Consensus Building/Collaborative Problem-solving
Consensus building is a term for a variety of processes based on collaboration in which a facilitator assists groups of individuals with diverse and often competing interests to collaboratively problem-solve and reach agreement. By bringing all affected parties (stakeholders) into the process as early as possible, consensus-building processes have been effective in resolving multi-party, multi-agency problems. Consensus building processes usually result in policies with wide support and a reduced likelihood for divisive community battles or legal challenges. A neutral facilitator assists in defining the stakeholders, getting the parties to the table, designing the ground rules and meeting structure, facilitating the process, providing meeting summary notes and assisting in the writing of the agreement.
CRC does the upfront work to “convene” the collaborative group, bringing all the parties to the table committed to working together to solve the problem. Sometimes a political or community leader or a government agency will call the needed parties together to address a public issue. In that case, CRC provides neutral assistance to create an unbiased, inclusive, transparent and efficient process, and also offers guidance to the convenor about collaborative approaches.
Facilitated processes assist groups with diverse interests or opinions to work together. A facilitator is an impartial person who assists with structuring and managing meetings, hearings, workshops, or conferences. Facilitators may assist groups to resolve problems and reach agreement or simply facilitate planning, information sharing, public involvement, or the gathering of stakeholder input. A facilitator helps the participants convene the process/meeting, establish ground rules, design and follow an agenda, set-up the meeting space, and make other arrangements. Effective planning and meeting management enhances the participants’ ability to communicate, plan and problem-solve in an efficient, effective and productive manner.
Joint fact-finding helps stakeholders in a consensus building or collaborative problem-solving process build a shared understanding of technical/scientific issues and their implications for policy. It can also help resolve disputes about scientific and technical methods, data, findings and interpretations. Joint fact-finding was developed as a response to the common problem of “dueling experts” in policy making. In a joint fact-finding process, the stakeholders work jointly to define the questions to be answered, identify and select qualified resource persons to assist the group, and work in collaboration with the resource persons to refine the questions; set the terms of reference for studies; monitor, and sometimes participate, in the study process; and review the study results. If stakeholders are able to accomplish these steps jointly, they can dramatically reduce the amount of time and effort spent on debating scientific issues, build a shared understanding of the range of uncertainty where there are not definitive factual answers, and create a firm scientific/technical foundation for the decisions they make.
Public participation or public involvement refers to processes that ensure that the ideas, interests and concerns of the public, including a broad range of perspectives and values, are considered in public policy development, planning and decision-making. Public input enables policy-makers to make informed decisions with increased legitimacy, and to build mutual understanding with the public. Direct engagement can give stakeholders a sense of ownership of the process and the outcome. Public involvement processes can also provide direct education on issues and allow stakeholders to understand the need for compromise and collaboration in making collective decisions.
Policy dialogues bring together representatives of groups with divergent views to discuss and brainstorm ideas for addressing a broad public policy issue. The goals include drawing on the knowledge of diverse stakeholders, improving mutual understanding, and exploring opportunities for future work towards agreement on disputed issues. Unlike processes that explicitly seek consensus (e.g., negotiated rulemaking and mediation), policy dialogues are usually preliminary examinations of issues and interests and do not seek the parties’ agreement on solutions.
Regulatory Negotiation (“Reg-Neg”) is a collaborative approach to policy development and the adoption of regulations by government entities. Reg-neg is a process that brings together regulators, those affected by a proposed regulation, and other interested parties to develop a regulation from the beginning through negotiation; thus, outside parties are included before a draft regulation is developed or issued. It is usually managed by a mediator with strong facilitation skills, and may be used to develop new regulations or revise existing ones. By definition this makes the interaction between the agency and interested parties much more constructive and far less contentious. Further, once the regulations have been developed, they are then usually issued as the agency’s proposed rule for public comment and finalization. Having negotiated the contents of the regulation, this then marks the end rather than the beginning of the process and enables the process to conclude much more smoothly, quickly and efficiently.
For more information, contact CRC at 612-822-9883