Public Affairs Dispute Resolution and Consensus-Building

PUBA 768  -  Fall 2006
Dr. John B. Stephens
Room 3104 Knapp-Sanders
1:00-3:50 p.m. Monday
Office hours:  By appointment
Office: Room 4513, Knapp-Sanders Building, School of Government


The course addresses the theory and practice of dispute resolution and consensus-building on public policy development and program implementation. Federal, state and local case studies and exercises are employed to help students develop skills in multi-party conflict analysis, assessment for dispute resolution intervention, and negotiation and facilitation processes. A major project provides and opportunity for students to apply course concepts to a situation or question drawn from their professional needs and/or personal curiosity.



My approach for “instruction” at the graduate level is to design courses that build on the interests, knowledge, skills, and goals of students. I encourage and reward thoughtful engagement in the pedagogy of my courses. I favor the greatest possible involvement of students in shaping course content, learning goals, instructional methods, and methods of assessing mastery of the material. This course, like most university courses, calls for me as the instructor to provide a pre-set agenda of objectives and activities to engage students, to convey knowledge, and to assess students’ comprehension. Within practical limitations of time and equity, the course’s content and modes of assessment may be revised through individual and group negotiation and joint decision-making with the instructor.


I expect fair, honest, and respectful conduct in my course. I seek to model such behavior. The university’s Honor Code is in effect for this course. I urge students to become familiar with the Code, as presented at and to raise questions or concerns before assignments are due.


Available from Student Stores
Arthur, Jim; Christine Carlson and Lee Moore. (1999). A Practical Guide to Consensus. Santa Fe, NM: Policy Consensus Initiative.

Gastil, John and Levine, Peter (2005). The Deliberative Democracy Handbook: Strategies for Effective Civic Engagement in the Twenty-First Century. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Available from course Blackboard website and for purchase from School of Government Bookstore:
Stephens, John (2004). A Guidebook to Public Dispute Resolution in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: School of Government, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Other reading will be available via websites, Blackboard, E-Reserve, or the Undergraduate Library Reserve Reading system.


A)    Expectations of Instructor

This is an elective graduate course, so I expect that a student is enrolled because he or she wants to know about the subject, and/or improve his/her conflict resolution and group problem-solving skills. You can help increase your learning by periodically asking yourself what you have learned in the course and how you can enhance your learning. I welcome students’ ideas for instructor attention to specific topics or different forms of instruction. Suggestions may be made during or outside of class. To help you assess your performance in the course, I will provide comments on assignments. Other forms of feedback are available (e.g., individual conferences).

Grading. "P" (PASS) is the typical grade for MPA program courses. This can cover a fairly wide range of performance, from good to minimally acceptable work. The grade of "L" (LOW PASS) indicates that all course requirements were met, but that the work was below the standard of performance expected of graduate students. The grade of "H" (HIGH PASS) indicates extraordinarily fine performance. The grade of "F" (FAIL) indicates that the student did not complete all course requirements or that the quality of work was unacceptable.

Given the assignments and point system below, the anticipated grade calculations are:

H = 100-94 points                    P = 93.5-83                 L = 82.5-72                 F = Below 72

The grade I assign will be based on my evaluation of your performance on the assignments and class participation. You may ask for your current performance/grade at any point in the course.

B) Assignments 

All assignments are due in class on the designated dates, unless otherwise noted.
For e-mail submission of assignments, send to:

Assignment Number Due Date Activity

of Grade

N.A. Throughout Class Participation 25

Ø   Attendance plus active participation

Ø   Demonstrate understanding of assigned readings

Ø   Come prepared for in-class exercises

Ø   Individual and group leadership on selected readings

Ø   In-class writing announced in advance


Sept. 5,  1:00 p.m.

