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.

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

Founders of Akordi invited to the CBI Global Network

The CBI Global Network

Following the 20th Anniversary Symposium, the Consensus Building Institute convened and hosted the first gathering of The CBI Global Network, a diverse community of leading practitioners and scholars spanning the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia.

See Network members:

Interview with Professor Larry Susskind

MIT Professor Lawrence Susskind visited Finland in June 2014. His visit started with a two-day summit on Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution in the Fiskars Village one hundred kilometers west of Helsinki in Southern Finland. The summit gathered twenty leading professionals from local and national government, the Sámi Parliament, large Finnish corporations representing energy sector, forest sector and mining sector, as well as researchers from four universities. The summit was organized jointly by Akordi Oy, the LYY-institute of University of Eastern Finland, The Finnish Environment Institute and Sitra The Finnish Innovation Fund. The summit produced a joint statement by the participants, referred to in the interview as the “Fiskars Declaration”. The statement will be published soon.

Professor Susskind’s visit to Finland was connected to the Aalto Course on Negotiation and Dispute Resolution – Preparing future leaders to face tough public problems, which was a pioneering class for 20 Finnish and international students organized for the first time in the Aalto University. The students participated in translating Susskind’s article that goes by the name “A Short Guide to Consensus Building” (Lyhyt opas intressien yhteensovittamiseen), which was published by Akordi in July 2014. Susskind also gave an open public lecture in the Aalto University titled “Is There A Better Way to Solve Complex Environmental and Land-Use Conflicts? Lessons from Thirty Years of International Experience”.

During their visit to Finland, professor Susskind and his wife Leslie Tuttle met with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Martti Ahtisaari, the Finnish Minister of International Development Pekka Haavisto, and ministerial advisor Tuomas Kuokkanen from the Ministry of the Environment.

After an intensive visit, we interviewed Larry in order to provide an access point to his work and thinking to a larger audience. In the interview below, Larry sheds light on the origins of the field of environmental conflict resolution and public policy mediation, and explains what consensus building means. He discusses some concrete examples and key elements in processes of assisted negotiation. After reflecting on global challenges around food, energy and water, Larry discusses the role of climate change in environmental conflicts. At the end of the interview Larry reflects on how he sees the situation in Finland.

1. You are professor of urban planning at MIT, and the director of the MIT Harvard public disputes program. You work in the field of environmental conflict resolution and public policy mediation. Where did this field of practice emerge from, and how did you first get involved in it?

There have always been environmental conflicts, that is, disputes over the allocation of scarce resources or disagreements over resource management policies. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s scholars and practitioners involved in disputes like these got together to talk about the possibility of applying dispute resolution tools (such as facilitation, mediation and arbitration) which were already in use in other arenas like labor relations, international diplomacy, commercial business transactions, personal conflict and legal settlements. In 1982, as a planner involved in land use disputes, I joined in this effort, which led to the creation of the interuniversity Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard Law School. I became the first Executive Director at PON. While research and scholarship are important, PON also focused on practice. With this focus in mind, I created the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program so we could apply what we were learning to actual environmental disputes in different parts of the world. I worked on international treaty-making, national energy policy disagreements, state/provincial level efforts to manage resources (with a specialization in water), local efforts to site controversial facilities and neighborhood redevelopment efforts. My research has always informed my practice. My practice has always provided grounding for my teaching.

2. You work with the notion of consensus building. How does consensus building differ from conflict resolution and mediation?

We are not just interested in finding a resolution (resolution defined as 51% of a large group of contending parties supporting an agreement). Rather, we measure our success by the extent to which we can come close to reaching unanimous agreement. Consensus building seeks unanimity, but settles (after all participants agree they have done all they can to respond to the concerns of holdouts) for overwhelming majority. Mediation is a way of getting parties to talk. We use it as a technique, along with facilitation, non-binding arbitration and other group decision-making technologies. Consensus building does not need a conflict or a dispute to manifest before we begin. In this way consensus building is proactive rather than reactive, as we often bring together groups to engage in problem-solving dialogue prior to the onset of a conflict or a dispute. Consensus building is a form of decision-making producing fairer, more efficient, more stable and satisfying results than traditional forms of public engagement or administrative efforts to resolve public disputes.

