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Broadening stakeholder engagement

This section examines how to engage stakeholders in analysing conflict and assessing the options for managing it successfully. It explores:

6.1 Why stakeholder engagement is important

Negotiation and mediation are shared learning processes. Mediated processes that engage the conflict stakeholders will encourage:

The mediators' role is to guide the different stakeholders in self-reflection and self-discovery. This process has started in the participatory conflict analysis. It continues by making conflict stakeholders aware of their long-term interests, the gains they get from a negotiated solution, and what the alternatives to a negotiated solution may be. Mediators need to support conflict stakeholders in identifying and focusing on underlying interests rather than fixed positions. Identifying the widest range of needs and how negotiations can meet these is often a powerful incentive for engagement.

Broadening stakeholder engagement involves two steps:

Step 4: deeper engagement - stakeholders analyse the conflict;
Step 5: generating and assessing options.

Milestone B is achieved when the different conflict parties (stakeholders) have each clarified their own interests, explored strategies for managing the conflict and expressed their willingness to negotiate with the other parties to achieve agreement.

6.2 Step 4: deeper engagement - stakeholders analyse the conflict

The preliminary conflict assessment (step 3, Section 4.4) and the conflict analysis (Section 5) help to determine which individuals and groups need to be involved directly in actions to manage the conflict, and whether and how to proceed with negotiations. Initial stakeholder analysis often results in a long list of stakeholders who are to some degree affected or influenced by the outcome of a conflict. Deciding on the final list of stakeholders can take time. Sometimes practical constraints mean that the list has to be cut to include only essential stakeholders.

In other situations, a wider involvement is necessary in order to obtain enough information on and understanding of the causes and perceptions of the conflict. In the end, it is important to be clear about who agreed the list of stakeholders, when, and for what reasons it was kept short or long. The list of individuals and groups who are regarded as stakeholders should be reviewed frequently.

There are always challenges in deciding the appropriate balance and selection of stakeholders. A main area for discussion and likely argument is selection of the key or primary stakeholders. To a large degree, the criteria for this selection depend on the goals and desired outcomes of the conflict management process:

When deciding whether a particular group is a primary or a secondary stakeholder, it is usually necessary to consider the alternative options that would be available to that group if its interests in the outcome are not met.

TRAINER'S NOTE: In order to obtain collaboration and effective management, groups with a great deal of power and authority to influence the outcome must be included as primary stakeholders. Without their involvement, such stakeholders are unlikely to accept solutions or support implementation.

Secondary stakeholders may have important functions in the process of stakeholder engagement (Box 6.1).


Secondary stakeholders may play key roles in managing conflict by:

- information gathering and analysis - providing technical support, obtaining or advising on information, participating in the search for views on possible solutions, or increasing the acceptability of various outcomes;

- advocacy - working alongside weaker parties to build a transparent process, or helping the wider political arena to work towards greater equity;

- intermediating - acting as mediators between other conflicting groups;

- monitoring and enforcement - ensuring compliance with agreements by helping to enforce any that are broken.

Secondary stakeholders can be effectively involved without including them directly in formal negotiations. For example, they can take part in focus group meetings, advisory or working groups, surveys or interviews, and community meetings.

6.2.1 Facilitating stakeholders' analysis of the conflict

Clarifying the issues and differentiating between underlying causes and contributing factors help increase understanding of the conflict's full complexity. Without such understanding it is difficult, if not impossible, to select appropriate strategies to manage conflict. The underlying issues in most conflicts relate to interests, ideology, relationships, information and structural inequalities. Sorting out the various causes of a conflict helps stakeholders to determine appropriate responses.

Mediators guide stakeholders through the following steps in conflict analysis:

TRAINER'S NOTE: These conflict analysis tools are briefly explained in Section 5. Detailed descriptions of each tool are provided in Annex 2.

In conflict settings where tensions are high, it may be most appropriate to engage the different stakeholder groups in conflict analysis at separate sessions. This can help them to clarify their positions, interests and options in a neutral setting. In some circumstances, conflict stakeholders may also be engaged in a joint meeting at which all take part. This can be considered only if the issues are not very complex and emotions are not likely to escalate.

6.2.2 Facilitating stakeholders' analysis of interests

Parties engage in conflict management because of underlying interests that they want to have addressed and satisfied. Parties rarely identify their interests clearly or directly, perhaps because they (Moore, 2003):

It is essential that the parties in dispute understand their own and each other's interests so that they can reach more productive and satisfying outcomes. The investigation of interests is facilitated by a party's belief in the following:

The conflict layer model (or "conflict onion", Figure 6.1) helps the parties involved in conflict to examine their own positions, interests and needs and to gain a better understanding of the interests and needs of the other side(s). The conflict layer model consists of concentric circles showing the needs, interests and objectives or positions of the various parties to the conflict, broken down into different categories - positions, interests and needs.

The outer layer of the onion can be thought of as the public positions of the various opposing groups - what they say and do. The second layer is their interests - what they want to achieve from a particular situation. At the core are the most underlying motivations - the needs, which must be satisfied. While interests can often be negotiated, basic needs, such as recognition, are usually non-negotiable.

