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Process map for consensual negotiations

Section 3 explains the role of the third party in the process of consensual negotiations, subdivided into ten steps. The four major milestones in the process are then explained in more detail, the steps and activities outlined and good practices presented. The process map and the ten steps are not a rigid blueprint. The actual process may not be linear, but iterative, moving forwards and backwards. This requires flexible handling of the steps depending on how the process develops.

This section illustrates the process for managing conflict. Its objectives are to:

3.1 The role of a third party in consensual negotiations

Parties in dispute often need the support of a third party in facilitating the conflict management process when they have become so caught up in their differences that they are no longer able to find constructive ways forward (Ropers, 1995).

A third party is a person or group of people who assists individuals and groups to negotiate and successfully reach agreement. The third party is generally referred to as the facilitator or mediator. Facilitator is a more general term, which can be applied to anybody who guides group processes (discussions, meetings, workshops). A mediator is specialized in conflict management processes, and mediator is therefore the preferred term used in this manual.

In order to be effective at guiding negotiations, the conflict parties must be at the centre of the mediator's concerns. This requires attention to rapport and communications, as well as strong "people skills".

In addition, the process is the means - the vehicle - for addressing the content of the negotiation and meeting the stakeholders' objectives. Good relationships among the people and an effective, acceptable process are both needed in order to deal with the content. In Figure 3.1, the process surrounds the people.


Content can be thought of as the "what" issues.

Process can be thought of as the "how" issues. The clearer the process becomes, the more likely it is that the content will also become clear.


Figure 3.1 illustrates the different levels of facilitation/mediation: good relationships among the people and an acceptable process are both needed in order to deal with the content (Section 3.3).

It is important that a mediator simply facilitates the process and does not attempt to direct the parties, who must fashion and "own" the agreements that come out of the negotiation. Conflict stakeholders should be responsible for their own interests, the resolution of the conflict, the solution of the problem and the restoration of relationships.

To assist parties in the process, the mediator may take a variety of roles and functions. These vary considerably, depending on the nature of the conflict and the approachability and nature of the parties involved (Moore, 2003). These roles include:

TRAINER'S NOTE: The responsibility for both designing solutions and reaching agreement remains with the stakeholders involved. A mediator manages the process, but is not involved in the content of the negotiations.

3.1.1 The acceptable mediator

To be acceptable to the negotiating parties, it is important that the mediator is perceived as neutral and has no stake in the conflict. Acceptability does not necessarily mean that the parties welcome the involvement of a mediator, but that they approve the mediator's presence and are willing to consider his/her suggestions on how to approach their differences and seek solutions.

Advantages of a mediator: An imbalance of power among stakeholders is one of the most common reasons that unassisted groups fail to begin negotiation or to produce satisfactory results. Using a third party or mediator can help to overcome such imbalances through unbiased, fair handling of the negotiation processes. The role is similar to that of a referee who enforces the rules and ensures fairness in a sports contest. It can provide confidence to weaker stakeholders. A third party is to some extent able to alter power and social relationships by influencing the understanding or behaviour of individual parties, through providing knowledge or information, or introducing a more effective negotiation process. These sometimes help to equalize power relationships (Susskind and Cruikshank, 1987). However, the extent to which this is possible is the subject of much debate (Sections 3.1.4 and 2.3).

Disadvantages of a mediator: Some groups feel that involving a third party makes the dispute too public, and are hesitant about becoming involved. Powerful stakeholders, in particular, may also strongly resist the intervention of a third party or mediator. Distrust among the parties may be so great that anyone suggested by one party will be regarded by the others as biased. In such cases it may be helpful to have someone whose formal or informal authority and character are unchallenged by any of the parties.

3.1.2 "Insiders" and "outsiders" as mediators

The role of the mediator depends on social-cultural values. In particular, it depends on whether the culture in which the mediator is working tends more towards direct or non-direct dealing. The mediator can be either of the following:

Mediators in conflict management should always carefully examine local mediation practices, their effectiveness and how they could be strengthened (Section 4.4). It is important to remember the principle of subsidiarity (Section 2.3.2).


Impartiality refers to the absence of bias or preference in favour of one or more negotiating parties, their interests or their options.

Neutrality means that a third party is not connected to and has not had a prior relationship with any of the disputants.

CHECK POINT: In order to assist in negotiations, it helps if the mediator has experience of general facilitation. Facilitation takes place in many different settings (meetings, workshops, etc.).

