Last week I completed the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Foundations in Effective Public Participation course. After working at Delaney + Associates for nearly six months, I am familiar with many of the principles and tools we covered. However, I found it valuable to be taught the IAP2 planning steps together in a logical process. I also benefited from being part of a keen and intelligent group of professionals, learning alongside them as we discussed and workshopped the various processes and techniques.
In all of my adult learning opportunities to date, I have found the lessons that resonate most with me are those that can be applied in other areas of life as well. During the IAP2 course, no concept can be more true to this criteria than the lesson about moving from positions to values during dialogue and consultation.
Understanding the importance of shifting your stakeholders – especially individuals or groups with polarized positions on a topic – from a place where they are providing input based on their interests or values, rather than their position, can make or break the success of an engagement.
Participants often come with highly-charged positions on a topic such as: “Don’t close my kid’s school; I went to this very school!” or “This school is old and dangerous for our kids!” Engagements where stakeholders participate with only their positions creates the environment for a debate, and, as we know, a debate has winners and losers.
When you provide a method or process for stakeholders to voice what values they hold close, you (and the stakeholders) often find that many of the values within the group are similar, even if the positions were completely oppositional. This re-framed focus creates a foundation of common understanding and goodwill between groups that may, at the same time, have competing interests or positions.
Here’s an example: There are two groups of parents. Group One wants to keep the heritage and memories of the old school and Group Two wants a new school for their kids. If we visually represent their positions, interests and values, it would look like this:
Although the two groups have completely different positions on the proposed change to the school building (represented as the place where the triangles are furthest apart), they both hold the same value of quality education (the place where the triangles are closest together). The role of the facilitator is to understand this and provide a means or technique for stakeholders to appreciate the common values among the people around them and share their input on the project from this place, thus creating common ground. This approach to facilitation works the same if the competing positions are between the stakeholders and the decision maker as well.
Simple, isn’t it? As I mentioned, this re-framing of perspective exercise is a powerful tool that, in my mind, can be applied across many areas of life – not just engagement. For me, that is invaluable.