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How Do I Know Whether I Need A Facilitator And Where Would I Find One?

Deborah Dalton, CPRC staff

A facilitator (or mediator) can be useful and sometimes even essential in both the convening (situation assessment) planning stage and in conducting a collaborative problem solving or dispute resolution process.  A good facilitator is more than just someone who calls people up and invites them to a meeting and far more than a meeting manager who makes sure the agenda items are discussed on time and people don’t interrupt one another.

Using a facilitator in convening a project or case.

In a separate article we discuss the concept of a Situation Assessment or a convening study.  This assessment process helps you identify appropriate, interested and affected stakeholders, discovers and documents the range of issues that all stakeholders perceive as being a part of the decision making and uses this information to design an appropriate, timely and effective process for dialogue and resolution.  Your role as a sponsor of the project can also be used to conduct this assessment.  Or you can use a facilitator from another part of EPA or from a contractor to conduct the study.  There are advantages and disadvantages to either option.

Using a facilitator to manage the collaborative problem solving or dispute resolution process

A good facilitator or mediator can bring many things to the actual process of dialogue or negotiation. 

Pros and Cons of Agency Program Manager as Convener or Facilitator. 

You or someone in your office could act as facilitator and conduct the situation assessment and facilitate the dialogue.  Or, if you have some contract funding, you could access many expert facilitators and mediators through contracts or other procurement mechanisms. 
Here are some pros and cons of doing it your self:

Expert knowledge of the issues and options
Close relationship with decision maker
Familiar with the affected parties
Authority to invite the parties and to make the decisions
No cash cost
No delays for contracting process
Too much knowledge could interfere with understanding stakeholders’ issues
Supervisory relationship with decision maker may make parties reluctant to be candid
Too much familiarity with affected parties may result in not identifying new parties
Relationships with the existing parties may cause stakeholders to be less candid about their positions
May not have the time necessary to devote or it may take away from preparation of technical and policy preparations
May not have the skills necessary to consider all of the design options
Limited in ability to offer independent collaboration process options
May not be trusted by the stakeholders with confidential information about their positions. 
Difficulty being both a neutral process leader and a substantive negotiator
My manager thinks that using a facilitator or mediator for my project will be seen as an admission that we cannot do the work ourselves and may mean delegating EPA’s authority to an outsider or to stakeholders. 

Considering the long list of Cons, bringing in a neutral facilitator may be the best thing you can do for your project.   Facilitators and mediators are there to assist you and the other parties in a collaborative or dispute resolution process reach an agreement.  The needs of the parties dictate the scope of facilitators’ activities.  Generally this means that they do NOT make recommendations or decisions about substantive technical, scientific or policy issues.  Facilitators will tell you that it is not THEIR process; it is yours (the parties’).  They do make recommendations regarding best practices for collaboration or dispute resolution and will advocate for a good dialogue process.  Most EPA contractors have provisions in their contracts that forbid them from making decisions about EPA policy or regulations. 

As to the fear that the stakeholders will take over and make your decisions; EPA cannot delegate its statutory or regulatory decisions to stakeholders.  However, we can share the responsibilities for identifying all of the relevant data, for generating and evaluating all of the options and for testing the options against reality.  The final decision is always EPA’s. 

Did you know that EPA has a dedicated, nationwide contract to obtain skilled facilitators and mediators? 

The EPA Conflict Prevention and Resolution Contract (https://www.epa.gov/adr) is available to all EPA program and regional offices.  This contract has access to more than a hundred experts located nationwide who can help you design and conduct public participation, collaboration and dispute resolution processes. You need to bring your own funding and provide a contract task order manager for your project.  CPRC staff can help you draft the scope of work and the costs estimates. 

So – what are the steps I can take to bring on a neutral facilitator?

The following steps provide a framework for participants to consider when identifying and selecting facilitators.

1.     Identify what the neutral will do and the expected outcome of the process
        Consider what the participants would like the neutral to do, for instance:

2.     Decide if EPA will choose the facilitator alone or with the involved parties

3.     Decide whether to use a facilitator from:

4.     Identify Selection Criteria:

Consider whether EPA should develop selection criteria alone or jointly with other participants.  Further, consider which of the following are necessary, desirable or not desirable in individuals or teams:

Other selection criteria considerations:

5.     Decide what specific information you can provide to facilitator candidates to describe the project, its goals, the issues and the parties.

6.     If you are working through an EPA contract such as the CPRC Conflict Prevention and Resolution Services (CPRS) Contract:

7.     If you have chosen to evaluate several candidates, choose candidates to interview and prepare for the interviews.

In a score/rank process, each interviewer ranks each of the candidates’ qualifications independently.  When all candidates’ qualifications have been reviewed and ranked, generally the top two or three candidates with the highest average rankings are selected to be interviewed.  When using a strike list, each interviewer is given the opportunity to eliminate a given number of candidates in order to winnow down the list.  

A consensus method is often used for internal EPA discussions concerning facilitator selection.  When using this method, relevant EPA staff review facilitator qualifications, evaluate them together for best fit based on the selection criteria, and reach agreement on the top candidates.)

Regardless of the process chosen to reduce the pool of candidates, it should be agreed upon before interviews are conducted.  Depending on the contract used to obtain facilitation services, you need to be careful about directed subcontracting.  For example, when using the CPRS contract, you may (and should) identify selection criteria and even suggest names of facilitators who meet those criteria, but you may not direct the prime contractor to select a particular facilitator;

8.     Interview Candidates and Select the Neutral

Possible Interview Questions for a Neutral Facilitator or Mediator:

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