3.1.3 Entering the conflict scene

There are many ways in which a conflict mediator may assume his/her role in a specific conflict. Mediators often enter the conflict scene as a result of:

The initial authority and trust that a mediator experiences in the early relationship with the conflict parties depends to a large degree on how the mediator manages his/her role in the first instance. A mediator's past interaction with a party can form the basis for trust or distrust. For example, mediators who are introduced through secondary stakeholders, recognized authorities or their own initiative may provoke substantial resistance from one or several of the conflict parties. There may be suspicions as to why the mediator has assumed this role, what vested interests he/she may have, and what relation he/she may have with the other conflict parties.

3.1.4 How far can a mediator level the playing field?

In order to achieve mutually satisfactory and acceptable decisions from negotiations, all parties must have some means of influencing the others in negotiations. This is a prerequisite for a settlement that recognizes mutual needs and interests. Unless a weaker party has some power or influence, its needs and interests will be recognized only if the stronger party is acting unselfishly or has understood that "for anyone to gain, everyone must gain".

If a mediator assists or empowers the weaker party or moderates the stronger one, the mediation role shifts towards advocacy. In direct dealing societies, which emphasize the neutrality and impartiality of the mediator, this advocacy role may undermine the acceptability of the mediator. The stronger party may consider the mediator as partial or non-neutral. In non-direct dealing societies, which focus more on the status of the mediator and the relationships involved, such an advocacy role may be more acceptable, particularly if the mediator is a trusted leader with relevant social status and reputation.

Power inequalities are serious ethical challenges for mediators. Such inequalities commonly occur when local community groups have to negotiate with powerful actors at the national or international level, such as State agencies or multinational companies. There are no easy solutions to these challenges. The fundamental issue for the weaker conflict party is whether it will be better off with a negotiated agreement than without it. In cases where the power imbalance is extreme, negotiations may not be possible if they harm the weaker party, make the conflict worse or make injustices more pronounced. In these circumstances, the fundamental principles of collaborative management and ACM are violated, and consensual negotiations cannot work.

3.1.5 Mediating in a team

It is difficult for one person to manage consensual negotiations because most natural resource conflicts are complex and involve many stakeholders. In addition, some stakeholder groups may consist of many individuals.

In many cases, it will therefore be helpful to build a mediation team. Mediating as a team eases some of the burden for the main mediator, but poses additional requirements for managing roles and responsibilities within the team. These roles and responsibilities need to be clearly defined and distributed before mediators enter a conflict setting.

A mediation team should include at least three members:

Working in a team requires careful preparation, clear delineation of tasks, and trust among team members. Teams that show signs of internal tensions will almost certainly harm the process and reduce the negotiating parties' confidence in the role and professionalism of the mediation team.

3.2 The ten steps of conflict management

ACM is a complex, iterative process that may suffer drawbacks or experience sudden moves forward. The process can be subdivided into four major "milestones" and ten steps, each with its own specific activities. In this guide, these steps form what is called the "process map". The process map helps mediators in ACM to keep on track and to move the process forward towards successful outcomes.


The process map outlines the important steps in an ACM process.

These ten steps can be subgrouped into four major milestones (A-D).

3.2.1 Milestone A: Entry (Sections 4 and 5)

Before mediators become actively involved with the different conflict parties (stakeholders) in ACM, they need to clarify their role as a third party. This includes a preliminary conflict analysis with detailed clarification of what the conflict is about, and consultation with stakeholders.

Steps 1 to 3 are necessary to complete milestone A.

Step 1:

Preparing entry. The mediators clarify their role and prepare the contacts with conflict parties. They examine background information on the conflict, and develop the best strategy for approaching the different parties to the conflict.

Step 2:

Entering the conflict scene. This is the first direct contact that the mediators have with the conflict parties. The mediators first meet the conflict parties separately and learn how they frame the conflict. They then clarify their own role in moving the process forward, and secure a commitment to start mediation.

Step 3:

Analysing the conflict. The mediators clarify their assumptions about the conflict, and analyse the different stakeholders' positions. The mediators should continue only if: a) the conflict analysis indicates that existing conflict management mechanisms are unlikely to succeed; b) interest-based negotiations appear to be the best strategy under the given circumstances; and c) their own intervention will do no harm.

Milestone A is achieved when a team of mediators decides consciously (via a deliberate decision within the team) and transparently (via communication to the conflict parties) that interest-based negotiations have a chance of working in this specific case of conflict.

3.2.2 Milestone B: Broadening stakeholder engagement (Section 6)

When the parties to the conflict have defined their roles and agreed to commission a third party, it is the mediation team's task to guide the different stakeholders' self-reflection and self-discovery. This includes making them aware of their long-term interests, the gains they could obtain from a negotiated solution, and the possible alternatives to a negotiated solution. At the end of this process, stakeholders should willingly agree to meet the other conflict parties for negotiations.


