Monday, March 19, 2012

ADR and Sustainability 2/2

The basic way that is achieved by building trust between and amongst the facilitators and the stakeholder groups. Facilitators achieve this by trying to remain independent and neutral. Stakeholders achieve this by respecting each other’s opinions and committing to a solution oriented process. These may sound simple but the relatively passive verb ‘to listen’ can be a hard thing to do when people feel that their way of life is threatened. That is why a facilitator is so essential.

While some groups can work through solutions on their own without the help of a neutral third, a facilitator often becomes necessary. A facilitator’s job, aside from moving a group through the process, is to listen and translate. People express things implicitly; an excellent example is that the Japanese seldom say no, instead they euphemistically and politely decline; a frustrating experience for foreigners unaccustomed to their culture. Translating those implicit assumptions into explicit needs is at the heart of a facilitator’s job. By clarifying and helping parties understand the underlying nature of their opinions, real solutions can be found. And real solutions don’t always have to be conventional.

When groups collaborate together to solve common problems many innovative solutions can be found. Sometimes solutions can be very technical as when trying to determine clean-up procedures at the Hanford nuclear site. Other times they can be things that are more intangible: planting trees to block out noise and restore wildlife, baking brownies as a sign of good will, adding a speed bump to slow traffic. People stop fighting and start working together.

And the outcomes extend beyond one issue. Facilitations offer the promise of a relationship that can extend far beyond a ‘victory’ on any single issue. Stakeholders often come out of the process ready to work on issues together for years to come, many times establishing permanent working groups to tackle the long-term issues.

To ensure a sustainable future, pursuing a higher understanding of issues beyond the myopia of a single perspective is critical. Facilitation offers people that window. If you aren’t convinced by my rhetoric, perhaps you’ll be convinced by numbers: roughly 70% of mediated agreements are upheld one year after their signing as opposed to around 20% through traditional means.