Most public policy questions are complicated by the presence of multiple stakeholders with differing interests and perspectives. For example, a proposal to build a new gas-fired power plant may be championed by a utility; supported by certain business interests eager for the construction contracts and cheap energy; tentatively supported by labor groups, provided they can get certain provisions for workers; strongly opposed by environmentalists due to the foreseen pollution and environmental risks; and opposed by neighbors upset about the proposed facility in their community. Each group has it’s own interests, positions and ideas of how the planning and decision-making process should proceed.
Third-party neutrals, or mediators, can play a critical role when multiple parties, issues and interests are involved. They can assist parties in organizing efficient, effective and fair processes that bring the key stakeholders together to explore interests and options and seek creative outcomes that everyone can support. Professional mediators can provide technical and procedural support and advice; help representatives at the table to caucus with their respective constituencies; facilitate meetings so that tensions are avoided, no party dominates and progress is efficiently pursued; and keep track of progress, including drafting meeting agendas and minutes, so that they are seen as neutral.
The MIT Science Impact Collaborative and our partners are recognized leaders in the public-sector dispute resolution and mediation community, and continue to both directly help groups and innovate best practices. Director Lawrence Susskind has mediated dozens of processes around the world at every scale, and published extensively in the field.
For more information on multi-party dispute resolution and effective mediation, see the following resources:
- Susskind, L., S. McKearnan and J. Thomas-Larmer, eds. (1999). The Consensus Building Handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage.
To learn more about how we tackle challenges at the intersection of science, politics and policy, visit our tools and project pages.