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CONSIDER DEVELOPING NEW COMMUNICATION METHODS

by | May 22

There are a wide variety of all-purpose methodologies for developing means to facilitateinteraction, communication, trust and agreement. Some are a bit trendy or “touchy–feely”;some are potentially explosive—all require careful assessment and, if appropriate at all,careful design and implementation in the hands of a skilled practitioner. The list thatfollows is by no means exhaustive. These are tools that are available to the SitingCommission, to a developer, to a community group, or to anyone interested in makingnegotiation more likely or more successful.

Delphi methodology. This is a formal technique for encouraging consensus throughsuccessive rounds of position-taking. It is appropriate only where the grounds forconsensus are clear—for helping the community clarify its concerns, for example, butnot for helping it reach agreement with the developer.Role-playing. Playing out the stereotyped roles of participants in a controversy canhelp all sides achieve better understanding of the issues. Under some circumstancesthis can greatly reduce the level of tension. There are many variations. Most useful forfacility siting would probably be exaggerated role-playing, in which participantsburlesque their own positions. This tends to produce more moderate posturing in realinteractions. Counter-attitudinal role-playing, in which participants take on each other’sroles, tends to yield increased appreciation of the multi-sidedness of the issue. Bothrequire some trust, but much can be learned even from role-playing without the“enemy” present.Gaming-simulation. This is a variation on role-playing, in which the participantsinteract not just with each other but with a complex simulation of the situation theyconfront. Game rules control how the participants may behave and determine theresults—wins, losses, or standoffs. Participants learn which behaviors are effective andwhich are self-defeating. As with any role-playing, the participants may playthemselves or each other, and may undergo the game in homogeneous or heterogeneousgroups. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently developed a hazardouswaste facility siting gaming-simulation.Coorientation. This is a tool to help participants come to grips with theirmisunderstanding of each other’s positions. A series of questions is presented to allparticipants, individually or in groups. First they answer for themselves, thenparticipants predict the answers of the other participants (those representing conflictinginterests). Responses are then shared, so that each side learns: (a) its opponent’sposition; (b) the accuracy of its perception of its opponent’s position; and (c) theaccuracy of its opponent’s perception of its position. The method assumes thatpositions taken will be sincere, but not that they are binding commitments.Efficacy-building. This is a collection of techniques designed to increase a group’ssense of its own power. In some cases this includes skills-training to increase thepower itself. In other cases, the stress is on increasing group morale, cohesiveness, andself-esteem. To the extent that community intransigence may be due to low feelings ofefficacy, then efficacy-building procedures should lead to increased flexibility.Focus groups. A focus group is a handful of individuals selected as typical of aparticular constituency. This focus group is then asked to participate in a guideddiscussion of a predetermined set of topics. Often the focus group is asked to respondto particular ideas or proposals, but always in interaction with each other, not inisolation as individuals. The purpose of the focus group methodology is to learn moreabout the values of the constituency and how it is likely to respond to certainmessages—for example, a particular compensation package in a siting negotiation.Focus groups do not commit their constituency, of course, but in the hands of a skilledinterviewer and interpreter they yield far better information than survey questionnaires.Fact-finding, mediation, and arbitration. These are all third-party interventions inconflict situations. Fact-finding concentrates on helping the parties reach agreement onany facts in contention. Mediation helps the parties find a compromise. Arbitrationfinds a compromise for them. These approaches assume that the parties want tocompromise, that each prefers agreement to deadlock or litigation. They have beenused successfully in many environmental conflicts, including solid waste sitingcontroversies. The Center for Dispute Resolution of the Public Advocate’s Officeoffers these services, as do several specialized environmental mediation organizations.Participatory planning. This is the label sometimes given to a collection of techniquesfor making public participation more useful to the decision-maker and more satisfyingto the public. To a large extent the value of public participation is in the agency’shands. It depends on how early in the process participation is scheduled, how flexibleagency planners are, and how much real power is given to the community. Even ifthese questions are resolved in ways that make participation more than mere windowdressing,the success of the enterprise still depends on technique: on how people areinvited, on how the policy questions are phrased, on what speakers are allowed to talkabout, what issues for how long, on who moderates the meeting, etc. Many techniquesof participatory planning, in fact, do not involve a meeting at all.Feeling acceptance. A classic misunderstanding between communities and agenciescenters on their differing approaches to feeling; citizens may sometimes exaggeratetheir emotions while bureaucrats tend to stifle theirs. Not surprisingly, “irrational” and“uncaring” are the impressions that result. Feeling acceptance is a technique forinteracting with people who feel strongly about the topic at hand. It involvesidentifying and acknowledging the feeling, then separating it from the issue thataroused it, and only then addressing the issue itself.School intervention. In situations where strong feelings seem to be interfering withthoughtful consideration, it is sometimes useful to introduce the topic into the schools.Primary school pupils, in particular, are likely to approach the issue less burdened byemotion, yet they can be relied upon to carry what they are learning home to theirparents. It is essential, of course, to make sure any school intervention incorporates theviews—and the involvement—of all viewpoints in the community. Any effort to teachchildren a single “objective” agency viewpoint will bring angry charges ofindoctrination. Existing curricula that are themselves multi-sided can augment the localspeakers.Behavioral commitment. People do not evolve new attitudes overnight; rather, changecomes in incremental steps. The most important steps are not attitudes at all, butbehaviors, preferably performed publicly so as to constitute an informal commitment.The behavioral commitment methodology, sometimes known as the “foot in the door”,asks people to take small actions that will symbolize, to themselves and theirassociates, movement in the desired direction. Among the possible actions which canbe taken: to request a booklet with more information, to urge rational discussion on theissue, to state that one is keeping an open mind, to agree to consider the final reportwhen it is complete, to agree to serve on an advisory committee, to meet with citizensconcerned about Superfund cleanup, etc.Environmental advocacy. In a large proportion of successfully resolved sitingcontroversies in recent years, respected environmentalists played a crucial intermediaryrole. Environmental organizations may need to play that role in New Jersey’shazardous waste facility siting. By counseling caution on industry assurances whileagreeing that new facilities are needed and much improved, environmentalists positionthemselves in the credible middle.A credible middle is badly needed on this issue, but it will take time. Now is not the time toask any New Jersey community to accept a hazardous waste facility. From “no” to “yes” isfar too great a jump. We should ask the community only to consider its options, to explorethe possibility of a compromise. Our goal should be moderate, fair, and achievable: gettingto maybe.The post CONSIDER DEVELOPING NEW COMMUNICATION METHODS appeared first on My Assignment Online.

  

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