Assisted Dialogue and Negotiation



In this stage, decisions are finalized and the collaboration is brought to a close.

The overriding goal of this stage is to finalize decisions. It is here that the entire arc of the collaboration project is brought to closure on all three levels. With the intellectual closure, substantive challenges have been met and are captured in some documentary form. With the psychological and relational closure, stakeholders acknowledge the ways they have come to understand each other and honor their similarities and differences. With the process closure, the multi-party stakeholder endeavor ends and there is often a celebration to honor everyone’s hard work.

Agreements can be formulated into “deliverables” that can include: a list of solid implementation steps (who will do what, by when, and how); a list of default steps should agreements wobble and need more discussion; and clarity about the roll-out. If there are no agreements, the process needs to be concluded with the greatest possible dignity.

No matter how long the arc may be, there are beginnings, middles, and endings to most collaboration projects. End points often create new beginnings and are also a demarcation of work completed. Assisted dialogue and negotiation requires this kind of closure.

One of the complaints about collaborative processes is fatigue and uncertainty about payoff for the great investment of time. This makes this concluding stage critical.

  • Bring agreements together, usually in written form. Ensure that the agreements capture the substantive understandings that have been negotiated as well as anything else that the stakeholders want to see memorialized.
  • Ensure that everyone is explicitly clear on next steps.
  • Plan key messages, roll-out, and communication strategies.
  • Create a celebration that brings positive closure.

The outputs from this stage depend on the assignment:

  • For “Transactional Agreements,” a document, usually signed, by those who have the authority to enter into and implement agreements.
  • For a “Guidance to Other Decision Makers,” a document that unites usually opposing parties and offers consensual advice to decision makers on a regulatory, law-making, rule-making, or standard-setting policy issue.
  • For a “Joint Fact Finding,” a document that seeks to narrow disagreements on a specific set of factual public policy matters.
  • For a “Plan,” a document that articulates the alignment of the different groups or individuals involved in a vision, strategy, goal-set, objective-set or future-activity set.
  • For a “Record of Discussions,” a product that captures the results of listening sessions that may or may not embody opinions, suggestions, ideas, or agreements of diverse constituencies.
  • For an explicit “Alliance or Partnership,” a document that memorializes part or all of an attempt to create new partnerships, alliances, confederations, or mergers.
  • An assessment of whether or not to prolong negotiation needs to be made.
    When negotiation extends into the Memorialization Stage, there may be a question as to whether a deal is in fact possible. The facilitator can let the parties know that he will continue until some or all of them declare an impasse, or simply soldier on without such a pronouncement.
  • Memorialization becomes the final negotiation.
    The concluding document is everyone’s last chance to make edits and changes to the deal. In instances where deadlocks over a few issues continue, conflicts may play out in the context of trying to wordsmith the document. At this stage, words may matter far more than concepts, no matter how much goodwill has been developed. Sometimes, a new and better-expressed ambiguity will bridge chasms of tough sticking issues even though no higher level of certainty has actually been achieved.
  • It may be necessary to manage a process where there is less than full agreement.
    Most stakeholders who have invested significant time and energy in a collaborative process want to see a strong conclusion. While most of the time it is fairly effortless, sometimes, there is no strong, concluding document. This may be a signal to either end the process (a decision best left to the stakeholders), or to call a “cooling off and reconsideration” time-out. When there really is no strong concluding document, the facilitator can to try to craft a well-written report that leaves a strong intellectual trail for future discussions.
  • A signed agreement puts one party in organizational jeopardy with their members.
    It sometimes happens that one stakeholder group, often for internal reasons with its own members, doesn’t want to be seen as agreeing; sometimes, they quietly agree not to oppose something going forward even though they cannot openly support it. It’s reasonable to ask those stakeholders to let it be noted in the record of the meetings that they were present at the discussions even if they didn’t officially concur.
  • A proper conclusion cannot go forward until an apology has taken place.
    If it seems appropriate, the facilitator might offer to draft joint apologies for proud men and women where no one wanted to be the first to extend a hand. Sometimes, the facilitator might help to choreograph a sidebar so that apologies can take place and the failure of an apology doesn’t stop the larger effort. Every once in a while, a major time-out needs to be called and discussions deferred to another day.

Related Examples

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