John Folk-Williams

John Folk-Williams I’m John Folk-Williams, the publisher and editor of Cross Collaborate. Since the early 1980s, I’ve been a practitioner and writer in the field of public policy collaboration, interest-based negotiation, mediation and the involvement of citizens in the decisions that affect their lives. A site like this is itself a collaboration and will involve the contributions of numerous other practitioners, leaders from all sectors and talented writers and teachers.

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Articles and Video:

Can Government Solve Big Problems Collaboratively? (07/12/10)
The Open Government Initiative of the Obama Administration has given high priority to increasing the use of collaboration in the federal government. Yet many federal offices have not in the past encouraged the sort of collaborative mindset that is necessary for meaningful efforts in this direction.

Innovative Thinkers On Collaborative Leadership: Mary Parker Follett (06/21/10)
The ideas of collaborative leadership discussed in the previous post seem quite new, and often appear as part of the “paradigm-shift” toward learning organizations and open government. In fact, one of the most innovative thinkers in this field developed and wrote about all this 80 years ago, from 1918 to the early 1930s. That was Mary Parker Follett, an important figure in her day but neglected for decades thereafter. Only recently has her work started to become known and influential again, but her new audience is still relatively small.

Defining Collaborative Leadership (06/07/10)
What kind of leadership is most effective in building collaboration around public policy issues?

How Diversity Improves Collaborative Problem-Solving (05/24/10)
Is diversity necessarily a good thing when it comes to solving problems? We tend to assume that we’ll get better results from groups of people from different backgrounds and possessing a variety of skills than we we would from groups with a single orientation. That means diversity of many types, not only differences of culture, ethnicity and gender, but also variety of expertise, intellectual perspective, values and interests. They are all important for collaborative public policy.

How Voluntary Is Public Policy Consensus Building? (05/10/10)
Voluntary participation is an essential dimension of mediation, consensus-building and the many other forms of collaborative public policy – at least in theory. But even with so basic a part of the concept of collaboration as its voluntary nature, the realities of practice can depart sharply from the ideal.

Why Certify Public Policy Mediators? (04/19/10)
In his keynote address at the 2009 conference of the Association for Conflict Resolution, Wallace Warfield discussed the difficulty of attempting to certify mediators when the role itself has become a moving target. Pinning down a set of qualifications and certifying competence based on a single definition of practice could have the effect of stifling innovation in a dynamic field.

Public Data For Collaborative Governance (04/12/10)
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has become one of the primary advocates for access to public data and its conversion to useful forms through innovative software applications. In this video, he showcases a number of examples developed by public and private agencies.

Culture And Conflict Resolution (03/29/10)
Stephanie West Allen recently posted an informative article at Brains on Purpose on neuroscience research about the ways in which brains of people in different cultures function in distinctive ways. References to her own earlier posts, especially What’s Universal in Mediation, as well as the work of Geert Hofstede on cultural difference are well worth exploring.

Standing In The Fire: The Inner Art Of Facilitation (03/29/10)
Facilitation is too often an underrated art. Both the practice and its practitioners are often characterized with some disdain as all process, no substance. Yet, everyone knows facilitation is necessary for tough meetings when the room is expected to bristle with tension, and a lot of skill will be needed to get a good result. Larry Dressler has written a book about the inner experience of the facilitator stepping into those highly charged meetings.

Cognitive Surplus" And Participation In Government (03/22/10)
Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, presented his idea of cognitive surplus a couple of years ago, but it seems especially relevant to the current push toward open government, most notably by the Obama Administration but also by public agencies at all levels. Like other interpreters of internet technology, he describes the impact of new platforms for participation primarily on business, media and popular culture rather than government and public policy. His idea of cognitive surplus, though, as a source of public inventiveness and action that applies to every sector, public or private.

Collaborative Planning For Groundwater Management (03/08/10)
The collaborative approach to water resource planning has been growing over the past 15 years, especially where urban, agricultural and environmental needs are straining the local supplies. Like many other public water managers, the Sonoma County (California) Water Agency faced a decline in groundwater supply throughout the Sonoma Valley as pumping steadily increased because of growth.

Moving Toward Agreement From The Extremes (03/01/10)
In this post, I want to review studies that extend this discussion to other frames of reference. Cass Sunstein, a prominent law professor, addresses the role of deliberation as it relates to the formation of extremist groups and the larger political institutions that control extremism through the system of checks and balances. Though these books address different types of policy discussions, they agree that fruitful dialogue can occur among people holding extreme and opposing views but only if they are willing to consider new ideas and possible changes to their positions.

Consensus Building And The Unshakable Rightness Of Belief (02/22/10)
Anyone who’s worked at building consensus on public policy knows the frustration of trying to reason with someone who just won’t change a position or even consider alternative possibilities. They may refuse to accept any evidence that seems to disprove their positions and become aggressive and disruptive in the face of challenges. Sometimes, it’s possible to write off this unshakable dissenter as an oddball individual, well-known to the rest of the group as such. But in a collaborative process each person represents a specific interest and has an important role to play in reaching agreement. A careful response is needed to move dialogue in a productive direction.

