The overarching goal of this stage is to bring people together and formally start the process.
This stage brings people together and formally inaugurates the process. Specific goals are to:
- Create a “starting line” that launches the larger dialogue and negotiation process.
- Formally cement the participation contract that people have informally agreed to in advance. Most often this is in the form of a charter or Terms of Reference (TOR) document, but it can also be a set of verbal agreements.
- Begin the effort of creating mutual understandings about the definition of the problems and the specific issues to be taken up.
The larger purpose of this stage, and the next, is to seek understanding about the different meanings groups and individuals are holding in their minds about the conflict itself and about the prospects for cooperation. This is a time when people set the tone, establish their desired atmosphere, and telegraph signals to each other. The signals may say:
- We are eager (or reluctant) to explore solutions.
- We trust (or don’t trust) you.
- Certain issues are important (or unimportant) to me.
- We like (or don’t like) you.
- This is a good (or bad) moment to enter discussions.
- We really want to understand (or, conversely, we don’t care very much about) your positions.
These signals are good opportunities for clarification and early collective insight. People need to tell their stories, explain what has brought them to the moment, state their grievances, and describe their highest hopes and worst fears. There can be no bargaining before there is a fully established context and reasonable working relationships.
Done well, beginnings influence endings. They set aspirations and ground rules, frame substantive objectives, create relational expectations, shape procedure, and establish the tone and atmospherics of an expected process.