Teaching Community Dispute Resolution: Exercises to Facilitate Positive Change

By — on / Teaching Negotiation

conflict management

Community dispute resolution provides communities with a forum to address conflict, uncover and resolve the underlying issues, and thereby achieve positive change. Community dispute resolution provides an alternative to the judicial system and facilitates collaborative community relationships. Community dispute resolution processes can include training and educational activities, and may involve a mediator from within the community or one brought in from the outside. The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) has a variety of community dispute resolution exercises designed to teach participants how to navigate the issues, relationships, and processes involved in community dispute resolution.

Neighborhood Care, Inc. – Featured Community Dispute Resolution Simulation

This two-party, two-hour negotiation is between church and neighborhood representatives over the possible use of church facilities for services for the mentally challenged. Neighborhood Care, Inc. is a non-profit mental health organization that provides counseling and recreational health services to mentally challenged adults and teenagers. Neighborhood Care would like to rent space in a local church, and the church is interested. Local residents oppose the idea and plan on staging a protest at the next zoning hearing, when the church will seek a permit to operate the Neighborhood Care facility. The situation is also complicated by the fact that the church is located in a neighborhood with residents of a different religious faith. There is both a mediated and non-mediated version of this exercise. Major lessons include:

  • This exercise illustrates how and why groups with competing interests or concerns can view the same situation in different ways.
  • The difficulties facing mediators trying to gain entry into community disputes are illustrated, especially the problem of maintaining neutrality.
  • The prospects for developing written agreements in community conflicts are presented. The difficulties of defining a “good” outcome in a community dispute are also highlighted.
  • Review of the agreement reached in the real-life case highlights the problem of implementing informed negotiated agreements.

Download a free Neighborhood Care, Inc. Teacher’s Package preview copy to learn more.

Seoul Food in Urbana – Featured Community Dispute Resolution Simulation

This three-person, two-hour mediation involving representatives of local Korean and African-American communities is over racial tensions arising from an alleged shoplifting incident. Tensions between the African-American and Korean communities in economically depressed Urbana, where Koreans are the sole providers of groceries in the area, have been building for some time. Many African-American customers have long complained that the grocery store owners are unfriendly and unfairly accuse customers of stealing, while Korean store owners contend that many of their African-American customers use racial slurs and shoplift. A recent incident involving an elderly African-American woman and a Korean grocery store owner has caused tensions to explode into a massive boycott, led initially by the woman’s family, but gaining support throughout the community. The recently elected African-American mayor was initially neutral on the issue, but as the boycott grew, the mayor decided to intervene. Korean grocers do not wish to be driven out of business, and while African-Americans would prefer to support the establishment of African-American owned grocery stores, they have no convenient, immediate alternative to the existing Korean-American grocery stores. Legal representatives of the local African-American and Korean-American communities are meeting with the mayor’s Chief Aide for Urban Affairs in an effort to try to resolve the conflict. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • The effect of culture and ethnicity on partisan perception formation.
  • The influence of race in complicating tensions between different communities.
  • The use of negotiation instead of litigation as a means to seeking desired ends in a conflict.
  • The role of politics and politicians in ethnic and racial conflicts.

To learn more about this simulation, download a free Seoul Food in Urbana Teacher’s Package preview copy.

Homelessness in Niceville – Featured Community Dispute Resolution Simulation

This six-person, two-hour, facilitated, integrative negotiation is among advocates for homeless people, community and business leaders, and a foundation regarding the allocation of a grant to alleviate local homelessness problems. Recent publicity in a prominent national newspaper about the town of Niceville’s expanding homeless population, has caused the Ledbetter Foundation to address the issue of homelessness with a one-time grant of $500,000. The simulation explores the role a facilitator can play in this type of community problem-solving effort. The stakeholders represent five different attitudes towards homelessness which are sometimes contrary, yet lend themselves to coalition building. It is up to the foundation representative to reconcile the parties’ philosophical differences to develop a satisfactory agreement. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • It is important to distinguish stated positions from underlying interests. In order to reach a successful conclusion each party must prioritize its desired outcomes and be willing to forgo some to achieve others.
  • The facilitator must be able to keep the discussion focused on the “issues” and not allow disagreements among the parties to bog down the group.
  • The group should take advantage of private discussions or caucuses. Though no two groups will agree on everything, coalition building will be helpful in building consensus.
  • All interests should be fully represented in the discussions for as long as possible; however, the exercise requires only four of the five players (excluding the foundation representative) to reach agreement. It is up to the stakeholder to decide how flexible they will be in light of the fact that they run the risk of being excluded. The group as a whole must determine the advantages and disadvantages of excluding a stakeholder.

Download a free Homelessness in Niceville Teacher’s Package preview copy to learn more.

Development Dispute at Menehune Bay – Featured Community Dispute Resolution Simulation 

This six-party, two-hour, multi-issue, facilitated negotiation is a dispute over environmental issues, native rights, and commercial development interests in Hawaii. The Queen Malia Estate has entered into an agreement with the Elima Iki Development Company (EIDC) for the leasing of 500 acres of land around Menehune Bay in Hawaii. EIDC is planning a world-class resort for the site – including eight hotels, two golf courses, recreational clubs, and private condominium units. The project has support from the business and construction community on the island but faces opposition from environmental groups and local residents. The Mayor has remained fairly noncommittal about the project, and feels that a number of questions must be answered before he can decide on the proposal. He has invited designated representatives from the six groups most interested in the project to serve on a Special Advisory Committee, indicating that if five of the six groups can reach an agreement, he will go along with their recommendations. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • Successful facilitation of mediation of land use disputes involves attention to procedural concerns. The role of the neutral in establishing procedural guidelines should be clearly understood by all parties before substantive negotiation begins.
  • It is difficult to ensure that all participants in a complex negotiation have a chance to be heard, and that the ideas expressed accumulate in a constructive fashion. One of the primary tasks of the facilitator or mediator is to ensure that an acceptable record of all discussions is kept.
  • The facilitator or mediator is responsible for making sure that the group arrives at final decisions that resolve the issues at hand. It is often as difficult to get a group of disputants to agree on a process for deciding as it is to reach an agreement.
  • Inventing new options is critical to finding a workable agreement in a complex public dispute. The line between facilitation and mediation begins to blur as the neutral facilitator takes a more active role in the invention of new options.

To learn more, download a free Development Dispute at Menehune Bay Teacher’s Package preview copy.


Take your training to the next level with the TNRC

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center offers a wide range of effective teaching materials, including

TNRC negotiation exercises and teaching materials are designed for educational purposes. They are used in college classroom settings or corporate training settings; used by mediators and facilitators seeking to introduce their clients to a process or issue; and used by individuals who want to enhance their negotiation skills and knowledge.

Negotiation exercises and role-play simulations introduce participants to new negotiation and dispute resolution tools, techniques and strategies. Our videos, books, case studies, and periodicals are also a helpful way of introducing students to key concepts while addressing the theory and practice of negotiation.

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