Tag Archives: Trust

Community and Conflict: Prevention and Healing – An Interview with Bill Johnson for ABA Mediation Week

It’s ABA Mediation Week 2014, and the theme for this year is “Stories Mediators Tell:  From Rookie to Veteran – Exploring the Spectrum of Mediation”.  We are excited to be able as part of Mediation Week to share this interview with Bill Johnson who is a veteran at helping communities through conflict.  Bill was first trained as a mediator in 1985, and he incorporated that training into his work as the President and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester New York (1972-1993), and as the 64th Mayor of Rochester (1994-2005).  After several additional years (2006-2013) as the Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, he is heading a consulting firm focused on “bridging differences to build strong communities” — Strategic Community Intervention LLC.  If you are concerned about distrust and divides within our communities, listen to the following interview and find out what can be done to heal those divides, even after events like those that recently occurred in Ferguson, MO.  You can also download a summary of Bill’s thoughts and experiences here: SCI –Police and Communities Collaboration, 10-14.

Interview With Bill Johnson of SCI

Note: This video was filmed using VTC Stream.

Collaboration: Accounting For Conflict

Some conflict is like a latent staph infection in a body that otherwise seems healthy – waiting to flare up and dangerous when it does.   Well-meaning efforts to engage the public can founder in the face of such a flare-up.  We have seen this happen to public officials who proudly announce a new economic development effort expecting to be praised for working to create jobs, and are instead attacked for hiding information, playing favorites, and engaging in conspiracies.  We have seen this happen to public officials who schedule “town hall meetings” and are surprised with angry venting and personal attacks.  And we have seen many times when the underlying conflict is so deeply rooted that no one shows up to scheduled meetings, dismissing them as mere “window dressing” intended to manipulate a gullible public into believing they actually matter.   How can you know whether your effort is at risk before you begin?

You can start to assess this risk by analyzing issues or arguments that arise repeatedly within your community.  Group these into broad areas, like development, law enforcement, resource allocation, etc.  Then analyze whether certain themes are repeated in how these issues are framed, and what groups tend to appear within each area.  Do those themes suggest the conflict involves deeper differences than differences over interests or information?  For example, is there a clash of values, or arguments regarding the “justice” or “fairness” of governance systems?  How intense are the conflicts?  One measure of intensity is the inflammatory nature of the language used and the tendency to characterize others as “enemies” or “fools”.   Efforts to engage on issues related to areas where conflicts are recurrent, deeply rooted, and intense are more likely to see flare-ups and require careful planning on when, how, or even whether to engage.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Collaboration: Ready or Not

In our last post we talked about  the importance of assessing your community’s readiness and resilience before determining how to move forward.   Some communities are ready to collaborate, and public engagement efforts will work there relatively well.  Other communities are not.   A community that is clearly ready to work through difficult issues together will exhibit the following characteristics: a strong sense of community, clear vision, strong and collaborative leaders, easy flow of information, and a demonstrated ability and willingness to work through conflicts.   At the opposite end of the readiness spectrum would be communities that have high levels of distrust (demonstrated through either high levels of conflict or active disengagement),  few shared values or interests, and leaders who behave in a highly partisan manner.

Most communities, of course, fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  Determining where your community falls on this “readiness spectrum” will help you identify the capabilities that can be engaged and those that need to be built, and to identify likely bumps in the road.  This kind of assessment and planning will in turn help you to figure out how to foster the civility and respect that is needed for effective dialogue, to provide needed information, and to build an understanding of how government structures work and their boundaries.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Collaboration: Resources That Help

We noted in our last post that, prior to embarking on a collaborative process,  it is useful to take stock of the resources available in your community that can help you collaboratively work through conflict.   What are these resources?  They include, of course, monetary and in-kind resources for funding a process and ensuring adequate administrative and technological support.  They also include a community’s general level of civic participation, relationships among groups, and the support of government and key community leaders.  Other assets less typically thought about include the level, type and ease of access to shared information within the community, existing process skills, past positive experiences in the community, a shared vision for the future, shared interests and values, a strong communal history, and governmental systems that are open and accessible.  The more assets a community has to start with, the more likely it will be successful in launching a collaborative process.  If your community is lacking significant assets you can still plan a sequence of actions that will help you to both build more assets and provide for some form of public engagement.  What you don’t want to do is start a process that is likely to fail, creating a pattern of cynicism and low expectations that will make future collaborative efforts more difficult.  Choosing where and how to start, or when to expand your collaborative efforts, will be the subject of our next post.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Collaboration: Getting Ready for the Right Intervention

Engaging citizens in joint problem solving or collaborative discussion of issues can help you move through the conflicts that inevitably occur in our diverse communities.   This does not mean though that simple invitations to sit down and talk will allow you to move forward and avoid a partisan stalemate.  Just as a doctor diagnoses a patient before deciding on an intervention, collaborative approaches work best if you assess your community’s readiness and resilience before determining how to move forward.  This includes analyzing both the sources of conflict  and the level at which they are occurring.   If there is little trust, or of even greater concern, patterns of hate that are active among community members, you will want to start in a different way and at a different point than you might if community members are already comfortable working together.   Put another way, if trust issues are not addressed upfront in designing your collaborative process, efforts to find joint resolution on substantive points are likely to founder on bipartisan resistance to “cooperating with the enemy.”   In addition to analyzing patterns and sources of conflict, is is also useful at the outset to take stock of the resources available in your community to help you work through conflict.  These will be the subject of our next post.

If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so.  For more information, contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Three Levels of Discussion

When parties lack trust or when emotions run high, it is difficult if not impossible for them to accurately process information.  If participants cannot process new information, it is unlikely that they will resolve their dispute.  In helping others work through conflict, you have to pay attention to three levels of discussion: how do the parties view themselves and each other (trust/identity), what feelings are present (emotion), what data and experiences has each seen or viewed (information).  If there are serious differences at the trust and emotion levels, those need to be addressed before or in conjunction with the introduction or sharing of information.  If issues of trust or emotion are ignored, the level of conflict is likely to deepen, and participants are likely to anchor more firmly in their original point of view.

If you would like to learn more about moving through these types of issues, please contact us at info@buildingdialogue.com.