TRAINER'S NOTE: Mediators need to help stakeholders to become aware of the distinction between positions and interests:

Interests are more long-term, and reflect the broader hopes of a person or group. Some interests may be central to all parties, and these may have been overlooked. Such shared interests could include reducing conflict, increasing peace and restoring healthy relationships. Stakeholders may be tired of the dispute disrupting their daily life, and may want to move forward. The mediator can remind stakeholders about the impacts of violence, the costs of conflict and, possibly, the damage to their public image or legitimacy. Confidence that their interests can be met is often very persuasive to conflict stakeholders, particularly after a protracted conflict.

The positions taken by the indigenous forest users and the forest conservation union in the "conflict onion" (Figure 6.1) seem quite incompatible; there does not seem to be much room for negotiation. The demand to return the forest reserve to customary tenure is counterbalanced by a demand to prohibit indigenous people's use of the reserve.

However, when the situation is considered from the viewpoint of interests it looks different. Reduced-impact logging or the desire to base management on scientifically sound principles could be compatible with involving communities in management decisions and improving sources of local income.


Source: Adapted from Fisher et al., 2000

Focusing on inflexible, immediate and often deeply held positions reduces creativity and restricts the exploration of possible solutions to conflict. Interests are frequently many and varied. Some are contradicting or competing, while others (Figure 6.2) are likely to be overlapping, compatible and shared by all the groups. When conflict stakeholders have identified mutual interests from which all can benefit, they have reached a point from which the actual conflict management process can start.

In addition to identifying and separating their positions from their interests and needs, stakeholders also need to consider the likely interests and needs of other groups. To go one step further, moving from rivalry to collaboration, they need to understand:

TRAINER'S NOTE: Reconciling interests rather than positions works for two reasons. First, for every interest there are usually several possible positions that could satisfy it. All too often people simply adopt the most obvious position. Second, underneath people's positions there are often many more shared and compatible interests than there are opposing ones.


Source: Adapted from Grzybowski and Morris, 1998.


There are many different ways in which mediators can help parties in conflict to understand each other's interests better. Mediators' main tasks are to ask additional questions and clarify the given answers. They then need to ensure that the answers are clear and understood by all parties. They therefore often need to reframe or summarize the answers given by the parties.

Direct questioning: Investigate the parties' underlying interests by asking: "Why is this important for you?". Keep asking "why" repeatedly until the list of interests comprehensively covers both needs and fears. Conversely, ask the question "Why not?". What reasons does one group have for not meeting the demands or interests of the other(s)? To encourage mutual understanding, mediators can also ask disputants to articulate or speculate what they perceive to be the interests of others.

Reframing: Broadly, this means encouraging people to shift their assumptions and other perceptions about a conflict. Reframing is especially necessary when aggressive or insulting statements are made. The mediator tries to reframe the statement in a different way so that it can be more easily addressed by the parties. When reframing, mediators need to state the problem clearly and in a manner that neither favours or blames one party.

Summarizing: This is recommended in situations where a person has spoken for a very long time using vague, unclear language, or when it is otherwise obvious that other parties have not understood what the person was saying. The mediator summarizes the main points of the statement and asks the speaker for confirmation that this has been done to his/her satisfaction.

Once the mediator and the conflict stakeholders have identified the interests of all the parties, they will meet one or more situations. Interests may be:

Conflict parties' willingness to identify and explore interests jointly does not mean that they have to agree with each other's interests. There is an important difference between acceptance and agreement. Acceptance implies a willingness to receive - understanding and acknowledging that someone thinks and feels a certain way about something (or someone), and being willing to be informed about those thoughts and feelings. Agreement means thinking and feeling the same way about a thing or person; being in the same mind as the other party.

At this stage, acceptance is important; one of the mediator's important tasks is to make sure that conflict parties mutually accept each other's interests without necessarily agreeing with them.

Sometimes the conflict management process becomes stuck because the parties have not found a mutually acceptable statement that makes it clear what the conflict is about. Mutual acceptance is blocked by the negative, hostile way in which stakeholders present their interests. It is then the task of the mediator to assist the parties in reframing their interests, moving them away from unhelpful statements towards those that can lead to successful problem solving (Moore, 2003). Alternatively, mediators may reframe the parties' interests themselves.

The key to reframing is to clarify and uncover the meaning, needs, interests or concerns presented in one view/description of the conflict, and present them in a new way that is more acceptable to all the parties. This often involves reducing the strong emotions in a message. For example: "You must be completely selfish and merciless to propose a solution that only benefits your own family. Because of your non-cooperative behaviour the entire community is suffering" could be reframed as: "You may want to consider looking for a solution that considers the interests of your own family and also the interests of other community members".

