As the mid-term elections come to an end and polls start to close across the country, the question begins to ring loudly. As the pendulum swings from one pole to the next, do we really stand any chance of lowering the volume, reducing the partisan gridlock and accomplishing something of value? Can we start working on the problems and stop fixing blame? Is it remotely possible to become problem solvers instead being satisfied with being problem “pointer outers”?
The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Public interests can be articulated, explored and encouraging outcomes can be developed through process based dialog and facilitated conversation. Win/lose may not always be converted into ideal win/win results. However, through the hard work of facilitated consensus building, public policy can approach acceptable/acceptable. Often, in facilitated problem solving, creative ideas emerge which neither partisan position could fully comprehend or achieve. Managing polarities is the skill our public discourse is calling for. (See prior post at: Managing Polarity: The Creative Power of the Conceptual Age)
Even very difficult public policy issues can be facilitated with all the stakeholders in the same room and promising solutions can be generated which address a variety of seemingly opposing interests and needs. The volatile health care reform debate provided an example of how constituent leaders, some of whom had never been in the same room together, could converge on approaches and solutions the partisan wrangling was unable to achieve. (Summit to Build Bridges and Create an Action Plan)
Tennessee is perfectly poised to make a difference in showing how the search for common ground is neither compromise nor capitulation. Instead, constituent based consensus building is a powerful tool to address difficult issues like immigration, religious co-existence, health care and economic development.
Before the governor’s race is declared, both gubernatorial camps in Tennessee have entertained robust conversation about expanding the role of mediative outcomes in state government. Efficiency in problem solving and acceptable outcomes can be realized through the power of mediated disputes. It is to be hoped that Tennessee continues to expand the power and presence of mediation in the judicial setting and in communities across the state. Access to justice demands no less. The state’s Supreme Court has come down firmly in favor of the growth of mediation as a preferred problem solving tool.
The Tennessee legislature has already begun to explore the use of collaborative tools in public policy development where appropriate. In 2009, the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee General Assembly undertook training in the skills of managing conflict in the legislative process. In 2010, the Democratic Caucus has requested similar instruction. What if the Tennessee legislature became known nation wide as the place where tough problems are solved collaboratively more often than competitively?
The public demands it. The public trust deserves it. Let’s support and engage in a different style of governing and send landlocked partisanship back to its room, without dinner. It hasn’t worked very well.