March 19, 2012

ADR and Sustainability 1/2

Sustainability has three basic pillars; economics, environment, and social equity; some people in business will recognize its other name: the triple-bottom line. They both mean the same thing. Is something—an object, action, development, policy—going to satisfy these three requirements. Satisfy means to have a net neutral or positive outcome for these three components. In recent years sustainability has become a guiding beacon for many grassroots organizations to rally around.

It has many advantages as a framework. It is expansive in its scope. Sustainability does not accept that any outcome that is purely one of the three ‘E’s is positive; instead it seeks to find a balance with the other two categories. This prevents extreme outcomes. Instead of tree-hugging hippies, communists, and fat-cat capitalists a sustainable framework seeks to integrate the virtues of all three mindsets into a workable plan for our future.

The biggest challenge in working to satisfy the three ‘E’s is trying to sate interest groups with such seemingly disparate and conflicting interests. There are the traditional political routes: town hall meeting, voting, electing officials, lawsuits, protest. These routes tend to be adversarial in nature though; an us vs. them mentality that exacerbates extreme viewpoints and generally lets the loudest or richest interests win. In these contests it is a game not of discerning workable solutions but one of controlling spin. And often things spin out of control.

Working in an adversarial system has its pros, often in a courtroom setting where all other options have been exhausted. That’s right; all other options have been exhausted. While there may be a concept in the popular mind that an adversarial system is the default, it is usually a last resort. What comes before is a myriad of different forms of discourse that are specific to setting. In congress there are committees, compromises, rider amendments, and procedural votes. In courts there are settlements, arbitration, and diversions such as rehab, family counseling, or mediation. In local politics there are facilitated dialogues.

Facilitated dialogues, mediation, and arbitration fall under a rapidly advancing field known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). In ADR the goal is not to find out who is right, the winner, or cooler. Instead the goal is to find solutions that work for the stakeholders. There are a few basic questions that guide ADR: what is the whole story; what are the needs, values, and interests of the stakeholders; how do we meet those needs, values, and interests of those stakeholders?