Community Dispute Negotiation Role-Play:

Dioxin – Waste to Energy Game

Denise Madigan, Steve Foster, and Lawrence Susskind
Six-party, multi-issue negotiation among four scientists, a city representative, and an environmentalist to develop the city's solid waste management strategy; also known as: Dioxin: Resource Recovery.

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With landfills rapidly filling, the City of Lockford is attempting to solve its garbage problem by incinerating its trash in waste-to-energy plants. Protests from environmental and community groups over dioxin-related health risks posed by these facilities has escalated into a public fight between scientists representing the City Department of Sanitation and environmentalists. In an attempt to understand and resolve this highly scientific and technical problem, the “City Fathers,” via a local scientific academy, have called together the two main protagonists in the fight along with other experts and interested parties. Based on the recommendations of this group, the City will announce its future garbage disposal strategy. A press conference has been called at the end of the meeting, and if the scientists cannot reach an understanding, they face a complete loss of credibility and the wrath of an outraged public. The parties include: The City Department of Sanitation, a waste-to-energy expert, a combustion physicist, an epidemiologist; a scientist from the community; and a national environmentalist group.



  • This exercise illustrates how negotiations can be used to resolve conflicts between scientists and technically sophisticated parties when scientific data are in dispute.
  • When the same negotiation is conducted by multiple groups, the comparison of outcomes is instructive. The recommendations offered by each group may differ widely and in some cases there may be no agreement reached in the time allowed.
  • The scientific data available in the case (and in the world) is incomplete and inconclusive to the points at issue. The exercise motivates discussion of how decisions should be made given limited information.
  • The exercise provides a context in which the formation of coalitions or “joint interest” groups can dramatically affect the negotiated outcome.



The exercise is best run with 6 people, although 12 people (2 per party) works well. The instructions require a one to three hours to read and prepare prior to the negotiation. They contain a good deal of scientific information which should be analyzed prior to the beginning of the negotiations. Actual negotiations require 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.



For all parties:

  • General Information
  • Press Releases
  • Four Appendices and Charts


Role specific

Confidential Instructions to

  • Epidemiologist from the State DEP
  • Lockford Academy of Science Combustion Physicist
  • Lockford Concerned Citizens’ Chemist
  • Waste-to-Energy Expert
  • Executive Director of the Lockford Board of Directors
  • Deputy Director of the City DOS


Teacher’s package (87 pages total):

  • All of the above
  • Logistics Notes
  • FAQ notes
  • Debrief notes
  • Notes on the role of experts



Managing risk and uncertainty in science – intensive public policy disputes; environmental disputes



Agenda control; BATNA; Caucusing; Coalitions; Communication; Competition v. Cooperation; Constituents; Credibility; Decision analysis; Group process; Information exchange; Issue control; Legitimacy; Media; Mediation; Objective criteria; Partisan perceptions; Public opinion; Risk perception; Time constraints


Dioxin - Waste to Energy Game Attributes

Time required:
3-5 hours
Number of participants:
Teams involved:
Agent present:
Neutral third party present:
Teaching notes available:
PON Teaching Negotiation Resource Center

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Ordering a single copy for review

If you wish to review the materials for a particular role simulation to decide whether you’d like to use it, then you should order a single Teacher’s Package for that role simulation. A PDF, or soft copy, version of the Teacher’s Package is also available as a free download from the description page of most role simulations and case studies. There is no need to order participant materials as well as a Teacher’s Package, as all Teacher’s Packages include copies of all participant materials. In addition, some Teacher’s Packages (but not all) include additional teaching materials such as teaching notes or overhead masters. Please note that the materials in Teacher’s Packages are for the instructor’s review and reference only, and may not be duplicated for use with participants.

Ordering copies for multiple participants

If you wish to order multiple copies of a role simulation for use in a course or workshop, simply enter the total number of participants in the box next to “Participant Copies.” There is no need to calculate how many of each role is required; the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center will calculate the appropriate numbers of each role to provide, based on the total number of participants. For example, if you wish to order a 2-party role simulation for use with a class of 30 students, you would enter “30” in the box next to “Participant Copies.” You then would receive 15 copies of one role and 15 copies of the other role, for use with your 30 participants. As another example, if you ordered 30 participant copies of a 6-party role simulation, you would receive 5 copies of each role.

In the event that the number of participant copies you order is not evenly divisible by the number of roles in the simulation, you will receive extra copies of one or more roles. Participants receiving the extra roles may partner with other participants playing the same role, thus negotiating as a team. So, for instance, if you ordered 31 copies of a 2-party role simulation, you would receive 15 copies of the first role and 16 copies of the second role. One of the participants playing the second role would partner with another participant playing that same role, and the two would negotiate as a team.