Identify and engage stakeholders, those persons who have a stake in the conflict or can be a resource for developing and implementing a durable resolution.
Early engagement of key stakeholders serves a number of purposes. First, even in the earliest actions, leaders can be more effective if they understand key groups’ fundamental concerns. “Community leaders need to understand what the hot button issues are and what interests there are,” explains Thomas Battles, CRS Conciliator and Regional Director.
Second, as discussed above, conflict escalates when people feel their voices are not being heard. Conflict may also escalate if those who hold the key to the solution do not appear to be engaged. But seeking the engagement of these individuals offers hope of a solution.
Third, community bridge-builders within the community can be helpful from the start. People listen to key community leaders and they can help people understand the issues causing conflict as well as the goals that bind the community together. Community leaders can introduce and explain the processes for enabling community members to be heard. But business leaders, leaders in the legal profession, and others often will not come forward unless asked. Gwen Whiting, experienced intervenor and Senior Associate at Everyday Democracy, suggests “Ministers have the ear of the public.” Richard Myers, who served as police chief in several cities, notes the importance of adding other bridge-building leaders as well as faith leaders. “Leadership is situational,” he says. “We need to be nimble enough to work with the leadership that develops in a given situation. It won’t always be faith leaders. Young people aren’t going to church the way their parents were.”
Gathering the right people to be involved – and involving them in the right ways – will probably require consultation with the intervenor. For example, on the questions of what individuals to involve, Andrew Thomas, a mediator who played a key role in Sanford, Florida, and who spent his career mediating in New York, notes that those who step forward to be heard are not necessarily those who should be engaged on a regular basis, though one should always be in communication with them. For regular involvement, he urges looking for those who are influential or who are decisionmakers within particular communities of interest. In addition, the intervenor may identify points of view or areas of expertise that should be represented by someone.
Getting the right people involved will also be an iterative process. As the group begins to suggest solutions, for example, involving a more people may facilitate implementing the solutions. Or if one group demands that a public official be dismissed there will likely be another group outraged at such a decision. In other words, that demand may indicate a need to involve others. The choices of which people to involve may also be influenced by a desire to diminish the likelihood that partisan politics become a barrier to achieving solutions.
Stakeholder groups can also build trust in leaders (see the next section), particularly if they are as diverse (taking into account the issues raised) as the community as a whole.
TWO GREAT RESOURCES FOR GATHERING STAKEHOLDERS
- Lawrence Susskind & Jennifer Thomas-Larmer, Conducting a Conflict Assessment, in The Consensus Building Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching Agreement 99 (Lawrence Susskind et al. eds., 1999).
- Nancy H. Rogers, Robert C. Bordone, Frank E.A. Sander, & Craig A. McEwen, Designing Systems and Processes for Managing Disputes (2013).
- Work Group for Community Health and Development, Section 8. Identifying and Analyzing Stakeholders and Their Interests, Community Toolbox (2014).
- Assign a staff member to identify, in consultation with the intervenor and others, individuals who may be affected by or have an effect on the effort, and to continue that process of identifying additional persons on an ongoing basis.
- Establish liaisons between community officials and these diverse community members, using a strategy that keeps local officials in communication with some people on a limited basis and engages others who can be more constructive on a regular basis. See, e.g. a U.S. Attorney’s Office outreach, http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndoh/community-outreach.
- Identify interests that need to be represented even when no one with that interest has asked to be heard and choose those who can represent these interests. “Community leaders have to find a way to engage the disenfranchised,” pointed out Richard Myers, Chief of Police, Newport News, Virginia; former Chief of Police, Sanford, Florida, noting especially the importance of reaching “the new generation, the new political leaders, the new group of activists.”
- Involve people who can help build bridges to various interest communities and to organizations that can help provide solutions, and facilitate communications between these groups. Depending on the community and the issues, these might include faith leaders, business and bar leaders, youth leaders, and others. In one rural community, the only local physician served this role.
- Consider involving experts, individuals who know the community well and local conflict intervenors, who may help officials understand historical and other background issues in conflict. Understanding the depth of the problems underlying the conflict will help identify stakeholders to engage in finding solutions.
- Consider whether these individuals need training to participate effectively. CRS and nonprofit organizations can provide training.
“In February 2012, CRS worked closely with leaders of the African American community and Korean merchants to reduce tensions stemming from an incident that occurred between an influential religious leader and a merchant during a store purchase. The incident received considerable coverage by local media and resulted in boycotts, protests, and heightened community and police concerns over the potential for violence. In response, CRS convened community leaders and the local clergy alliance, members of the Korean merchants’ association, and local officials to engage in a facilitated dispute resolution process. The groups met, were led through a problemsolving dialogue, and developed an action plan that included an agreement by the members of the association to increase customer-service standards and to develop a collaborative program to educate both the African American and Korean communities about the other’s cultural norms. In addition, CRS worked with African American community leaders and the Korean Merchants’ Association to establish a permanent working group that would meet regularly to address a number of long-standing community issues beyond the scope of the initial conflict.”
– CRS website, http://www.justice.gov/crs/whowe-work-with/community-groups.
In Sanford, Florida residents recently sought an apology for the closing of a city pool fifty years earlier. Some of the city leaders at first found the demand irritating; it occurred so long in the past. But involving a city historian helped the city officials to understand that people still living had been excluded from swimming in a city pool because of “whites only” policies and that these people recalled vividly that the city had closed the pool because federal law otherwise required them to integrate. The historian helped officials realize that, though they had not perpetrated this harm, they could be a part of resolving this still-current bitterness by acknowledging what had occurred and the effects of the insult on many of its residents and suggesting an official city apology. Though the apology did not occur, the conversation was cathartic for participants.