In the negotiation process for conflicts with high tension, it may be most appropriate to prepare the different conflict parties in separate sessions. The purpose of separate sessions is to help stakeholders to clarify their positions, interests and options in a "safe" environment. All the parties are brought to the negotiation table only after each is clear about its own underlying interests, and all are ready, willing and interested in entering negotiations. This procedure is called shuttle consultation (Box 4.2).

In some circumstances, conflict stakeholders can first be engaged at a joint meeting at which all of them take part. This may be the best option, for example, when only a few stakeholders are involved and the issue is relatively simple. However, such processes can easily get out of control when social dynamics of which the mediators were not aware develop.

Steps 4 and 5 are necessary to complete milestone B.

Step 4: Broadening stakeholder engagement. In this process, the mediators gradually hand over control and responsibility to the conflict stakeholders. Mediators help the stakeholders to analyse the root causes of the conflict, the different stakeholders involved, and their own positions, strengths, interests and needs.

Step 5: Assessing options. The mediators now help the different stakeholders to generate options for resolving or managing the conflict. The merits of each option are assessed, and the options are prioritized.

Milestone B is achieved when each of the different conflict parties (stakeholders) has clarified its own interests, considered strategies about the options for managing or resolving the conflict, and expressed willingness to negotiate with the other parties to achieve an agreement.

3.2.3 Milestone C: Negotiation (Section 7)

At this stage, the mediators bring the conflict stakeholders to the table to negotiate options and possible modes of agreement, as well as the practical measures that could be adopted to implement agreement. Agreements are negotiated on the assumption that they benefit all parties and focus on the interests and underlying needs of the stakeholders.

Steps 6 to 8 are necessary to accomplish milestone C.

Step 6:

Preparing negotiations. Negotiations need careful preparation. This includes preparing the people involved, exploring strategies and planning the negotiation setting.

Step 7:

Facilitating negotiations. This is the most challenging part of the conflict management process, as the parties seek to persuade each other to reach agreement. At this step, differences are narrowed, often through the shifting of viewpoints from positions to interests and needs. While there is a broad sequence that the negotiation process should follow, it is quite normal that there are setbacks and deviations during this process. The negotiations are complete when the conflict parties can agree on options for settling the conflict. These options are brought together, in preparation for moving towards a single agreement that is acceptable to everyone.

Step 8:

Designing agreement. Once the conflict parties have agreed on which options to consider, they need to reach agreement on how these options will be implemented and how implementation will be monitored. The mediators' role in this process also has to be clarified.

Milestone C has been successfully completed when the negotiation parties have listened to and considered each other's concerns and interests, jointly developed a specific agreement to manage the conflict, and jointly agreed how this shall be implemented and monitored.

3.2.4 Milestone D: Exit (Section 8)

After an agreement has been signed, conflicts may be settled, but not yet resolved. There may be drawbacks when conflict parties do not comply with the agreement, or relations are not restored adequately for collaboration. While a mediation team cannot solve all the problems in a community at one time, it needs to ensure that the different conflict stakeholders are at least willing to comply with the agreement and to act in a collaborative manner with each other.

Steps 9 and 10 are necessary for milestone D:

Step 9:

Monitoring the agreement. The mediators may take various roles in the implementation and monitoring process of agreements. These roles need to be clarified with the conflict stakeholders.

Step 10:

Preparing exit. The mediation team needs to develop a system for handing over responsibility to implement and monitor the agreement to the stakeholders or a trusted local mediator. The team may also develop strategies that build further the communities' capacity to solve future problems. These steps are not part of the core of ACM, but are becoming increasingly important complementary elements in broader collaborative natural resource management approaches.

Milestone D has been achieved when the mediator (or mediation team) can leave the area. This is the case when the parties to the conflict have restored their relationships and are enabled and willing to continue implementing the agreement. They may also have improved capacity to solve future conflicts by themselves.

3.3 Process management

As well as objective facts, conflicts also involve subjective perceptions and interpretations of those facts.

Conflict management is a complex process and mediators' behaviour may give unclear signals to the conflict parties. For example, some stakeholders may perceive the mediators as partial, taking sides or giving one party more opportunities to talk. Mediators therefore need to reflect on their role in the process and with regard to each of the different stakeholders.