Consensus Building: Changing Minds To Reach Agreement (02/01/10)
For a diverse group to reach consensus, at least some of the participants – perhaps all of them – have to change their minds. They come into the room with differing, often fundamentally conflicting ideas about the challenges they face. They likely disagree on how to define problems, technical methods that should be used to explore potential solutions and the options that might meet their needs for an acceptable solution.

Moving Fast, Going Slow: Implementing The Open Government Directive (01/25/10)
Deadlines are fast approaching for federal agencies to complete the initial tasks under the Open Government Directive. Publishing new data sets, opening websites, completing longer-term Open Government Plans, and dozens of others. But notably missing is any deadline or deliverable addressing changes in agency cultures and processes. Yet every day those basic dimensions of government life influence managers and staff to resist new levels of openness.

The Open Government Directive & Changing Federal Culture – 2 (01/11/10)
As a mediator, I have this annoying habit of taking all sides of an issue seriously. Further, as a colleague once put it to me, people in our line of work need to combine optimism about outcomes with cynicism about motives. So I thought I’d offer doses of both in looking at the brighter and darker prospects for the federal agency culture change promised in President’s Open Government Directive.

The Open Government Directive & Changing Federal Agency Culture (01/04/10)
Will federal agencies really become more fully transparent, participatory and collaborative, as the Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive promises? Hopes are high among advocates of the new policies that such practices will become the standard across the government.

Robert Benjamin On The Irrational Rationality Of Mediation Models (12/21/09)
Robert Benjamin recently published another of his typically thoughtful and provocative essays at On Becoming a Rationally Irrational Mediator/Negotiator is the first part of an ambitious five-part series on the role of the irrational in conflict resolution. In this first installment, Benjamin sets the stage for a detailed challenge to the reliance on rational analysis at the heart of major theories of negotiation and mediation.

Mediating On Two Tracks: The Rational And The Rest Of Human Nature (12/21/09)
Robert Benjamin’s essay on the place of irrationality in mediation, discussed in the previous post, urges mediators to focus as much on the emotional and even illogical motives contributing to conflict as on the rational analysis of issues. Many practitioners do this, in so far as they can, because they not only recognize the importance of these elements but know that meaningful agreement is not likely to be reached unless all aspects of the situation are dealt with.

The Back Of The Napkin: New Approaches To Visualizing And Communicating Ideas (12/14/09)
Effective visual presentation of technical data allows collaboration participants to understand and remember information quickly and efficiently. Visual explanation is just as important in conveying key concepts that guide a group in defining its goals and creating options for consensus agreements. In recent years, several masters of visual communication have published influential books offering new methods for ending the dominance of the bullet-point slide show.

Community Collaboration: Air Quality Resource Teams (11/30/09)
This video, from Policy Consensus Council and Community Focus, depicts a community collaboration program established by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in 1991. The program created Air Quality Resource Teams in each of the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, all of which continue to operate.

What Do You Do When Consensus Fails? (11/23/09)
This is the nightmare scenario for any consensus process: After months of hard work by 20 or 30 participants, one or two holdouts, perhaps representing narrow or personal interests, block agreement and frustrate the entire effort.

Real-Time Online Video Meetings (11/16/09)
Despite my share of disappointments with the latest “revolutionary” computer technology, I’ve become quite optimistic about online video meetings. In contrast to promotions about the potential of “game-changing” breakthroughs, the newly available services look not just promising but extremely useful right now.

The Need For Collaborative Capacity (11/09/09)
Increasingly, leaders and managers are looking to collaborative methods for dealing with contentious policy issues. When making a first attempt, they may well recognize that success takes a lot more than bringing people together to talk. They know they need guidance.

Susan Collin Marks Of Search For Common Ground: Media & Peace (11/02/09)
Susan Collin Marks is the Senior Vice President of Search for Common Ground (SFCG). In this interview with the European Journalism Centre, she describes some of the goals of SFCG and specific projects involving popular media to reach millions of people in war-torn countries.

Implementing Agreements: The Ordeal Of Change (10/26/09)
The real test of a collaborative agreement only begins when the changes it requires hit the streets. That’s when it gets personal. Carrying out an agreement usually means that particular people will have to do things differently, pay costs they’re not used to paying, live with new restrictions, new requirements.

How Do Consensus Groups Make Choices? (10/26/09)
As in any other field, public sector consensus building always gets to the critical moment when choices have to be made. In my experience, how a group accomplishes this reveals more about motives behind decisions than any other step in the process.

Collaborative Implementation of Consensus Agreements (10/19/09)
Collaborative agreements often come together after seemingly endless sessions of hard negotiation. When reached, they may well represent a breakthrough achievement, finally getting long-time adversaries to agree on the toughest issues dividing them. After that triumph, though, implementation may require continuing collaborative work for years. While there are many examples of success, others produce disappointing results. Why does that happen? How can it be avoided?