Summary of website + read other students’ summaries


Individual assignments made Aug. 28 in class, post to Blackboard course website and submit to:


2A: Sept. 18

2B: Oct. 5 – midnight

2C: Nov. 6

2D: Nov. 20

Journal 20

a)  5% for each submission

b)  Posted on Blackboard, and submit to:

c)  Submission 2B part of reading assignment for Oct. 9


Sept. 25

Conflict Assessment


Take-home case distributed September 18


Oct. 30

Public Participation Design


Sept. 18

Oct. 2

Final Exam session

Major Project
Submit Initial ideas

Submit Formal proposal

Completed project due


a)       General options described below

b)       Past student projects available for review

c)       Option: group project by 2 to 4 students

d)       Possible in-class presentations or exercises - Nov. 13 – Dec. 4

6 Final Exam period Carolina North – final assessment 5 Individual and group effort, culmination of course-long analysis

Class Participation
The course is designed for class time discussion, simulations, and presentations to build into individual assignments. For a superior course performance, the application of the material should be reflected in individual assignments.

Anticipated absences and absence due to illness or other emergencies should be communicated to the instructor as soon as possible. Simulations often require people to play particular roles, and thus absences during those class periods can be particularly difficult. A student who misses more than two class periods should approach the instructor for a possible assignment to compensate for the reduced class participation.

For November 6-20 class periods, students will make presentations on selected chapters from the Gastil and Levine book. Instead of meeting on November 27th, students are assigned observation of one of the Leadership Advisory Committee (LAC) for Carolina North meetings. Dates and locations can be found at and details of short reports on the meeting will be described in class.

Assignment 2: Journals
This four-part work product is to demonstrate student learning through analysis, critique and reflection. The expectation is to focus one or two concerns, and apply reading, class discussion, student experience and previous academic work to show conjunctions and disjunctions between concepts, theories, and applications.

Each entry should be the equivalent of approximately four pages, double-spaced and is due at the start of class, unless otherwise noted. Submission is by hard copy in class, by email to the instructor, and by posting to the Blackboard discussion board. The assignment is cumulative, e.g., Part 2B should include 2A first and then the new entry. Subsequent entries do not have to focus on the issues or concerns of previous entries. Relating your thoughts to other students’ journal entries is encouraged. Details for 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D are on Blackboard.

Assignment 5: Major Project
The purpose of the major project is to offer students the opportunity to apply the theories, research, and techniques of public dispute resolution [PDR], public participation [PP], deliberative democracy [DD] and consensus building in a way that is of personal interest and promotes their professional development. Students propose projects and meet with the instructor to refine the objectives and scope of the work.

Ideas for, and past examples of, projects include:

  1. An in-depth analysis of 2-3 articles (or a book) outside of the required readings with reference to the arguments, models, or research from one or more required readings yielding a class presentation or written product of scholarly quality. Example: PowerPoint presentation on the book A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflicts by Harold H. Saunders.
  2. Author a detailed case study of a public conflict. One student’s project: a stakeholder assessment for creating a process to reform the UNC-CH Student Judicial Code.
  3. Perform a conflict analysis with the primary goal of designing an intervention in an ongoing conflict.
  4. Interview a government official or private consultant (in person, via phone, or via e-mail) to probe a theory or issue in PP, DD, consensus-building or PDR. Instructor can offer several possibilities and make an initial contact.
  5. Research a particular content area of the PDR/PP fields (e.g., transportation, health care, education, elder care, national security and individual liberty tensions, racial/ethnic/gender dynamics of conflicts). One student’s project: The relationship between the concepts of “human capital” and “social capital.”
  6. Analyze a particular issue in the PDR/PP fields (e.g., rosters of practitioners vs. “open listings”; consumer understanding and protection; assuring representation and fair standing of low-power constituencies; use and abuse of mediator/facilitator power; links between informal consensus-oriented forums and formal, authoritative legislative/administrative bodies).
  7. Design and conduct a simulation (e.g., a conflict assessment interview, a multi-person negotiation or collaboration). A student project: Coordination/conflict about a uniform information and referral telephone number (211) that connects state residents to community services and volunteer opportunities within their own neighborhoods. Parties: United Way of North Carolina and United Ways in Asheville, Greensboro, Charlotte, and the Triangle
  8. Design and implement a skill-building activity. Example: three students designed six role-plays based on education and public administration issues so they could practice mediation skills. They videotaped and critiqued their performances.