3. We have seen debates in the field of academic planning theory on the (im)possibility of consensus. What is your perspective to these debates and are they relevant for the practice of consensus building as you see it?

I’m baffled by these debates. They don’t take into account of what actually happens on the ground every day of the week all over the world. Groups with different points of view and conflicting interests work together (sometimes with the help of skilled facilitators) to formulate win-win agreements. That is, they find deals or packages that meet the most important interests of almost all the parties involved. They don’t do this in court and they don’t do this by accepting a bare majority vote in Parliament. They work out informal settlements (informed by scientific and technical input) that produce fair, efficient, stable and wise agreements. Sometimes planners are involved. Often they don’t know how to participate, so they remain on the sidelines. But, arguing for the impossibility of consensus is just silly. My colleagues and I wrote The Consensus Building Handbook (Sage, 1999) with many detailed illustrations of how this works. In 2012, I wrote Breaking Robert’s Rules (with Jeff Cruikshank). It was subsequently rewritten to take account of national differences and cases in 12 countries. The latter book provides a clear narrative showing exactly how planners have worked to build consensus on a wide range of public policy decisions. I guess there are theorists who don’t get out much and write to confirm for each other (without evidence) that certain things are true.

4. How does environmental conflict resolution work – and what does it look like, for instance, in conflicts around natural resources or energy?

Most environmental conflict resolution efforts begin with a Stakeholder Assessment requested by some agency or organization that has to make a decision concerning the resource in dispute. We call this actor the convener. The Assessment involves interviews with all the relevant parties so they can participate in designing the process that will be used to voice their positions. Then, the neutral (i.e. a facilitator or mediator) works with the parties to help them prepare to engage with each other. This often involves joint fact finding by drawing on the assistance of a range of technical professionals acceptable to all the parties. They also need an agenda, a timetable, a budget, final ground rules and a clear sense of who will represent the various stake-holding groups in whatever problem-solving forum is created. Once the dialogue begins, the neutral moves back and forth among the parties, often in spaces apart from the negotiating table, to generate draft agreements that can meet everybody’s interests. The neutral then conducts face-to-face meetings with the entirety of the negotiating parties and, following the schedule that the group has specified, reviews and revises the drafts until agreement is reached (as close to unanimity, as determined by the stakeholders, as is possible). The neutral presents the written agreement to the convener who then has a basis for making a final decision. So, for example, a federal environmental agency might use this method to generate agreement on proposed regulations before the agency issues them. Or, a provincial government might use this process to bring all the parties, who are locked in a political disagreement about mining or water allocation, together. The product is a proposal, which best represents all parties interest and carries their support, to the agency with the formal authority to decide.

5. You speak about the importance of third party neutral – or the N+1th party in negotiations. What can the neutral add to the negotiations?

Professional neutrals are trained to handle the processes I have already described. They are also trained not to impose their own views on others. That can be difficult, especially when mediators also have relevant technical training and may have ideas to suggest that can bridge differences among the parties they are working with.  But, like a judge, neutrals are trained to listen to what all sides have to say and to refrain from imposing their own views. Neutrals can help bring the right parties to the table by interviewing potential stakeholders to ensure their concerns are incorporated into the negotiating agenda. During the negotiations, the neutral can ensure the parties understand each other and manage problem-solving efforts parties are prepared to make. (This is especially important when there are multiple parties, working to bridge cultural divisions to overcome a history of bad relations.) Neutrals can help the parties “sell” whatever agreement emerges to their respective back tables. They can even allow themselves to be written into agreements to ensure that there is someone responsible for monitoring implementation of commitments. The list goes on. I detail the full list of mediator roles and responsibilities in my books Breaking the Impasse and Good for You, Great for Me: Finding the Trading Zone and Winning at Win-Win Negotiation.

