Workshop on Dispute Resolution and Deliberative Democracy

By PON Staffon / News

On June 24th and 25th of 2005, the Program on Negotiation (with support from the Hewlett Foundation) sponsored the two-day Workshop on Dispute Resolution and Deliberative Democracy, which brought together public dispute resolution professionals and political philosophers who study civic engagement.

The goal of the event, which attracted some of the most experienced public dispute mediators and political theorists from six countries, was to break down the barriers that seem to exist between the two communities. Organized by Lawrence Susskind (MIT and PON), Carrie Menkel-Meadow (Georgetown), John Forester (Cornell), Judith Innes (UC-Berkeley) and David Booher (California State), the thirty participants discussed four scenarios that detailed difficult decision-making moments at the local, regional, state and national levels. This discussion illuminated similarities and differences in the prescriptions that emerge from the theory and practice of dispute resolution and deliberative democracy. Later this year, PON will make available an instructional video based on the Workshop’s dialogue. The Workshop’s web page (stellar.mit.edu/S/project/deliberativedemocracy), which features selected readings from both fields, will be accessible through the end of 2005.

While the fields of dispute resolution and deliberative theory share the goal of promoting active citizen participation in policy-making, they promote different approaches. Public dispute resolution practitioners are agreement-oriented, focusing on implementable solutions generated by stakeholder representatives. Deliberative democrats, on the other hand, focus on “high-quality” dialogue that leads the average citizen to a deeper understanding of the common good. Nevertheless, some of the methods used by each community – such as deliberative polling, conflict assessment, computer-aided town meetings, and single-text negotiation – are valuable and interesting to the other. (Indeed, public dispute resolution practitioners already draw from the language of the deliberative democracy literature.) Establishing deliberative democracy as a long-run ideal can help dispute resolution practitioners improve their use of “joint fact-finding” to generate informed agreement. Similarly, deliberative democracy theorists can learn from the experiences derived from the practice of public dispute resolution.

Dispute Resolution Magazine (published by the American Bar Association) will devote its Winter 2006 issue to the Workshop. Also, Negotiation Journal and the Journal of the American Planning Association will feature articles on the Workshop discussions in upcoming issues.