VII. ASSESSMENT OF TEACHER PERFORMANCE Consistent with my teaching philosophy, I wish to engage students in methods of assessing my performance that are periodic and productive. Thus, I offer the following as a starting point for discussion:

1. Informal feedback on my performance is encouraged in several forms

(a)    During class, if a teaching method is not effective or is particularly useful

(b)   At breaks in class

(c)    Conversation outside of class

(d)   Individual e-mail 

2.      Formal feedback

(a)    Teacher absent for portion of October 16th class to encourage open, honest feedback as a group

(b)   Optional: individual feedback (with or without attribution) using a common form

(c)    Standard end-of-course individual written evaluation.

3.      Grievances. If you judge that I am acting in an unethical manner, am unresponsive to individual or group feedback, or the above methods for assessing my performance are unproductive; contact the MPA Program Director, Dr. Carl Stenberg, c/o Sharon Pickard at 843-7330.


Based on student feedback and my own observations, here are some tips:

1.      Class attendance, and active engagement, is important

2.      Start thinking about and writing down ideas for a major project as soon as possible

3.      For unexpected personal life difficulties, or difficulties with assignments, e-mail or phone contact with me is strongly encouraged. My schedule can be irregular, but I am responsive to questions and concerns.

4.      Take charge of what you want to get out of the course. You can explore a new topic or challenge to satisfy a curiosity. Alternatively, you can pick something close to your field of study or career goals and build on short- and medium-term needs for your intellectual or professional development.


Course announcements, material, some lecture notes, and posting of particular assignments will utilize the UNC Blackboard system: 
Online reading is specified in the course schedule below and will be revised through in-class or electronic announcements.


Schedule changes will be announced in class or via e-mail.

Date Topics/Activities/Assignments

August 28

Introductions, key points of syllabus, thinking metaphorically
The value of student initiative
Overview of assignments


Overview of Conflict and Conflict Resolution
ADR and PDR – terminology, brief history
Overview: Public Dispute Resolution [PDR] in NC


Two-person Negotiation: Limited Resource Competition
Student Learning Goals and existing knowledge, via an ungraded “pre-test”
Skimming and discussing resources
Introduce ongoing case – Carolina North: Univ-town consultation


Description of Assignment 1, due Sept. 5: summarize a website (choose from list)

Sept.  5

ASSIGNMENT 1 DUE, 1:00 p.m.: Submit to Blackboard course website and email to

Sept. 11


Sources of Conflict
Forms of handling conflict
PDR – overview
“Stakeholder Groups”: Regulatory Negotiation – video
Positions and Interests
Consensus – first look
Assessment for Consensus-building


Discuss website summaries
View regulatory negotiation videotape + worksheet
Part Two – Carolina North: Univ-town consultation


Arthur: Introduction, Chapters 1-4
Stephens: Chapter 2
Online: Positions and Interests module --

Blackboard: a) At least 2 reviews of websites by other students; b) Stephens – “Methods”; c) Stephens - “Framework”; d) Sachs – Conflict Assessment

Course administration:

1. More information, Q&A about Assignment 2

2. Brief discussion of course content, schedule and instruction based on class size, student interests

Sept. 18


Conflict Assessment
Facilitation Skills
Collaborative Processes
Representation, Selecting a Facilitator or Mediator
Competencies for 3Ps, Guidance for government sponsors


