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<xTITLE>Building Bridges Through Negotiation</xTITLE>

Building Bridges Through Negotiation

by William R. Potapchuk
October 2000

Re-published with permission from Program for Community Problem Solving (PCPS) a division of the National Civic League.

In September of this year, a team of stakeholders in Garrett County, Maryland started negotiations with a team of state officials to go "Vision to Scale" - that is to deepen and broader their efforts at systems reform to reach more children and families and improve their life outcomes. The goal of the negotiations is to creatively engage the state's Subcabinet on Children, Youth, and Families to build better supports for local level activities and in particular, Garrett's focus on economically stable families. While the mantra is "no new money", everyone recognizes that part of the challenge is reallocating existing dollars. And unlike past efforts, where the state has prescribed solutions, sometimes to the dismay of the locals, or the community has generated efforts that have not been fully integrated with other state and local initiatives, the negotiation process offers an opportunity to weave it all together, effectively, with state and local support.

While discussions between local and state officials are routine, Garrett is one of a handful of counties around the country that are engaged in a formal negotiation process, with established teams and protocols, specifically focused on the "system" and making changes that achieve better outcomes. And like the outcome, the process works best when it is jointly developed by local and state stakeholders.

The negotiation process in Maryland is guided by a protocol that was developed by a team of state and local stakeholders and staffed by the Program for Community Problem Solving. Prior to the beginning of negotiations, the state and local teams are offered a training program in negotiation skills in order to level the playing field and begin to build the relationships that are central to success. Further, negotiations will be assisted by a facilitator that has been jointly selected from a pool created for this purpose.

In Ohio, seven counties are preparing to begin negotiations with the state on the devolution of the welfare system that will ultimately reach all of Ohio's 88 counties. Supported by the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management, this effort will help each county develop the supports necessary to support the welfare-to-work transition and jointly develop goals for the effort.

In Illinois, seven local areas are negotiating with the state on human services systems service. Ranging from a coalition of seven southern rural counties to an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago, these efforts parallel those of Maryland in seeking to build transformative efforts that achieve better outcomes for children and families.

Many of these efforts are rooted in a major paradigm shift. Rather than prescribe the specific use of funds, as is common in the human service arena, increased flexibility in the use of funds is exchanged for increased accountability. Mark Friedman, has been particularly eloquent in describing this emerging framework, "Collaboratives need to ask who is accountable; for what outcomes (or results); with what money; with what standards and safeguards; under what risks, rewards, and penalties; and for what period of time.

The use of formal negotiations and collaborative problem solving to manage state-local partnerships can be applied to other issues as well. For example, working with the Coalition to Improve Management in State and Local Government, the Keystone Center, and the National Institute for Dispute Resolution PCPS has worked on effort to create a "Negotiated Environmental Strategy" that would create a vehicle to bring federal, state, and local efforts to the table along with other community stakeholders. Built upon the Negotiated Investment Strategy, which was pioneered by Jim Kunde and Carl Moore, among others, this effort recognizes that the federal government plays a much more visible role in environmental issues, especially those that relate to enforcement.

Indeed, the notion of performance partnerships, often achieved through negotiation, are beginning to permeate the reinventing government movement. Performance Partnerships seek to establish Federal-State partnerships where increased flexibility is granted in exchange for increased accountability for results.

Negotiations, in this context, are not the shuttle diplomacy or smoke-free backrooms that often characterize international or labor-management negotiations. They are problem-solving, collaborative, face-to-face deliberations that not only can resolve tough issues, but build effective working relationships to implement the agreements.

With the dramatic changes in intergovernmental relations occurring through devolution, it is important to develop strategies that can help build intergovernmental partnerships that work. Negotiations appear to bea foundational strategy to help make intergovernmental partnerships work.

Copies of "Managing the State-Local Negotiation on 'Vision to Scale' in the State of Maryland: A Protocol" are available from PCPS. A description of the negotiated environmental strategy can be found in Negotiated Approaches to Environmental Decision-making: An Exploration of Lessons Learned for $10 available from PCPS. Information on performance partnership, can be found at

William R. Potapchuk, Executive Director
Bill Potapchuk is Executive Director of the Program for Community Problem Solving, a division of the National Civic League, which is sponsored by six associations - the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, International City/County Management Association, National League of Cities, National Association of Regional Councils, National Association of Counties and the International Downtown Association. The Program, working through our sponsoring associations, directly with cities, and in partnership with foundations and state and federal agencies, specializes in helping communities and the institutions and organizations that work with them to create truly collaborative solutions to addressing shared problems and achieving better outcomes. PCPS also maintains an active research program that seeks to identify barriers to effective collaboration and strategies to overcome those barriers.