How can YOU help create better politics?

How can YOU help create better politics?

Mediation In Politics

The best way to predict the future is to create it
Abraham Lincoln

The Referendum on Europe which resulted in Brexit or in other words a vote for Britain to leave to EU has got a few of us mediators thinking. Could the whole referendum process have been handled in a better way? Could we the voters have felt more engaged and less alienated by the process? Could there be a role for mediation in politics?

The Binary Bind

Mediator Bill Marsh wrote an excellent Blog Post entitled “The Binary Bind” in which he suggested that the binary process of referendum created 3 main problems. 1. Descent into simplicity and caricature. Like so many political campaigns, the referendum arguments were marked by ridiculous, almost banal, simplicity. “Remainers” and “leavers” alike argued, in effect, that their desired outcome had all the pros and none of the cons. 2 It made no space for a range of options. By definition, only two outcomes were possible. Win or lose. Sink or swim. Remain or leave 3. It engendered decisions motivated (at least in part) by fear – the fear of losing.

This reminds us of the mediation process where parties routinely argue rather than problem-solve, based on a win/lose outcome

Human Consequences

In his book “More Human” Steve Hilton argues for a fundamental change in the process of government. He suggests that instead of basing political decisions on economic data alone, government officials should look more widely at the long-term human consequences of their decisions. But to do this politicians and leaders will need to engage more not less with the people that they seek to serve and to find ways to engage in meaningful dialogue with them.

Hilton goes on to describe the at Stanford University where the process of design thinking is taught and suggests that the act of creating policy is in fact an act of innovation and thus an act of design. Students are guided through the following steps that are not unlike those employed in some mediations:

1 Empathise with the user
2 Define the problem
3 Generate the ideas
4 Prototype solutions
5 Test the prototypes

Empathy is not a word you hear much in government – But to understand a problem and imagine a solution requires an understanding of the people affected.

The Old System Isn’t Working

A couple of years ago I interviewed US mediator Ken Cloke on this topic. We discussed the fact that many of the problems facing politicians both now and in the future are in fact global in scope – climate change, financial crisis and even Brexit – and can’t be addressed using adversarial arguments and national interests.
The question that we’re left with is what can? The answer is mediation, collaborative negotiation, informal problem solving, dialogue and communication, all of the things that we practice as mediators, that’s the thing that can solve these problems.

As Ken said, we have to recognise that the old system isn’t working anymore and is going to reveal it’s incapacity to solve problems through the increase in the number of conflicts that it generates. The current conflict with junior doctors is just one example.

So the difficulty is not that we need to throw out politics, but that politics, as it’s presently constituted is another limitation on our ability to solve problems.

There is something that will work, and that is is the shift, and it is a revolutionary shift, from adversarial, to collaborative processes, methods and techniques.

So, what would it look like, if instead of the way that current debates take place, either in Parliament or in the Congress of the United States, with two sides facing off against each other and trying to score points against the other one, there was a collaborative problem solving process that brought in experts?
In his book Conflict Revolution, Ken Cloke comments “We can come up with a series of answers, and one I came up with was what I call a conflict resolution algorithm, which is based on what works in mediation, what works in collaborative negotiation, what works in dialogue and informal problem solving . The first step is to bring everybody together who’s impacted by the problem. The second is, we shift from debate to dialogue, that is, debates are concerned with scoring points, with winning, but not with learning, not with solving problems. The third point, is that the problems that we’re facing today are so complex, that the idea that a politician like or any individual, no matter how brilliant they might happen to be, could conceivably solve these problems by themselves just doesn’t make any sense. The problems are escalating, both in terms of their timing and in their potential for catastrophic impact.”

Our Role as Mediators

However, if we ask the question, who exactly is going to be doing this, who exactly is going to be bringing about these changes? The answer is there isn’t anyone except for US. We’re going to have to do it ourselves.

The question then is how? By creating a context of ethics, values and integrity, of watching our own attitudes, of really listening closely to critics and dissidents. It consists of subtly altering the ways that people succeed and fail. So in mediation for example, a traditional simple measure of success and failure is did you reach a settlement?

But says Ken, “The real test of success and failure for the mediator is, were you able to create choices that didn’t exist before this conversation? Were you able to really make it clear to people what their interests were? And how their interests might play out, either through settlement or non-settlement?” And so we have to simultaneously change ourselves and model what we want from others or in Ghandi’s phrase ‘We have to be the change we want to see in the world’.

So the true task for us as mediators, is to turn politics, economics and society, in an interest based direction, because they’re the only methods that are capable of solving the political problems of the future.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

So we need to learn to yearn and to teach people to yearn for the vast and endless sea of community, of collaboration, of genuine, deep, profound communication.

Jane Gunn FCIArb is an international mediator, author and speaker. She was a speaker at CIArb’s 9th Annual Mediation Symposium held in September, which was on the theme ‘Mediation and Politics’

This article first appeared in The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators publication The Resolver November 2016 edition.

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) Registered Charity: 803725

© Jane Gunn 2016

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