6.3 Step 5: generating and assessing settlement options

6.3.1 Identifying options for settling the conflict

Options must satisfy parties' interests if they are to be considered as acceptable solutions to the conflict. Mediators help stakeholders to identify options for moving ahead with the conflict and possibly settling it. These options are identified after the stakeholders have analysed the conflict causes and clarified their own positions, interests and needs. Stakeholders may often find it difficult to think about the options, because the conflict appears complex and may have been latent for a long time. In such cases, mediators need to assist the conflict parties in:

Brainstorming is a powerful tool to identify options for conflict settlement (Box 6.3). The key rule in brainstorming is that any idea generated by anybody is worthwhile and should be listed. In brainstorming, generating ideas is strictly separated from evaluating them. The objective is to be creative, to move beyond usual patterns of thinking, and to widen the options, even if they seem strange at first. These options can be prioritized and reduced through other tools later.


Brainstorming is a tool to generate multiple ideas, usually in a short period of time. It allows a number of possible choices to emerge. Unexpected solutions can be proposed that might not have been considered, and yet may have a key part to play in building a solution. Brainstorming works with the following rules:

- Any idea is better than none.
- Be creative and imaginative.
- Be forward thinking.
- Do not make critical comments or evaluate ideas.

6.3.2 Assessing options: best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA)

At this stage, the parties' central task is to assess how well their interests will be satisfied by any one option or combination of options. The options are not assessed until the brainstorming has been exhausted and participants cannot suggest any more. The mediator's task is then to help the parties evaluate the options and determine the costs and benefits of accepting or rejecting them.

The purpose of negotiating is to produce a better result than would have been obtained without negotiation. An outcome that has been achieved without negotiation, or after negotiation has failed, is called the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).

The BATNA is the standard against which every result should be measured. If parties in conflict do not know what the BATNA is, they might be either too optimistic and reject agreements that it would be in their interest to accept, or too pessimistic and accept agreements that are unfavourable and worse than what could have been achieved without agreement.

Developing a BATNA involves:

It is also a good idea for each party to consider other parties' BATNAs in order to learn as much as possible about their power in the negotiation, relative to its own.

The questions about the BATNA help people to consider what would be a less than favourable outcome and where they can strengthen their power to achieve their interests. In calculating an outcome, it is useful to imagine and anticipate what other groups are going to do. What are the other stakeholders' options and motivations? This affects each stakeholder's estimate of its desired outcomes. It also emphasizes the need to analyse and understand the conflict from the perspective of all stakeholders.

TRAINER'S NOTE: A BATNA is an assessment of options for settling the conflict. It provides the necessary confidence for a stakeholder to enter negotiations with other stakeholders, because it clarifies the boundaries of possible options that the stakeholder is willing to consider in the negotiations.

When it has a BATNA, a party entering a conflict management forum will have far greater confidence in its discussions. It will have clearly identified what issues are negotiable, what power it has to achieve its interests, and what alternative course of action it can take if the discussions are not successful (Fisher and Ury, 1981). Some people working in conflict management claim that a party should never enter a negotiation without knowing what its alternatives to negotiation are.


Review the conflict:

- What are the central issues in this conflict?
- Who is involved?
- What kind of outcome do I hope to achieve?
- Which actions would best help me reach that objective?
- What would be:

  • the best outcome?
  • the minimal outcome?
  • the worst outcome?

Assess the alternatives:

- Are there any issues that I am unwilling to negotiate?
- What alternatives do I have for satisfying my interests if we do not reach an agreement?
- What would be the best alternative?

Strengthen the BATNA:

- What can I do to achieve my interests?
- Are there additional resources that may be required?
- Will I need extra time or financial support?

Consider the other parties BATNAs:

- What do I think their key interests might be?
- What might they do if we do not reach an agreement?

Section summary

Section 6 has explained how mediators can bring stakeholders into the conflict management process by engaging them in the conflict analysis and assessing the options for conflict management. Only when stakeholders are "in the driver's seat" is there a reasonable likelihood that they will comply with an agreement for which they are themselves responsible. Engaging stakeholders in the early analysis helps to prepare them for negotiations with other stakeholders.

The role of mediators is to guide the different stakeholders in self-reflection and self-discovery. This includes helping the conflict stakeholders to become aware of their long-term interests, the benefits for them of a negotiated solution and what the potential alternatives to a negotiated solution might be. Mediators need to support conflict stakeholders in identifying and focusing on underlying interests, rather than on inflexible and strong positions.

Conflict analysis helps stakeholders shift their focus from individual positions to potentially shared interests. Moving opposing parties from deeply held, fixed positions towards common interests is a fundamental aspect of collaborative approaches. Most conflicts have underlying issues that relate to interests, ideology, relationships, information and structural inequalities.

Rather than conflicting positions, a key problem in conflict management is the conflict among needs, desires, fears and concerns. Understanding the differences between positions and interests can lay the groundwork for more effective negotiations. To establish collaboration among opposing stakeholders, the mediator helps them to understand how they interrelate or are interdependent, and that they have more to gain from collaborating than from competing.

Mediators help stakeholders identify options for going ahead with the conflict management process. These options are identified after the stakeholders have analysed the conflict causes, and clarified their own positions, interests and needs.

The BATNA helps individual stakeholders to set and assess realistic targets for their negotiation. The BATNA is the result that could be achieved without negotiation. It is the standard against which every outcome of negotiations should be measured.

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