Practice Conflict Assessment
Prepare for Can you collaborate? Exercise


Arthur: Chapters 5-6
Stephens - Chapter 4, Chapter 6: Exhibit 6-3, pages 115-119,i> Example of a Conflict Assessment
Online: Blackboard: Sachs – Conflict Assessment

a)      Collaborative processes, two flowcharts: and

b)      Best Practices for Government Agencies -

Course administration:


Assignment 6: Major Project - Initial ideas and discussion
Preparation: Welfare Reform Exercise


Sept. 25


Collaboration – principles, obstacles and exercise
PDR – appropriate use and ethics
Consensus-building: planning, groundrules

ACTIVITIES   Can you collaborate? Welfare Reform Exercise


Arthur: Chapters 7-8
Stephens – Chapter 7/p>

Course administration:


Oct. 2


PDR – Case analysis
Public Participation and PDR
Managing a consensus-building process


Video: State-local collaboration in Maryland
Facilitator techniques demonstrated


Arthur: Chapters 9-10
Stephens – Chapters 3, 5

Course administration

Assignment 5: Major Projects – formal proposal due


Oct. 5 – midnight

Assignment 2B due – posted to Blackboard and emailed to

Oct. 9



Public Participation – overview
Kinds of Consultative/Collaborative Processes
Competencies and Qualifications of Third Parties
Reflections, questions – Student Journals



Student journal entries (on Blackboard)
Stephens – Chapters 3, 5

      a)      selected portions of
b)span style="font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"">      Roster qualifications -
L. Susskind:
d)      Blackboard/Electronic Reserve:  Competencies for Mediators of Complex Public Disputes

Course administration

Student feedback on course – form TBD
Review, possibly revise, Nov. 13-Dec. 4 classes: initial discussion

Oct. 16

Guest Presenter: Andy Sachs, Orange County Dispute Settlement Center


Community-based PDR
Handling “people problems”


Reading: TBD

Course administration

Student feedback on course – teacher absent for portion of class
Major Projects, G&L presentations, other topics for Nov. 13-Dec. 4 classes: final choice

Oct. 23


Public Participation (PP) and Deliberative Democracy (DD): purpose, tools, examples
Public Participation and PDR – similarities and differences
Forming agreements


Process Design: in-class exercise
Facilitation practice: handling conflict in a group
Practice guided public participation design


G&L – Chapters 1, 2
Connor and Orenstein --

Oct. 30





DD Models
Government Officials: roles, ethics in PDR
Critiques of Consensus



G&L – Chapters 3-5
Selected portions:
National Issues Forum – portions of and issue book (handed out in advance)


1.  Wondolleck and Ryan, “Which Hat Do I Wear Now?”

2.  McCloskey: “The Limits of Collaboration”

Best Practices for Government Agencies -

Course administration

Nov. 6


DD: Models, applications
DD: individual/group presentations
Carolina North – student writing, possible guest presenter


G&L – Chapters 6-8
G&L – Chapters 9-13 – Individual/group presentations
Stephens – Chapter 8
Online - TBD

Course administration:

Nov. 13


DD: Models, culture, critique

Possible guest lecture, Major Project presentations, class choice of DD, PP and PDR topics, and skill-building exercise(s)


G&L – Chapters 9-13 – Group presentations

Course administration


Nov. 20


Journal entries


Possible guest lecture, Major Project presentations, class choice of DD, PP and PDR topics, and skill-building exercise(s)


G&L – Chapters 14-17 – Group presentations

Course administration


Nov. 27

No class

Dec. 4


DD: future directions
Frontiers of PP, PDR, DD


Major Project presentations


G&L – Chapters 18, 19

Course administration: preparation for Assignment 6


Final Exam - period (TBD - Dec. 8 or later)

Assignment 5 Due

Assignment 6: Carolina North – final analysis, reflection


Copyright 2006 John B. Stephens. Teachers are free to copy these materials for educational use in their courses only, provided that appropriate acknowledgment of the author is made. For permission to use these materials for any other purpose, contact the author.