Process management involves five main tasks:

3.3.1 Fostering collaboration

The voluntary participation of all key stakeholders is fundamental to a collaborative approach to managing conflict. One group's decision to negotiate is only effective if the other parties also feel that it is in their best interest to do so. There can be many situations in which people choose not to negotiate, such as when there are strong power differences among stakeholders, outstanding fears, major difficulties in communication, or polarized positions of opposing parties. Fostering collaboration is a fundamental task of the mediator in an ACM process. The following are the main issues to consider when fostering collaboration:

3.3.2 Avoiding further escalation of tensions or conflicts: "doing no harm"

Mediators may act with the best of motives and intentions in order to help resolve the conflict. However, there is always the risk of unintended side-effects. Mediators can influence the conflict situation and are influenced by it, often without realizing it. Conflicting parties will carefully study any of the mediators' actions for signs of favouritism towards one side or another. Perceptions, and not necessarily facts, count: "Where you go for lunch will determine which party will perceive you as partial".

A mediator may unintentionally help to:

Clearly, such actions undermine not only the negotiation process, but also the mediator's credibility and effectiveness. Mediators must therefore always be aware of the risks, reflect on their own impact, and be prepared to change strategies if negative consequences arise.

Mediators must act and interact in ways that reflect and embody the values and ideals that they work for. They must prove to the conflict parties that they are trustworthy. Conflict stakeholders need to develop confidence in the mediator as a person, in the institution that the mediator represents and in the conflict management process itself.

In order to build a positive interpersonal relationship with the parties, credibility, trust and legitimacy, mediators should respect the following values and principles (Anderson and Olson, 2003):

In every conflict situation, some people are more helpful than others. Despite the conflict, some people maintain good relationships with people "on the other side". These people are the "connectors". However, there are also people who could be referred to as "dividers" or "spoilers" - they spread rumours about the other parties, increase tension, and reinforce existing divisions if negative consequences arise.

Sound conflict analysis (Section 5) is an essential step for mediators to find out who are the dividers and who the connectors. This is important information for the conflict management process because connectors may serve as starting points for conflict management attempts, while dividers can spoil any way forward in solving the conflict. Connectors can also be (Anderson, 1999):

Mediators need to be aware of these linkages across conflicting parties, and should make them explicit by recognizing and reinforcing them. Good mediation tries to strengthen connectors and promote capacities for peace by providing:

Spoilers are actors who divide conflict parties. They may come from within local communities or they may be external (secondary) stakeholders in the conflict. When dealing with spoilers, mediators can:

As this shows, there are no easy solutions for dealing with spoilers. It is important that mediators are aware of the internal dynamics among the different actors in a conflict.

3.3.3 Opening space for restoring relations

One key to restoring relations is building trust. Trust in relations is built gradually over time through a succession of promises and related, sincere actions. A mediator can encourage the conflict parties to make certain moves that increase trust in each other (Moore, 2003). Relations can be restored through:

Mediators on their own can also make specific interventions that will build trust among parties. Examples include creating situations in which the parties must perform a joint task, translating one party's perception into terms that are understandable to the others, identifying commonalities, or rewarding parties for any signals of cooperation and trust. A mediator needs to keep in mind that trust is also culturally defined. In some societies and cultures, verbal or written statements engender trust, while in others certain rituals are expected.

In non-direct dealing cultures (Section 2.4), conflict management is a communal process. Dealing with conflicts always has wider implications for kinship (and spiritual) relations. Community stakeholders in the conflict do not deal with individuals, but with families, communal groups, etc. Restoring relationships and pride is often as important as finding a solution to the actual problem. In such settings, the following assumptions need to be reexamined:

Keeping or restoring relationships might be the stakeholders' main motivation for resolving the conflict. At least as much attention should be given to restoring relations and keeping face as to solving problems. In addition, voicing grievances openly may lead to conflict escalation rather than mutual understanding.

3.3.4 Managing information

All conflict management processes. i.e. consensual negotiations, are based on information sharing and learning. In the process of sharing information, a party seeks to alter the knowledge, attitudes, preferences and strategies of its opponents.

The availability, management and acceptance of information are significant issues in negotiations. Information plays a pivotal role in defining interests, clarifying shared goals and assessing the feasibility of solutions. Throughout the negotiation process, there must always be space to check for information needs.

Information should be presented in ways that illuminate how it relates to the interests of the parties, and vice versa. At the same time, parties always want to present information in ways that make their own case sympathetic and convincing. Stakeholders must agree on the relevance of their information and decide what is an acceptable balance of information. The mediator can assist the participants' discussions by returning to participatory activities that classify information issues or chart information needs (for example, by using root cause analysis). Other actions include:

Table 3.1 identifies common problems related to information gathering and analysis, and suggests possible solutions (FAO, 2003).



