A foundation of shared and relevant facts leads to decisions that stand up in contentious situations.
The story goes that Henry Kissinger started complex, international negotiations with statements such as, “Today is Wednesday.” All the people at the table would nod their heads, and the meeting would begin with everybody in agreement. The principle here is that we slowly build a foundation of facts and assumptions upon which everyone can agree. Sometimes the only clear agreement might be what day it is, but as the process continues, community members are able to find more and more relevant facts upon which they all agree.
A community might base a decision on an indisputable fact such as “a flood destroyed parts of downtown” or an assumption such as “a vibrant downtown is important to the city’s economy.” Other community decisions might rely upon quantitative data related to the issue. A continuously updated list of common facts and assumptions becomes a critical tool for moving the process forward.
A critical role of community leaders is to communicate the shared facts and assumptions upon which decisions are being made. Relevance often becomes an issue because one person’s concern is not necessarily that of another. It is seldom helpful to tell someone that his or her issue is not relevant. It is helpful to ask questions, provide information, and clarify intent so that individuals feel respected and understood.
Community decisions don’t often end with 100 percent agreement. In the end a community will have some facts that state disagreement such as, “Fifty percent of the population believes fluoride is a harmless addition to the community water supply, 30 percent believes fluoride is a harmful addition to the water supply, and 20 percent does not have an opinion either way.”
If the decision-making process is grounded in shared facts, then the decision process has a very good chance of moving forward.
• Focus on differences and conflict first rather than common interests and assumptions.
• Assume agreements before agreements have been made.
• Forget about or submerge past agreements.
• Have you researched and anticipated points of common agreement for all interested parties?
• Have you built a regular process to review shared facts and assumptions?
• Have you built a regular process to acknowledge disputed facts?
— Previous book post: The Moment of Oh! – Core Principle: Expect It to Be Messy
Greg Ranstrom and John Blakinger are authors of the new book The Moment of Oh! a guide to help communities make tough decisions.