Thanks to Ian Boisvert for starting this blog and Blue Sky Mediation – now it’s my turn. So let’s go back to the beginning and come full circle.
You can learn a few things if you work in consensus building and conflict resolution for 20 years. The mistakes pile up, but so do the lessons.
Some lessons are learned early. It was twenty years ago that I tried to help a group of people who had to make hard decisions about how to prevent the spread of HIV infection. It was the 80’s and too many people were suffering and dying from AIDS. Protease inhibitors were beginning to change the outlook, but not fast enough. Preventing transmission of the virus was (and is still) vitally important.
A group made up of those infected with and affected by HIV, public health professionals, advocates and caregivers gathered monthly as part of a project called Coloradans Working Together to reach agreement on priorities for prevention funding. Their recommendations drove funding allocation from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The lessons I learned through the trial and error of their consensus-building effort continues to inform my work.
- Lead with your heart – if you care about helping, it comes through even when you make mistakes
- Give people the opportunity to be their best, and ask them to try – if you help those in conflict recognize that they can rise above and work with those who disagree with them, more often than not, they will make the effort
- Set big goals – if you believe that a breakthrough agreement is possible, others begin to believe it too
- Don’t give up – if it looks like there’s no possibility of agreement then work harder, you haven’t exhausted the possibilities
Later this month, I’m going back – bringing it all full circle – to help the Colorado HIV and AIDS Prevention Grant Program (CHAPP) Advisory Committee.
I hope I’m a more effective consensus builder than I was 20 years ago, that I’ll make fewer mistakes and that this group will benefit from my experience. But that’s not the important thing – I’m more convinced than ever that the four lessons I learned twenty years ago are still the ones that matter. You (and they) can be sure that I’ll continue to apply them.
If you want to learn more – I’ve been fortunate that Coloradans Working Together caught the attention of a couple of authors – John Forester produced a profile of the project in his most recent book “Planning in the Face of Conflict” and another profile was published years ago in “The Consensus Building Handbook” by Susskind, McKearnen and Thomas-Larmer.