Possible solution

Information is incomplete, inaccurate or both, making it unreliable and of little use.

It is impossible to achieve complete information, but try to get enough valid, reliable, accurate and cross-checked data.

There is too much information.

Prioritize information needs, and concentrate on information that meets the most important needs.

Information is too complicated and difficult to understand.

Have a resource person interpret the information, translating it into lay terms or the appropriate language.

There are different or conflicting interpretations of the same information.

Obtain other independent views or interpretations of the information.

Different groups see their own information as being the most accurate. E.g. professionals may have an "elitist perspective", where technical information dominates over local or traditional knowledge systems.

Acceptance of the opposing group's information is frequently an issue. The mediator should help the group to see the strengths and weaknesses of all systems of knowledge.

Information is purposely biased to cover hidden agendas.

Transparency should be encouraged. The interests of individual groups and the common goals should be reviewed.

Costs of collecting the information needed are high or unavailable (staffing, time, materials).

Brainstorm possible ways to meet these needs. If it is impossible to obtain adequate information, ask the parties to decide how they want to alter their common goals or negotiations accordingly.

Source: Adapted from PEC, 1999.


Local knowledge plays a central role in influencing the way different groups engage in and respond to conflict. Conflicts in natural resources link many stakeholders who often know very little about each other. This lack of knowledge can pose a challenge. Not only can there be significant value differences, but spoken language, communication style and assumptions about conflict and resolution may also vary greatly. For example, indigenous communities often place non-economic values on forests that are linked to traditional belief systems involving religious rituals, sacred sites and historic hunting and collection areas. Government officers or commercial interests may not appreciate the significance of these linkages to ancestral lands. Their views on forests or trees may be shaped by quite different cultural influences that stress economic values and goals.

3.3.5 Building local capacity for conflict management

As outlined in Section 2, mediators have to remember that some capacity for conflict management will already be in place in most parts of the world. This can be of a formal or an informal type. Most communities have existing institutions and structures that help resolve local conflicts. These can involve people who act traditionally as mediators (religious or political leaders) or arrangements that have been found to regulate local access to and control over resources. To avoid undermining the existing local capacity for conflict management, any intervention should be specifically focused, limited and temporary, and it should aim to build on and strengthen the local capacity that already exists. It is therefore important to assess carefully the local capacity that has already been tried in the past to resolve the conflict (sections 2.3 and 2.4).

In assessing the local capacity, it is useful to consider at which level the particular conflict can be managed successfully. The level at which capacity should be strengthened depends on what the conflict is about (issues) and who is involved (stakeholders).

The capacity of an entrusted, local leader to mediate negotiations needs to be carefully assessed. Local leaders will seldom fulfil all the requirements for an ideal mediator, because of their established relationships with the conflict parties, potential biases or preferences in favour of one or more negotiating parties. However, local leaders will offer unique opportunities for building more sustainable capacity. An outsider should be brought in to act as a mediator only if the use of local leaders seems likely to fail.

Section summary

Section 3 has outlined the process map for ACM. This map consists of four major milestones and ten specific steps. These steps are not a rigid blueprint, but provide guidance to mediators in conflict management. In subsequent sections, the four milestones are defined in greater detail, and specific activities, good practices and pitfalls are discussed.

A mediator is the process manager in ACM. Mediators in conflict management should try to ensure that the conflict stakeholders assume responsibility for their own interests, for successful management of the conflict and for seeking solutions to problems and restoring relationships. The mediator provides procedural assistance to the communication process among the stakeholders.

The process map for ACM involves four milestones and ten steps. The process map helps mediators in ACM to keep on track and to move the process forward towards agreement. As ACM is a complex, iterative process, the process map is not a rigid blueprint, but needs flexible handling, as well as backwards and forwards movement within the process according to the needs of the situation.

Mediators need to clarify their commissions and roles in the specific conflict setting. This includes a preliminary conflict analysis, to make clear what the conflict is about, and consultation with stakeholders.

Mediators guide the different stakeholders in self-reflection and self-discovery. This includes making them aware of their long-term interests, the gains they may obtain from a negotiated solution, and the potential alternatives to a negotiated solution.

Mediators bring the conflict stakeholders to the table to negotiate options and possible modes of conflict settlement through agreement. Agreements are negotiated on the assumption that they bring benefit to all parties and focus on the interests and underlying needs of the stakeholders.

Conflict management is a complex process and mediators' behaviour may give unclear signals to the conflict parties. Conflict mediators therefore need to monitor the process and their own role within it. They need to foster collaboration, avoid doing harm and open up space for restoring relations, manage information and build local capacity for conflict management.

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