Faculty Exchange Ideas at PON Conference On Teaching Multiparty Negotiation

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“Teaching Multiparty Negotiation” was the focus for an inventive, purposefully small group of educators who gathered for a two-day Program on Negotiation-sponsored conference at Harvard University. The event, held May 30-31, 2003, was led by Professors Robert H. Mnookin of Harvard Law School and Lawrence E. Susskind of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have taught a semester-length course on multiparty negotiation for the past two years at Harvard Law School.

Susskind and Mnookin were joined by a group of some 25 faculty colleagues from (among other universities) Harvard, MIT, Georgetown, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Johns Hopkins, the University of British Columbia, Cornell, Columbia, Boston University, and George Mason University for an intensive discussion of such questions as:

  • What theoretical frameworks and skills add value to the experience of a course on multiparty negotiation? Are there fundamental differences between teaching dyadic (two-party) and multiparty negotiation? What applies (and what does not) when you move from simple, two-party negotiation to negotiations involving many complex issues and numerous stakeholders?
  • What teaching methods and curricular materials work well for teaching multiparty negotiation? What combinations of case studies, simulations, lectures, and other teaching are most useful?
  • How can the work of students in such a course be evaluated? How should teachers evaluate their own performance?

In some respects, the weekend program was a “busman’s holiday” for the faculty members, all of whom are either teaching multiparty courses now or are planning to teach such a course in the future. Prior to the conference, Mnookin and Susskind and Teaching Assistants Boyd Fuller and Lukasz Rozdeiczer-Kryszkowski circulated draft copies of Teaching Multiparty Negotiation: A Workbook, which detailed their experiences and the evolution of the Harvard Law School course they taught during the spring semesters of 2002 and 2003. In addition, several of the participants provided advance copies of syllabi for their own courses.

The draft pedagogical materials, which faculty members are planning to share with others in a more finished version later this summer, provided a “jumping off” place for the conference discussions. For example, initially the group was looking at three key factors that distinguish multiparty negotiation from dyadic: coalition formation; problems of process management; and the constantly shifting nature of each party’s changing best alternative. This discussion expanded with consideration of numerous other views of what changes when the subject is multiparty negotiation.

Encouraging and improving the teaching of negotiation in law schools, professional schools (business, government, etc.), and undergraduate colleges has been a priority of the multiuniversity Program on Negotiation since its earliest days. The Mnookin-Susskind teaching partnership is also an example of the kind of productive, interdisciplinary initiatives that Program on Negotiation faculty have launched over the years.

Mnookin, the Williston Professor of Law at Harvard and Chair of the Program on Negotiation Steering Committee, is known for his scholarship and professional work in mediation, arbitration, and family law, among other areas. Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at MIT and Director of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program, specializes in the mediation and analysis of complex, multi-issue disputes involving government, business interests, citizens, and other stakeholders.

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