Web Resources For Online Meetings – 1 (10/12/09)
This post gives a quick overview of one of the key meeting technologies: web conferencing. This provides the core functionality of today’s online collaborative experience. While the basic technology has been in use for some time, it’s only in the last few years that it has become affordable to smaller organizations. No longer restricted to in-house networks of large agencies, online meetings are accessible from any computer by means of a single link in an email or instant message.

Resistance To Change (09/28/09)
I’ve been following some excellent posts about resistance to change initiatives, such as those at Holger Naumeier’s Change Management Blog and Jack Vinson’s Knowledge Jolt with Jack. The context of these discussions is organizational change management, but there are interesting parallels with the field of public policy consensus building.

Whole System Change: The Future Search Conference (09/21/09)
The Future Search Conference is one of several collaborative planning methods that take a “whole system” approach. These processes try to replace shelf-bound plans with agendas for action that are developed collaboratively in the course of intensive large-group meetings.

Defining Problems To Build Consensus (09/14/09)
Leaders and managers who convene consensus building groups are often frustrated by the difficulty of one of the first steps: defining the problem the group is trying to resolve.

John Forester: Dealing With Differences (09/14/09)
Many who spend their time trying to find agreement among adversaries have long been familiar with the work of John Forester. A professor of planning at Cornell, he’s always followed his own path directly into the realities of facilitative practice rather than the intricacies of theory. Dealing with Differences: Dramas of Mediating Public Disputes is a remarkable presentation of what he’s learned over the past decade.

Bernard Mayer: Staying With Conflict (09/07/09)
In his latest book, Bernard Mayer has challenged our thinking about mediation by singling out a dimension of conflict that receives too little attention. Simply put: conflict endures, and Mayer argues that the response to it should go far beyond the immediate resolution of disputes.

The Wisdom Of Crowds, Collaborative Networks & Public Policy (08/31/09)
Over the last few years, concepts like collaboration, the wisdom of crowds and collaborative networks have taken hold as innovative ways for involving large groups of people to help solve complicated public policy problems. However, the terms are often used so loosely that they’re in danger of being lumped together and, in effect, dismissed, especially in the public sector, with the comforting assurance that “we’ve been doing that all along.”

Dialogue For A World Without Killing (08/24/09)
Thanks to Victoria Pynchon at Settle It Now-Negotiation Blog for her recent post on the Khmer Rouge Genocide Trials in Cambodia. She reprints an extraordinary letter from David Blackman, a California ADR attorney who has volunteered his services to represent the victims of the atrocities committed under the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. For the first time in any genocide trial, as he points out, civil party victims have been taking part in every stage of the criminal proceedings. Please read Blackman’s account and follow the links for further information.

Mediator Power & Collaborative Public Policy (08/17/09)
What is mediator power and how does it operate in collaborative governance and public policy? I pose this question after reading the current issue of Conflict Resolution Quarterly (Vol. 26, No. 4). This collection of scholarly articles challenges basic concepts of mediation and calls for a searching reconsideration of its definition and practice.

12 Online Resources On Collaboration And Public Policy (08/10/09)
This is the first installment of a periodic series of posts highlighting sources of information and insight about collaborative public policy and its many related fields. Cross Collaborate looks at collaborative public policy as an emerging field that draws on numerous sources, including change management, negotiation, collaborative networks, deliberative democracy, mediation, consensus building and other related areas of practice. Each of these sources of influence has provided specific concepts and tools that collaborative leaders and practitioners need to understand in order to select the appropriate method for each situation they encounter.

Weaving Collaborative Networks (08/03/09)
I want to pick up the theme of the last post in this series and explore the relationship between public policy consensus building for purposes of conflict resolution and the formation and growth of self-organizing networks. Although there are many differences, both have similar long-term goals and can complement each other effectively. In the earlier post, I summarized a project that Valdis Krebs and June Holley worked on in southeastern Ohio. Their assignment was to facilitate the formation of a regional collaborative network with the aim of advancing economic development and so reverse many years of decline.

Weaving Collaborative Networks - 1 (07/27/09)
In an earlier post, I suggested that resolution of public policy conflict by collaborative methods might benefit from applying lessens learned from the emergence of complex networks. Both enhance the ability of individuals and organizations to solve problems they can’t manage on their own.

Collaboration, Dialogue And Negotiation (07/20/09)
Reaching collaborative agreements is complicated and requires the favorable convergence of many factors, among them incentives, interests, politics, resources and leadership. But once the decision to collaborate is in place, the convening done and the meetings underway, the process initially depends on the quality of communication among the participants. What people say to each other and how they say it are the early signals for evaluating commitment and the likelihood of success. Everyone is listening carefully. What do they need to hear in order to trust the collaborative effort?