Mediators and arbitrators interested in being a member of of National Mediation's Panel call 1-800-286-0777 or CLICK HERE
You are at: [Mediation Services] [  > Index  > When, How, and Why Facilitate] [Mediation Books]

What, How, and Why Facilitate?


This is a bare bones introduction to the concept of Facilitation as it relates to a private dispute resolution center.  The purpose of this essay is to provide the reader a general scope in which to understand specific facilitation initiatives that he or she may consider providing.

Table of Contents

Introduction -- What is Facilitation?

Facilitation is the process by which parties are prepared for negotiation or mediation.  While mediated settlements of problems can be very successful, in larger or chronic conflicts the parties often need facilitation before they are ready to negotiate or otherwise interact in a mediated environment. In the process of developing a larger theory of negotiation, [1] the process of facilitation was born.  Facilitation may take many forms, from institutionalizing committees to track two analytical initiatives.

Generally facilitation helps groups identify their interests, define legitimacy, understand their relationships, appreciate their alternatives  [3] and options to negotiation, and to understand methods for communication.  Facilitation also often includes establishing paths of contact and understanding between groups.  It uses a variety of processes that aid parties in becoming ready to negotiate.  Facilitation is a process that leads towards dispute resolution. [table of contents]

What Facilitation is not.

Facilitation is not a denial that there are real, objective and true conflicts.  Facilitation is not an attempt to "resolve" everything by educating everyone out of subjective misperceptions.

Facilitation is not appeasement.  It is not a process aimed at teaching the group how to give into interests.

Facilitation is not a process to support power.  It does not exist to maintain (or to change) the status quo.

Facilitation is not a "one shot" solution to any conflict.

Further, facilitation should not be a process by which a third party seeks to impose a pre-selected solution on a group or groups. [table of contents]

Which Conflicts need Facilitation?

There are traditionally two types of conflicts that benefit from facilitation.

First, are conflicts where the parties are refusing to talk to each other.  The Middle East Peace Process began with parties that refused to even acknowledge each other's existence and that refused to talk to each other.

In this type of conflict, facilitation serves to provide a bridge that allows the parties to talk -- and to talk effectively.

Second, are conflicts where the parties have chronic conflicts and have been unable to reach negotiated settlements that endure.

As noted by Robert Fisher, most institutions are not a single rational actor.  [2]  Facilitation prepares the inside groups and aids them in "buying into" the settlement process -- in many ways it provides a process for mediating the internal conflicts that prevent a group from ratifying and carrying out a settlement.  Often pre-negotiation facilitation grows into a continuing interactive process within the institution engaged in the negotiation process.

Facilitation, like mediation, arbitration, conciliation and other alternative dispute resolution methods, is not a universal tool appropriate for every conflict or problem.  However, in the right circumstances it can be a powerful tool that leads towards resolution. [table of contents]

How Facilitation Initiatives are Conducted.

There are four types of Facilitation Initiatives (FIs) appropriate to a PADR Center.  These are conducted by a neutral (or panel of neutrals) in a "non-official" (non-governmental) setting that is confidential, mediated, and neutral.  

Each of these Facilitation Initiatives or FIs will be discussed in its own section(s).  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses that depend on the situation, the parties and other matters. The sections will provide greater depth on how a neutral, fair, confidential and appropriate process is applied in each method or FI.

There are additional forms of FI that are more appropriate to other institutions besides a PADR.  Further, there is a form of non-Facilitation, Disengagement, that is appropriate in some circumstances when the parties are no longer able to negotiate face-to-face, and that relates to an end of negotiations between parties.

Finally, a PADR Center can provide follow-up services that keep the resolution successful -- the so-called "post settlement settlements." [7]


Often referred to as a modified form of mediation [6] facilitation is a useful service and an important facet of alternative dispute resolution.  A Private Alternative Dispute Resolution Center (a PADR Center) can offer services that aid parties in preparing and gaining the necessary skills and insight that will allow them to successfully negotiate or mediate settlements and resolutions for their disputes and conflicts by providing facilitation services and hosting facilitation initiatives.

1 See Harold H. Saunders, We Need a Larger Theory of Negotiation:  The Importance of Pre-negotiating Phases, Negotiation Journal vol.1, no. 3. [return]

2 See Robert Fisher, Negotiating Inside Out, Negotiation Theory and Practice (Program on Negotiation Books, 1991).  [return]

3 See David Lax and James Sebenius, The Power of Alternatives or The Limits to Negotiation, Negotiation Journal, vol. 2, no. 1 [return]

4 See also Howard Raiffa's Mock Pseudo-Negotiations With Surrogate Disputants, Negotiation Journal, vol. 1, no. 2. [return]

5 BATNA, comes, of course, from Getting to Yes and William Ury's Getting Past No (Bantam Books, 1991). [return]

6 Christopher Mitchell and Michael Banks, Handbook of Conflict Resolution (Pinter 1996) [return]

7 Howard Raiffa, Post Settlement Settlements, Negotiation Journal, vol. 1, no. 1 [return]  See also Alvin Roth on Some Additional Thoughts on Post Settlement Settlements, vol. 1, no. 3.

Mediation Bulletin Board Link
Link to Dispute Resolution Related Book Reviews

Copyright 2000 Stephen R. Marsh [home]

Mediation Essays

Mediation Topics

Mediation Centers

Advanced Topics

Bulletin Board

ADR Links

More ADR Links


E-Mail to Author

Author's Home Page

Search the Site

This Website is by Stephen R. Marsh
Contact Information at: