Always Trust First

by Jonna Kangasoja

I was invited to speak at the NELIS (Next Leaders’ Initiative for Sustainability) Europe Summit 2019 in Helsinki last week.

The request was to share some key lessons on leading through conflict.

Any wisdom I have, I have learned from my wise teachers, both the official ones (e.g. Robert R. Stains, Steve Greenwood and Debbie Goldstein), and the unofficial ones in my everyday life with whom I have learned about myself in conflict.

For the sake of applicability the lessons are formulated as maxims:

1. Always trust first. In any relationship there is the question of whether to trust the other or not. You can set the tone of a relationship, or a process by making the first collaborative move. It is more than likely – at least in most cases – that you will be reciprocated. Trust begets more trust, mistrust begets more mistrust. That is why the first move is very significant.

2. Always be curious about the story behind an opinion or a claim. When you hear a strong opinion, claim or demand, pause and ask what is important to the other person and why. If you learn to listen well, you will get to hear about the experiences that have shaped those opinions and values. Remember that behind every story there is a person who needs to be seen and heard.

3. Always be a little kinder than necessary. There are moments when you feel that no matter what you do, the other person appears to stay unreasonable or offensive. Pause. Apply maxim #2. Keep treating them like the collaborator you would like them to be. Keep acting like the person you want to be. This makes it more likely to maintain the connection, and in case it gets broken, to mend it.

4. Always cultivate connections. Connections between people are the first casualty of conflict. It takes an effort to reconnect, and that’s why connections may remain broken for a very long time. Be the first one to signal an effort to reconnect, and do it early rather than late. In cases when you for some reason cannot be the first one, if someone invites you to reconnect, run to meet them.

The dynamics of disaster response: how to ensure policy learning in the aftermath?

Environmental disasters can become important events in our individual lives and in the collective memory of a nation. Even eras can be named after them as we may refer to a time before and after the Chernobyl accident. At some point of our lives, almost all of us can expect to be directly or indirectly affected some way by a natural disaster, major industrial or technological accident. Such events often also become landmark cases in environmental policy.

Big environmental disasters have the potency to cause significant changes in existing governmental policies and practices. Some evident examples are the Three Mile Island and the more recent Fukushima nuclear accidents, which induced major shift in several states’ energy policies. In Finland, Talvivaara clearly stands out as an event that changed how the country has viewed mining ever since. These so-called focusing events cause many people – bureaucrats, media, elected officials, and the public – to pay greater attention to the problems revealed by the incident.

Furthermore, people tend to react differently depending on the perceived cause and the characteristics of the disaster. Whereas natural disasters have been found to produce therapeutic response in which communities unite, technologically induced disasters have a corrosive effect on community life. Indeed, if the disaster is seen as an “act of God” or a freak accident, our attention turns to what we can do to help the victims. However, if the disaster is seen as a result of human failings – poor design, operator error, “corporate greed”, or “governmental neglect” – our attention turns to the voluntary acceptance of responsibility or to the more coercive process of fixing blame. Either way, the public is likely to demand safer and more sustainable policies from the decision-makers.

This creates a window of opportunity for change. Action is taken, all in hopes of “learning something from this incident” to ensure that something similar does not happen again. However, there are no guarantees that this will lead to a positive and sustainable outcome. Action may be taken in a rush, in an attempt to please the public, without sufficient learning behind it. The question then becomes, how to ensure that the decisions and the policies made after disasters are a consequence of learning and not a knee jerk reaction to the public pressure? Sometimes it can be quite difficult to see the extent to which governments learn after critical events.

Thomas A. Birkland develops a model for event-related policy change in his excellent book Lessons of Disaster (2006), offering one way to examine these processes. According to him, there are several key steps that must occur for learning based policies to be created. The first crucial step for the event is to gain attention. The size and importance of the event are socially constructed but the event must come first, and it must be large enough to gain attention. The second step is group mobilization. If mobilization does not occur, it restraints learning, because learning requires competition between advocacy coalitions, as each side tries to gather evidence and knowledge about the policy process and political tactics to advance its goals.

The third, and perhaps the most important step, is the discussion of ideas in various forums about the reasons for the event and whether the existing policy can address the problems revealed by the event. If a policy is shown to have failed, the discussion will include policies that seek to remedy the failure and prevent reoccurrence. A change can also happen without such discussion, but it is possible that “superstitious learning” is at work, as Birkland calls it. It can also lead to a positive outcome, but rather by accident than by design. However, if we can draw a link between ideas, an event, and increased attention to ideas and new policies, then we have strong evidence of instrumental policy learning and possibly some evidence of social policy learning and political learning. Even if no policy change occurs, the event can lead to accumulated experience which may promote learning in the future.

Historically the field of environmental policy is rather unique in a sense that significant events have always played a major part in shaping it. While slow change allows for gradual adaptation, abrupt change is more challenging for the social structure and the production system, which do not adapt easily. This is particularly an issue when such events do not occur frequently – memory decays and risk perception weakens. Nonetheless, policy leaps may occur. Every disaster brings losses but also gains, if we make the most of them.


Juha Kotilainen


More reading:


Birkland, T. A. (2006). Lessons of Disaster: Policy Change after Catastrophic Events. Georgetown University Press. Washington DC.

Kotilainen, J. M. (2015): Environmental Disasters as the Drivers for Policy Change – Case Study: Talvivaara Mine. Master’s thesis. University of Eastern Finland.

Kroll-Smith, J., Couch, S. & A. G. Levine (2002). Technological Hazards and Disasters. In the book Dunlap, R. E. & W. Michelson (ed.) Handbook of Environmental Sociology. Greenwood Press. Westport, CT.

Citizen Jury discussed the use of marshlands in South Ostrobothnia

The Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia and The Finnish Environment Institute together with Akordi assembeled a citizen jury to discuss the use of marshlands as a part of preparing the Regional Plan of South Ostrobothnia. The aim of the proposed plan is to integrate the interests of peat production, conservation and other marshland usages. The work was launched as an experiment for testing new kinds of ways for public participation. Jonna Kangasoja from Akordi assisted and facilitated the meetings.

Alltogether 15 members were picked from 37 registered volunteers that represented different age groups and occupations from around the Region. The jury met three times during September and October 2018. The members had different viewpoints on the issue as some were more supportive of peat production and some in protecting the areas. Also the views of water protection and recreational use were discussed.

Allthough the jury wasn’t unanimous on their views, it did form a statement for the the proposed Regional Plan of South Ostrobothnia. According to the statement the aim of the planning should be to use the marshlands in the area in a sustainable way. The feedback from the jury about the experience was mainly positive and encouraging for similar work to be done in the future. Allthough the group didn’t reach consensus, the participants felt it was important to be offered a time and place for an open discussion.

News about the citizen jury (in finnish):

Fifteen Things We Know about Environmental Dispute Resolution

We asked Akordi mentor, professor Lawrence Susskind, founder of the the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program, “What do we know about environmental dispute resolution?”. He offered the following list of fifteen things we know – for an actual fact.

The still timely list was Originally published on Consensus Building Approach, “Fifteen Things We Know About Environmental Dispute Resolution” on May 22, 2012.

– 1 Environmental dispute resolution (EDR) can be used “upstream” during policy-making and planning as well as “downstream,” once disputes have crystallized over administrative decisions (e.g. permitting, licensing, funding, etc.), or even after disputes have entered adjudication.

– 2 EDR only works if the parties are motivated to come to the negotiating table. It is fine if they have very different motivations (e.g. no good BATNA, an opportunity to create value, a desire to improve or repair relationships, pressure from coalition partners, etc.).

– 3 EDR needs a process manager; ideally, a professional mediator or facilitator (but not always). This person must be acceptable to all the parties being invited to come to the table.

– 4 The parties in EDR must have a chance to participate in or at least approve the agenda, ground rules, selection of parties, timetable, and other elements of process design before EDR begins.

– 5 It is perfectly reasonable, even necessary, for a facilitator or mediator to get involved in a variety of away-from-the-table activities on behalf of the group. These can include making sure that all parties are prepared properly. The mediator might also work with the parties to help them remain in touch with their actual or putative constituents throughout the EDR process.

– 6 EDR works best when there are opportunities for joint fact finding and they are managed by a facilitator or a mediator.

JFF should be highly interactive, involving all the stakeholder representatives in specifying the questions that need to be answered, selecting the experts of various kinds who will be called on to help, and making decisions about which analytical methods should be used.

– 7 EDR should always emphasize value-creating opportunities (and not just zero-sum choices).

– 8 EDR can never substitute for statutorily-mandated decision-making by public officials or agency staff. It can, however, supplement whatever formal decision making is required by law.

– 9 EDR will, of necessity, take different forms in different constitutional contexts around the world.

– 10 EDR can rarely, if ever, be precedent setting. It needs to be fitted to the unique contextual details of each dispute/conflict/decision-making process. The outcomes of EDR efforts are rarely recorded in the way court decisions are. They are not likely, therefore, to be accompanied by a legal rationale that justifies whatever agreement is reached.

– 11 EDR can include opportunities for confidential give-and-take among the participants even though open meeting laws, sunshine laws, and other transparency requirements must be met. Transparency is the mediator’s responsibility along with an obligation to maintain promises of confidentiality. These can be balanced by allowing the mediator to carry messages between the parties and through the work done in caucuses.

– 12 There are substantial advantages to creating EDR “systems”” rather than treating each EDR opportunity anew. This often requires that dispute handling systems be enabled by statute or regulation.

– 13 The costs of EDR need not be shared equally by the parties. Each party can contribute what it can without compromising the nonpartisan or neutral stand of the mediator. Funds to support an EDR effort (regardless of who provides them) should only be allocated with the support of all the participants (perhaps through the involvement of an elected executive committee of stakeholders).

– 14 It is possible to evaluate and improve EDR efforts. It is unlikely, however, that consistent quantitative measures of benefits and costs will be central to such assessments. Rather, in-depth, case-by-case analyses – before, during, and after each effort- undertaken by independent evaluators are required. These tend to focus on the satisfaction of the parties relative to their pre-defined BATNAs along with their sense of how the process “worked” given the alternative ways of handling the situation that were available.

– 15 Parties involved in EDR should consult legal counsel. Court-connected EDR will undoubtedly involve parties and their lawyers throughout. The presence of lawyers in EDR, however, should not be allowed to create barriers to informal (problem-solving) dialogue among the parties themselves. Professional neutrals need not be attorneys.

Why do people who care about their survival ignore the warnings of doom?

In the aftermath of an environmental or other type of disaster, we often find out that someone or some faction had already given a pre-emptive warning about the looming crisis. An outrage follows: who screwed up, why were these warnings ignored and why was no preventive action taken? It brings up a valid question: why do we act on some warnings but dismiss others? I look at few possible explanations in this first blog of a three-part series about disasters.

We can begin by looking at the question with a societal (and quite pessimistic) lens of risk society, borrowing from Ulrich Beck (1992). He argues that the complexity of the contemporary risks makes them very hard to estimate as they are difficult to understand without profound knowledge about the issue. Chemicals, radiation and climate change are all hidden behind numbers and diagrams, making them invisible to our basic senses. In this context, the reservations of few experts or a group of people in the face of potential great economic benefits may get lost in the background noise and labelled as scaremongering.

Following this line of thought, we can ask how difficult it is to gather the political will to change some industry wide systems before something bad actually happens? It is a grim thought, but from a learning perspective, it is possible that a disaster is required to reveal just how bad it can be.  Furthermore, even if the proactive change or action is successful and prevents these risks from coming true, there is usually little to show that these efforts were required. No prize for the good-doers.

However, not all warnings go to deaf ears. Understanding the psychology behind the issue is the first step of overcoming the feeling of futility. Here are three lessons highlighted in the recent Hidden Brain podcast and the linked articles you can find after the blog.

First, people are more willing to accept the warning if it comes from someone within the group. Being an insider with the right political credentials and understanding of the context where the decision-maker is operating improves greatly the effectiveness of the message. Due to psychological bias, we are generally more sympathetic with people who have more common with us. If you can frame the warning emphasizing the shared values or qualities, you may gain more empathy for your cause.

Second, the warning of the impending disaster must be clear enough that most people can see it. Furthermore, it has been proven that it is hard for people to look far into the future. If we think the consequences are in the distant future, we tend to discount the risk. Looking from the decision-makers perspective, they are often pulled in many different directions. Paying attention to one risk means less attention to others. If you come with a vague warning about some distant problem, you are going to get sidelined. Presenting a clear path how the conflict would escalate with strong evidence increases your chances of being heard.

Finally, people and decision-makers are more willing to acknowledge the warning if taking action does not require us to go too much out of our comfort zone or to change our existing policies drastically. Indeed, what makes warning often hard to believe is their political inconvenience. Sometimes it may not be possible but coming up with a solution that does not require a radical shift in existing strategy will reduce the chance that the warning will be ignored.


Juha Kotilainen


More reading & listening:

Beck, U. (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Sage. Wiltshire.

Meyer, C. O., & Otto, F. (2016). How to Warn: ‘Outside-in Warnings’ of Western Governments about Violent Conflict and Mass Atrocities. DOI: 10.1177/1750635216656969

NPR Hidden Brain podcast (2018). The Cassandra Curse: Why We Heed Some Warnings, And Ignore Others

Why we keep ignoring even the most dire climate change warnings (2018.)

How to win together

Winning and being a winner are two very different things when it comes to interest based negotiation. During a one week course in Joensuu about Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution this distinction was elaborated with an exercise that can be used in recognizing three important factors in successful negotiation.

In August 2018 NOVA University Network organized together with All-Youth and CORE projects a course about Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution. From Akordi Juha Kotilainen and I attended the course. Mara Hernández from Mexico CIDE-University was one of the teachers in the course and opened the course with an eye-opening exercise. In the exercise the class was split to two teams. Both teams were given the objective to get the other party to their side. The exercise was executed in teams of two.

The exercise took only few minutes but during that time we could see the variety of different strategies people had on trying to achieve their objectives. Few of us tried to convince our partners about our side being better than theirs. Some stayed put because they didn’t want the other one to succeed. Some tried to fool their partners into changing side by promising to return the favor even though they had no real intention to do so.

All of the above are basic negotiation strategies. Trying to convince others that your objective is more justified. Holding on to ”better safe than sorry” approach and ending up in the same place where you started from. Even cheating and making false promises in order to get what you want. Some, however, decided to switch their places simultaneously. This strategy resulted in a situation where both parties got exactly what they wanted without losing trust.

Discussion that followed revealed three main factors that were crucial in order to find a collaborative solution. First of all, finding a solution that benefits all requires willingness to collaborate. As long as the parties don’t see collaboration as an option neither one will be able to get what they want. Secondly, coming up with a collaborative solution requires mutual trust. If the other party will cheat and lie about coming to the other ones side the trust will probably be lost. The one who had lied might have reached their objective on this round but possibilities for future collaboration have decreased. Lastly, there has to be a shared understanding about the solution being beneficial for both parties. If even one party thinks that the solution will not be beneficial for them it is likely that agreement will not be reached.

The exercise we had about trying to get the other one to our side can be seen as a very simplified negotiation setting where all parties have their own objectives. To achieve an agreement it is important to recognize which interests are distributive and which ones are integrative. Very often we see different interests as distributive ones – ”I can’t move to the other side because then the other party won’t come to my side”. But then again, this is not true. By going to the other side I lose nothing, but by doing that I can make it easier for the other party to come to my side.

Obviously there are also interests distributive by nature. Issues regarding land-use or the use of natural resources are often issues where different interests can’t be met at the same time. A land can not be both protected and used for building. Still, around these distributive issues there are also a lot of interests that are integrative. By framing the negotiation and mediation processes in a way that enables discussion over integrative interests we can find ways for different actors to have better relationships and communication.

There is a difference between winning and being a winner. The ones who had a ”winner” mentality during the exercise were not able to come up with an agreement. They ended up trying to convince and cheat their partner. The winner mentality guides us to aim for solutions where we gain as much as we can while others get as little as possible. The problem is, that with this kind of thinking all parties usually end up having less than they could have had. By thinking and discussing about what are the needs and interests of the parties involved there is a good chance that we can find solutions that are beneficial for all. There can only be one winner, but winning can be accomplished together.

More about the course (in finnish):

Emma Luoma

Collaborative Process Resulted in Jyväskylä’s Strategic Forest Programme

The city of Jyväskylä has finalised its first strategic Forest Programme. The consensus building process facilitated by Akordi had five different phases: 1) stakeholder assessment, 2) defining the process and its goals, 3) joint fact-finding, 4) finding and discussing the solutions and 5) compacting the programme. The sixth phase will be implementation and evaluation phase.

The process began in 2017 for the city of Jyväskylä had regognized a need for renewing their forest alignments. By a strategic Forest Programme the city aimed to create coherent instructions of forest management that would help to maintain the most important values of the forests. The vision for the Forest Programme was defined by the working group as following:

”The city of Jyväskylä is a pioneer in harmonizing economical, ecological and social goals that are addressing the forests.”

The group responsible for the planning and compacting the programme was assembeled from different stakeholder groups that had been identified as key actors by a stakeholder assessment. The group had representatives from the city of Jyväskylä, Central Finland Bird Club, Forest Group, the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (Jyväskylä), the Finnish Nature League, JAPA association and the University of Jyväskylä. Representatives in the group were selected by participants from different stakeholder groups in the process kick off.

During the process the group engaged in joint fact-finding. During that phase the group focused on identifying the most important views, needs and goals for the management of Jyväskylä’s forests. They organized a seminar about topical forest information having professional speakers from different fields, visited different forest locations and executed a survey for the residents of Jyväskylä. In the following phase the group engaged in deep discussions and finding solutions that could be approved by all members. By working with different kinds of drafts the group searched for a solution that all parties could agree on and commit to.

The Forest Programme was presented to the board of Urban Planning and City Infrastructure in 2.5.2018 after which it was published and commented on by the public during May 2018 including a public audit in 30.5.2018.

The working group met 18 times during the planning process. The final Forest Programme aligned that the conservation rate of Jyväskylä forests would be raised to 17 %, the amount of restorative forest would be stepped up by decreasing the amount of forests in financial use and that the ways and tools of commuciation between the forest management and residents would be enhanced.

The city of Jyväskylä has been the first city in Finland to engage in a consensus building process in their forest planning while having a consensus building practitioner as a neutral party and facilitator. For more materials visit here.

Iijoki River Visioning Process

Iijoki is a great river flowing through Northern Ostrobothnia. The river is harnessed by hydroelectric power production and it’s characterized by similar problems and needs as other river valleys of its kind. One of the common factors is a requirement to recover the vitality of migratory fish stocks. It has been recognized that the river would have great potential and it could support the development of the whole area if the water area would be developed jointly with all the key stakeholders. However, taking major steps in developing the use of the river has been difficult in the past and jointly shared vision of Iijoki river’s future has not been found.

From these starting points in March 2016, a new operating model was launched to build a shared vision of the future of the water system and to ensure the commitment of various parties involved. The aim of the process was to create a widely accepted vision of the river basin but more importantly to strengthen parties’ commitment to the development of ​​the river while taking the different values into consideration and ensuring the work continuity in the future.

Akordi has been a part of the project by planning a participatory process and facilitating the Iijoki river vision advisory board meetings. Advisory board was gathered from a wide range of stakeholder groups representing various kinds of interests. From the beginning the efforts has been made to build trust between actors to enable genuine negotiations also in difficult situations.

Iijoki river vision is now ready but the advisory board will continue to work on prioritizing and planning measures and new projects to increase the value of the river. The visioning process has created a good base to continue cooperation in the area.

Visioning process was a part of a larger Ijjoki otva project managed by the Council of Oulu Region.

Tools for Collaborative Governance -training on Thursday 29.10.2015


8:00           Coffee

8:30           Morning Session: Framework for Collaborative Governance

(Participants are asked to bring a case or situation for discussion that they are facing or have faced that might benefit from collaborative approaches.)

  • Why Collaborative Governance is a Necessity in 21st Century
  • Defining Collaborative Governance and its Unique Dynamics in Public Problem Solving
  • Introduction to the Spectrum of Decision Making: Characteristics of Effective Collaborative Process and Application to Collaborative Governance
  • Frameworks for Collaborative Governance: Agreement Seeking, Implementation and Public Engagement
  • Application to Cases

12:00        Lunch

13:00        Afternoon Session: Getting the Most out of Collaborative Governance

  • Mapping and Expanding Public Networks to Expand Resources and Increase Accountability
  • Building, Repairing, or Strengthening Collaborative Relationships
  • Assessing a Situation & Framing the Issues
  • Steps for Consensus Based Decision Making
  • Forging Multi-Party Agreements in a Political Environment
  • Case Studies and Discussion

Registration by 23.10.2015 register HERE tai Sanna Rönkkönen,, p. 050 3393347

Price: 310 €, including vat (price for participants from organisations)

(Reduced price 160 €, including vat for individuals)

Lunch at your own expence.