6. Why do we need mediated processes? Aren’t democratic decision-making processes sufficient for dealing with environmental and public policy conflicts? Democracy only ensures citizens have certain minimum rights like the right to vote, the right to free speech, a right to freedom of religion and to petition their elected officials. They also have a right to a fair and speedy trial. There isn’t any constitution or tradition guarantying a right to work out public policy disputes in a way that ensures the interests of all stakeholders are taken into account go the greatest extent possible. Or, that officials don’t settle for what the majority wants even if that does nothing for a large minority. Mediation seeks to improve upon what democracy guarantees – finding ways to produce agreements that are fairer (in the eyes of all the parties), more efficient (reached more quickly at lower cost), more stable (because there is not an unhappy minority seeking to overturn whatever agreement has been reached) and wiser (because scientific and technical information is taken seriously rather than subject to attack in court).

7. Are there issues that should NOT be negotiated?

There are certain public disputes that can be used to set new legal precedents. These should obviously be allowed to work their way through the court. So, it would not make sense to settle these through negotiation. And, in some instances, when politically powerful actors can get what they want without paying any attention to the interests of others, they are not likely to agree to come to the negotiation table. Some value-based (as opposed to interest-based) disputes hinge on definitions of rights. It is inappropriate to mediate these (i.e. whether a poor person has a right to water and sanitation is something that needs to be determined in court or in government. It is not something that can or should be negotiated in some ad hoc fashion.). In general, the results of efforts to mediate public or environmental resource management disputes usually take the form of proposals (elected and appointed officials must then enact the proposals) rather than final decisions. In most democratic settings, public officials cannot delegate final decision-making authority to assemblies of stakeholders. On the other hand, if all the relevant stakeholders in a public dispute reach an agreement on an action plan, they have every right to expect their elected and appointed officials will enact the group proposal. And, those expectations are justified if all the relevant stakeholders had an opportunity to participate in a transparent consensus building process, facilitated by a professional neutral and produced a nearly-unanimous set of recommendations, informed by the best scientific or technical advice available.

8. You work globally – what do you see as the biggest challenges we face in terms of food, energy and natural resources? Where do you see hope?

The biggest challenges I see at the nexus of water, energy and food occur when transboundary resources and relationships must be managed. Our long-standing system of national sovereignty makes it hard for countries to build smart relationships to maximize ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development. In my new book Environmental Diplomacy (Oxford, 2015) with Dr. Saleem Ali, we spell out ways in which the logic of environmental dispute resolution can be applied to transboundary environmental disputes, including the management of climate change risks on a global scale. There is reason to believe this can happen and the long-standing system of national sovereignty can be softened for this purpose.

9. Does climate change complicate existing conflicts or create new ones? What are the implications for environmental conflict resolution?

Yes, climate change creates serious new risks that must be addressed both internationally, domestically. It will take concerted international cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a point where sea level rise, increasing storm intensity, extreme heat for extended periods in the summer, drought, and frightening disease vectors can be combatted. New global agreements will have to be negotiated. And, while we wait for that to happen, the immediate impacts of the sudden climate shifts that have already occurred (as in the Arctic) need to be managed, mostly by local governments. Coastal communities need to bring their population together to work out ways of adapting to climate changes that cannot be avoided. In short, what is needed is a move toward collective risk management. This will have to be the product of mediated negotiations at every scale.

10. Environmental conflicts are knowledge intensive. What would be an interesting example of successful joint fact finding in resolving an environmental dispute?

