Harvard’s Program on Negotiation is moving into new territory

Waste of this kind is just one of many problems being tackled by legislators from around the world in a new Internet project launched with the help of Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation.

The e-Parliament, a PON-backed initiative, will connect legislators from many nations through a Web site where they can strategize about the best ways to negotiate solutions to problems like energy waste. And it’s just one of several initiatives through which PON–already prized for its oversubscribed negotiation workshops for law students, U.S. business executives and lawyers–is going global.

Since its founding 22 years ago, PON has been building on its expansive conception of the field. Today, PON scholars are likely to be chipping away at obstacles to peace among warring factions in the Middle East, or opening a door of their own to China.

“Carrying on a tradition reflected in the pioneering work of faculty giants like Roger Fisher, Frank Sander and Howard Raiffa, the Program on Negotiation has always had a broad view of the relevance of negotiation both to conflict resolution and to deal making in a wide range of contexts,” said Professor Robert Mnookin ’68, who has led the program since he came to HLS from Stanford in 1993.

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For decades, negotiators have struggled to “separate the people from the problem,” one of the cardinal rules set forth in the seminal book “Getting to Yes.” But what if the people are the problem–or at least appear to be?

In a field that is necessarily interdisciplinary, said Mnookin, “our goal remains to improve the theory and practice of negotiation as a means for helping people efficiently and fairly resolve their differences, whether within families, the workplace, the shadow of the courthouse or the political arena.”

Perhaps nothing demonstrates PON’s elasticity better than its support of the e-Parliament project. The idea came to William Ury, an anthropologist and one of PON’s founders, while he was sitting in a pub near England’s famed white cliffs of Dover in 2001, talking with a colleague about ways to democratize global institutions. “We have democracy within countries, but we don’t really have democratic problem solving applied across national borders,” said Ury. “The question was how to begin to take some small steps toward applying democratic principles to global issues.”

Their proposed solution was an online forum where legislators from around the world will share ideas about negotiating for legislation on issues of common concern, such as the environment, space and the oceans.

It was not hard for Ury to convince his PON colleagues that e-Parliament was worth supporting. “PON really looks at developing better methods for problem solving, and the e-Parliament is precisely designed to apply state-of-the-art problem-solving methods to difficult issues,” he said.

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PON provided seed money as well as the brainpower to help solve some of the toughest questions posed by the project. Harvard law students researched problems such as how to make it possible for legislators who speak so many different languages to communicate online.

The Web site (www.e-parl.net) will not officially debut until next year, but the program has already signed up 800 parliamentarians–including several members of Congress–from more than 50 countries.

The first test project, which sets one watt as the global goal for energy usage by appliances in standby mode, has already generated legislation in Brazil, Norway and the European Union mandating adoption of a one-watt standard for the manufacture of appliances. Worldwide adoption of that goal would save billions of dollars and could reduce electricity usage by nearly 5 percent.

Last year, Time magazine featured Ury and Nicholas Dunlop, the former executive director of EarthAction and now e-Parliament’s secretary-general, in its “Great Innovators” series, noting that “as the e-Parliament grows, good ideas about government could prove contagious.”

E-Parliament is not PON’s only innovation for helping to resolve global problems. The program’s leaders are also trying to find new approaches to seemingly intractable international conflicts, such as those in the Middle East.

The Settlements Project, headed by Mnookin, has focused on easing the Israeli withdrawal from settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (see story, page 24), while Ury has proposed creating a sort of Appalachian Trail for the Middle East that would highlight the common origins of the three faiths descended from Abraham: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

And shortly after Chechen separatists took hundreds of hostages in a Russian school last year, Mnookin and Susan Hackley, the program’s managing director, wrote a Los Angeles Times opinion piece arguing against the conventional wisdom that governments shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists.

They suggested keeping informal channels of communication with terrorists open through intermediaries even when governments are not prepared to make concessions. “Sometimes it may be good practice to know what [terrorists] are thinking,” they wrote. “FBI and police hostage negotiators nearly always negotiate with hostage-takers–to gather information, to look for leverage and in an effort to gain the psychological advantage.”

