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Shaping solutionsExploring possible solutions that meet needs and interests

Once parties to a conflict have communicated and understood each other’s interests and needs, they can work together to brainstorm solutions that will meet them. Win-win solutions – which meet both parties’ needs for information, for recognition, for reparation, or for the prevention of certain behavior – can often be found for little cost. Other interests may be more difficult to meet.

The process of shaping solutions typically begins with identifying what has worked for people facing similar problems in the past. Solutions that satisfy both parties can be generated through negotiation, mediation or as part of a problem-solving process at a court. 

Why is this a fundamental dispute resolution practice?

Shaping solutions is essential to arriving at an agreement that adequately meets the needs of the parties involved. An inclusive and collaborative brainstorming process makes the most of the parties’ intimate knowledge of the problem to generate solutions. Involving the parties in the problem-solving process makes it more likely that the outcome of the negotiation, mediation, or decision will be accepted and sustained over time.

What are the active ingredients of shaping solutions?

Constructive (rather than competitive) communication techniques.

Solutions-focused (rather than problem-focused) questions that help the parties look ahead to their desired future, rather than fixating on the past.

Problem-solving (rather than adversarial) processes and courts.

Involvement of a neutral third party to facilitate the brainstorming process and accurately transcribe agreements.

(Online) contract templates that facilitate proactive solutions.

What are people actually doing to make this happen?

Parties and mediators
Parties and mediators are asking solutions-focused questions and using constructive (rather than competitive) communication techniques to reach agreements. Constructive communication techniques include highlighting gains and areas of potential agreement, exploring the consequences and implications of each possible solution in order to draw scenarios, and focusing on a positive future.
Parties and mediators
Judges and justice leaders
Judges and justice leaders ​are spearheading reforms that allow problem-solving processes and courts to replace their adversarial counterparts. Problem-solving approaches are characterised by interdisciplinary collaboration, accountability, and a focus on solving the underlying problems that led to a crime or conflict.
Judges and justice leaders
Innovators are creating (online) contract templates that help the parties (or their lawyers) to shape solutions proactively, rather than only in response to a conflict. Community justice innovations that help parties work together to reach agreements, such as restorative justice or mediation programs, are also beneficial.
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What indicators can be used to monitor this practice?

Mutually satisfying agreements reached
Outcome satisfaction

What makes shaping solutions difficult?

Behavioral barriers

Competitive communication techniques, such as stating an extreme position, exerting pressure or influence, or blaming the other party get in the way of shaping solutions. Because they emphasize the parties’ respective positions rather than their underlying needs and interests, these tactics tend to result in a stalemate.

More Resources

  1. Daniel Druckman and James A. Wall, A Treasure Trove of Insights: Sixty Years of JCR Research on Negotiation and Mediation (2019).
  2. Frederike P. Bannink, Solution-Focused Mediation: The Future with a Difference (2007).
  3. Elizabeth Stokoe and Rein O. Sikveland, Formulating solutions in mediation (2016).
  4. Adriana Herrera and Maria Guglielma da Passano, Land Tenure Alternative Conflict Management, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2006).
  5. Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, Technical Assistance Support in Sustainable Land Administration and Management: Guidelines for Land Dispute Mediation, COWI (2018).