Most environmental disputes are science-intensive, requiring a careful understanding of the dynamics of socio-ecological systems. If we reach a political agreement on how much mercury to allow into the environment that doesn’t reflect a full understanding of the impacts that mercury can have on human health, we will kill people or make their lives miserable. A process of joint fact finding must supplement political conversations about this subject. Stakeholders need the help of a panel of scientists or subject experts to guide them through the existing body of technical knowledge on the subject. They also need the help of experts to forecast the likely success associated with various possible remedial or regulatory actions. No one should allow scientists to legislate what should be done. But, without a credible joint fact finding process we will only have political interests exchanging ignorances about what can and should be done. The recent Minimata Convention on Mercury was a product of more than a decade of work by a global team of scientists who worked closely with country representatives of the leaders of civil society groups to figure out what standards should be applied and what system of enforcement would be most effective.

11. Besides being a professor at MIT, you are a practitioner involved in mediated multiparty negotiations. You have founded the Consensus Building Institute 20 years ago. What kind of an organization is CBI and what does it do?

CBI provides neutral services around the world. We offer mediation and facilitation assistance in multiparty resource management disputes – but only when we are invited to participate by all the stakeholders involved in the process. Sometimes CBI is invited by government or multinational agencies. Often we are invited by business or civil society groups. Until we receive approval from all parties, however, we cannot and do not begin involvement. Usually, our work begins with a Stakeholder Assessment. We interview, privately and confidentially, all the parties who have been or want to be involved in a particular consensus building effort. Through these interviews we can help frame the upcoming negotiations and outline joint fact finding that might be needed and formulate ground rules to govern the collaboration efforts. CBI has a Global Network of trained and experience neutrals who are available to work on every continent and in most major languages. Over several decades we have tried to codify best practices in the consensus building field (   We work on a not-for-profit basis; that is, we only charge what is necessary to cover our costs. While we sometimes receive philanthropic support to support particular collaborative efforts, we usually work on a fee-for-service basis. And, even if the costs of mediation are not equally shared among all the participants, we try to involve all the participants in approving whatever payments we receive.

12. You visited Finland in June 2014. How do you see the need for new collaborative practices in Finland – and where do you see most potential for new initiatives? Who are key actors here? Could Finland play a role globally?

Finland is at a critical moment. The country has an opportunity to shift to the use of more collaborative practices to resolve environmental and resource management disputes. The need is certainly there (especially in the mining and forestry sectors). It would not be difficult to train a cadre of skilled mediators to assist with this transition. The meeting we had several weeks ago (involving government, industry, academic and civil society group) generated the Fiskars Declaration calling for a national commitment to encourage the use of environmental mediation. I hope that is something that happens soon.

13. During your visit to Finland, you met with president Ahtisaari. What issues did you discuss and what interests do you share?

I was delighted to visit with President Ahtisaari again. He committed his energies to providing mediation advice and assistance around the world in situations where unresolved conflicts, of all kinds, are hurting people. We talked about upcoming battles in the Arctic for control of mineral as well as oil and gas exploration in newly accessible areas in the Arctic Circle (caused by thinning of the sea ice). I think we both believe principles of environmental dispute resolution can and should be applied. We also discussed the work of my Consensus Building Institute (CBI) and his Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) pertaining to our shared belief in the need for expanded uses of the consensual approach to dealing with differences (as a way of avoiding violence and as a means of resolving disagreements more efficiently).

14. What would you say to people and organizations who want to build their capacity in collaborative processes, and to apply the Mutual Gains Approach?

I hope that the universities in Finland will begin to offer teaching and training to individuals who want to become skilled dispute resolution professionals. For individuals interested in moving in that direction, they may need to go to other countries in the short term to acquire these capabilities. But, I don’t think it would take very long for Finland to become a center of excellence in this domain. I also hope the government will begin small scale experiments to demonstrate the value of environmental dispute resolution. Over the next decade it should be possible to match the supply of dispute resolution professionals (through new teaching and training opportunities both inside academia and in the private sector) with a managed demand for this kind of help in your country.

Interview by Jonna Kangasoja & Lasse Peltonen