In addition to tackling international problems, PON has also been looking for new ways to educate decision makers around the world.

Each year, more than 2,500 participants–many of them from abroad– travel to Cambridge for PON’s executive education programs. In May, Mnookin and Hackley took the program on the road for the first time, to Hong Kong.

Chinese executives in Hong Kong attend PON's first seminar abroad, led by Mnookin.

Chinese executives in Hong Kong attend PON’s first seminar abroad, led by Mnookin.

Fifty-seven Chinese executives from both the private and public sectors participated in two days of workshops. “Ahead of time Bob and I had some concerns that the participants in Hong Kong wouldn’t be interactive, that there would not be much give-and-take, which is an important part of negotiation training,” said Hackley. But she and Mnookin tried to tailor the content of the workshops and materials to the cultural sensitivities and experience of the attendees. “We were pleasantly surprised by their willingness to be fully engaged and to role-play,” she said.

It was an experiment Hackley says is worth repeating, most likely next in Europe. Taking the program abroad allows attendance by people who might not make the trip to Cambridge, she says. And, she adds, international participants often feel more comfortable when the workshops are in their own countries, with colleagues from similar backgrounds.

Those who cannot attend workshops can learn from a wide variety of literature and publications–including videos and interactive exercise materials–written and produced by PON faculty members and affiliates. These materials include “The Handbook of Dispute Resolution,” published in August and co-edited by Robert Bordone ’97, lecturer on law at HLS and deputy director of PON’s Harvard Negotiation Research Project.

Through e-Parliament, an Internet project launched with the help of PON, legislators from around the world work together to negotiate solutions to global problems.

Through e-Parliament, an Internet project launched with the help of PON, legislators from around the world work together to negotiate solutions to global problems.

And to publicly emphasize the importance of skilled negotiators, since 2000, PON has issued the annual Great Negotiator Award to an individual whose lifetime achievements in the field of negotiation and dispute resolution have had a significant and lasting impact. Last year’s winner was former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. This year’s recipient is Sadako Ogata, former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, for her negotiations with numerous foreign governments in the 1990s and this decade on behalf of international refugees and displaced persons. “Mrs. Ogata did a lot of extraordinary negotiating, much of it unheralded, low-profile and informal,” said Hackley.

eparliament2On campus, PON has been finding new approaches to engaging students. Screening films, for example, has proved to be a popular way to attract students to the field.

As part of its film series, PON has shown movies like “Hotel Rwanda,” “Bloody Sunday” (chronicling conflict in Northern Ireland) and “Occupation” (about a 21-day sit-in by Harvard students demanding wage hikes for university janitors).

After the screenings, law professors and sometimes filmmakers join students to discuss how the characters in the film dealt with conflict. Hackley says that watching a film together provides a shared context that can open up discussion of difficult issues and be a more effective collective learning tool than reading the same case study independently.

For many students, PON plays a central role in their education. Walter Scott ’06 says the program, combined with his interest in alternative dispute resolution, brought him to HLS. “PON set Harvard apart,” he said, and courses like Dealing with Emotions “demonstrate its commitment to the newest and most exciting areas in negotiation research.”

One of Mnookin’s top priorities has been furthering such research by training the next generation of negotiation scholars. His main vehicle is the Hewlett Foundation Fellows Program.

Hewlett Fellows–second- or third-year law students undertaking extensive research in negotiation and dispute resolution–are exposed to a wide array of disciplines beyond law, such as game theory, strategic analysis, and social and cognitive psychology. They also do the research and writing that help prepare them for academic careers.

“It was a tremendous learning experience,” said Scott Peppet ’96, who now teaches negotiation at the University of Colorado’s law school. “It gave me the time I needed to develop my voice and produce scholarship, and it was a very, very intellectually stimulating environment to be in.”

Almost a decade after the Hewlett Fellows program began, Mnookin takes pride in the roster of former fellows who can be found teaching negotiation at law schools and universities around the country.

Said Hackley: “This is an important way to seed the field.”