Assisted Dialogue and Negotiation

Clarification of the Trade Zone


The primary goal of this stage is to array and evaluate options and position the group for making choices.

At the start of this stage, issues are fully stated. Pertinent PESTLE information has been gathered, reviewed, and jointly analyzed for insights and conclusions. Options have been provisionally framed. By the end of this stage, potential trades, gives, quid pro quos, and possible bundles or packages of agreements are clear. The group knows and understands the choices and is positioned for bargaining and decision making.

Options can be organized and worked on in many ways—from a simple list of ideas, to a much larger set laid out spreadsheet style or bundled into different scenarios. The options may include ideas at various levels of scale (i.e., big ideas, small ideas, short-term ideas, long-term ideas, large landscape-level ideas, and site-specific ideas).

This is the time to shift the focus of stakeholders to the construction of “trustable” agreements rather than interpersonal trust. This may require building possible contingencies and caveats on to the proposed options, bundles, or packages that stakeholders can now take back to their constituencies for a final review before decisions are finalized.

With a fundamental shift from defining the problem and its various causes and effects to embracing the more action-oriented question of what can be done, this stage positions the whole process for a conclusion.

The big work of this stage is clarifying, arraying, and analyzing the options that will be essential to the development of a final agreement–both the letter of it and the spirit of it.

  • Ensure that all options are on the table.
  • Evaluate each option.
  • Create possible bundles, scenarios, or packages that array options.
  • Conduct a “straw” poll scoring of each option through a variety of tools and techniques.
  • Compose a draft set of agreements for decision makers to consider.
  • Create a draft meeting summary for those who were at a meeting or participated in a listening process to edit, supplement, or approve.

The outputs from this stage depend on the assignment: 

  • For a “Transactional Agreement,” the objective is completing an in-depth discussion and evaluation of each and every item that might be part of a negotiated package and seeing what trades might be bundled together.
  • For a “Guidance to Other Decision Makers,” the objective is similar, but may require more explanation and room for dissenting views.
  • For a “Joint Fact Finding,” the objective is arraying a set of agreed-upon factual questions with answers, usually stated in ranges of numbers.
  • For a “Plan,” the objective is a clear articulation of the various ingredients of a vision statement, a strategic plan, a set of goals, and/or a set of timelines.
  • For a “Record of Discussions,” the objective is a draft meeting summary.
  • For an “Explicit Alliance or Partnership,” it may be a draft that orders critical elements of a partnership, alliance, confederation, or merger.
  • There co-exists the need for transparency and the need for providing privacy and bargaining in the shadows.
    Much of how this tension plays out depends on who might be involved as stakeholders and whether the process is connected to existing legislative or executive sunshine laws. In general, most stakeholder processes are not the same as public hearings held under the Federal Advisory Committee Act and are not required to be open. That said, privacy may be needed to negotiate specific exchanges, but the trade-offs need to be clearly understandable later on to people who were not part of the process. The best way to do this is to show all of the options that were considered.
  • There is a pull toward speed and a pull toward delay.
    Because of political or legal deadlines, some stakeholders may seek delay and pressure the process to go slowly. Conversely, others seek conclusion. Delays may be a bargaining tactic or there may be genuine deadlines. When either dynamic occurs, the facilitator can speak with people privately and try to negotiate new timetables so that everyone is satisfied and saves face.
  • One stakeholder is violating ground rules and leaking confidential matters to the press or to key politicians.
    The facilitator might confront the person privately and gently reminded him of the ground rules. It may also be appropriate to marshal group pressure from other stakeholders.
  • Sometimes in a larger multi-stakeholder process there is no real consensus or plurality that coalesces.
    In situations like this, consider breaking out of the plenary format and starting an intensive round of shuttles and caucuses to try and effectuate a set of central agreements.
  • Agreements are watered down to a level that they are abstract “motherhood” statements.
    If groups, especially those working on guidance documents, disagree on specifics and are not able to forge concrete agreements, the facilitator might ask them to offer up a set of “principles” that can be extended to specifics later on by policy makers, regulators, and standard setters. Alternatively, the facilitator might encourage a more extended break in the process to talk with constituencies or create some breathing room. At a minimum, when groups are working on thorny public issues, encourage them to leave behind a detailed report on their deliberations so that an intellectual trail is created for future groups.
  • There is continuing interpersonal conflict and the negotiations over options, bundles, and packages are punctuated by anger, feigned or real walkouts, and other “hardball” tactics.
    These are signals to get away from face-to-face group meetings and revert into shuttle diplomacy and more extended caucusing.

This project explicitly sought to reduce some of the factual disagreements on America’s long-running debate over the development of a new fleet of nuclear power plants. The following excerpt is from the final report of the “Keystone Nuclear Joint Fact Finding.”

The participants developed the questions that they felt were the most important to answer, but did not intend to create a comprehensive treatise on nuclear power. Some of the questions/issues tackled were:

  • What would be the likely cost of building advanced nuclear reactors in the next 10–15 years
  • How much new nuclear power capacity might be needed worldwide to make a significant contribution to reducing GHG emissions
  • Whether the operation of nuclear reactors is safer today than it was in the past
  • Evaluation of available information on the security of the existing and future nuclear facilities against terrorist attacks
  • Evaluation of the current and proposed options for waste management
  • Evaluation of current reprocessing techniques
  • Identification of the most urgent proliferation risks associated with current and expanded commercial nuclear facilities

The hope was that the research, expertise, and deliberations of this broad range of individuals would lend strong credibility to the findings. The findings in this report were designed to lay the foundation for continued discussions of the role of nuclear powering the U.S. and abroad. Ultimately, the decisions would rest on choices made by industry executives and boards, state and federal regulators, government policymakers, and the public.

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