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Public Policy Mediation


A prison is being built, a city landfill runs out of space, a new road needs to be constructed, school district lines begin to shift, all of these events create intense community interest, often coupled with legal and other challenges. Public Policy Mediation is a process that has evolved (and which is often more accurately styled Community Issue Facilitation) to help in the resolution of the social conflicts that such changes create.

The process is facilitation, if it is begun "on time" (i.e. before the problem becomes critical), and mediation if it is begun after groups enter into the negotiation and confrontation process.

A Roadmap For the Process

  1. Identify all of the affected parties.  The policy maker needs to be aware that being identified will empower (to some extent) a group.
  2. Engage representatives of all parties.  Aid the parties in selecting three to five representatives who will participate in the process.
  3. Identify the core problems and select neutral parties to mediate the process.  
  4. The first general meeting, where the focus of the process (problem solving) is set forth, the identified problems are set forth as tentative issues to be solved, and the representatives are broken up into three to five groups (each group should have one representative from each affected party if possible).
  5. Second meeting set, each group is placed together, and in a general meeting the ground rules are discussed.  The general ground rules will include:
  6. Organize each group and educate them.
  7. Meet with each group and re-set and re-emphasize the time limits for phases, interactions and proposals.  (Setting the time-line is a very important step and needs to be the focus of specific follow-up with each group).
  8. Party caucus (have each interested party's members meet in a community meeting with their interest group to discuss the procedures and progress).  This is the first formal "outside" series of caucuses.  Train each interest group on how to stay in touch and how to meet informally with their group.
  9. Fact finding visits by the groups (visiting with each interested party as well as other visits).
  10. Rotate group membership (if appropriate).
  11. On a group basis, begin to explore interests, create potential agreement packages, negotiate agreement.
  12. Draft "one text" and circulate from group to group.  Then circulate from interested party to interested party.
  13. Renegotiate final agreement based on "one text" inputs and circulations.
  14. Ratify final "one text" solution with policy maker implementing the project.

This is a process that aids not only individuals, but communities, in understanding and resolving the natural conflict that arises when a new road is built, a new land fill is begun, school districts are reorganized, or other community dislocations occur that create, embody or crystallize conflicts.

Special Issues

Representation on the groups may or may not be proportionate.  This leads to two types of issues:  swamping those who are most impacted (i.e. if a community wants to build a dump, and they've decided on your back yard, proportionate representation will generally yield twenty-to-one or better ratios in groups, which will effectively prevent the resolution of the conflict or a sense of equity) and over-representation of minority issues (if the group representation is fixed, at the same number per group, an interested party with 100,000 members has the same representation as one with 100).

Sensitivity to these issues is important at the planning stages.  There are several working approaches, including division of large interest groups into smaller ones, the use of multiple groups (not all of which will have every interested party represented, but which will circulate those representatives in group shuffles and reorganizations, so that each party will be heard), and other approaches.

Time lines are also very important, and the neutral mediators must remain aware of keeping the process on track and moving.  Management, in terms of time awareness, is an important task of the neutral (and delay will be one of the hidden agendas of some interested party's organizers).


A wide range of political dispute tends to spill over into public protests, court challenges and other areas of conflict.  By using a well moderated and well mediated community involvement process it is often possible to resolve some of the elements that create the dispute, and to create a resolution with a history that will withstand judicial scrutiny and that will fully solicit the support of the political and policy making processes.

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Copyright 2000 Stephen R. Marsh [home]

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