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Collaborative Problem Solving

A multiparty consensus-seeking process whereby representatives of all parties significantly affected by a public policy issue or decision craft a solution that meets the vital interests of all parties, including the public interest.

Key Features

  • Focuses on an identified, complex problem or set of problems;
  • Requires extensive stakeholder education on legal, historical, technical, contextual issues;
  • Requires representatives to be in continual communication with, and accountable to, their constituencies and elected boards;
  • Requires active dispute resolution on ripe conflicts; and
  • Implementation is a negotiated step supported by multi-party assurances.

Key Steps

  • Assessment & Planning. Conduct an assessment and determine scope of issues, affected stakeholders, the likelihood of a negotiated settlement, and the adequacy of time and resources.
  • Organization. Create process ground rules, communication systems, goals and objectives, and similar organizational tools.
  • Education. Develop educational opportunities to create shared meaning and understanding of legal, historical, technical, contextual issues for all participants.
  • Negotiation. Generate options, identify best viable opportunities, and develop negotiated terms and agreements.
  • Implementation. Link agreements to external decision-making, and monitor implementation to ensure multi-party compliance with agreements.

Conflict Resolution & Mediation

A voluntary negotiation process in which the parties are assisted in reaching agreement by a third-party neutral.

Key Features

  • Mediation is most often used in situations of mature conflict where the parties and key issues in contention have been clearly identified.
  • Parties control the process through selection of the mediator, agreement on funding and adoption of groundrules.
  • The process is voluntary, and any party can withdraw in accordance with agreed groundrules.
  • The mediator helps parties to identify underlying interests, to plan to meet needs for technical information, to invent options for issue resolution and to draft agreements. The mediator also ensures that all parties understand all aspects of potential agreements, including implications of full implementation over time.
  • Mediators have a professional responsibility to treat all parties equally and impartially, to disclose any potential conflicts of interest at the outset and to remain strictly neutral about the substantive issues in dispute.

Key Steps

  • Assessment of Dispute. The mediator meets with each party privately to determine the willingness to negotiate, gain insight into underlying issues and interests, adequacy of resources available and gather ideas about special concerns that may affect the structure and design of the process.
  • Negotiation of Groundrules. All participants agree on groundrules covering nature of agreement sought, schedule of meetings, sequencing of issues, behavioral rules, relations with press and issues relating to open meeting laws.
  • Identification of Issues and Interests. The mediator assists the participants in disclosing to each other key objectives and interests and in clarifying areas of agreement and disagreement.
  • Development of Technical Information. Participants then identify needs for technical information, agree on the methods for obtaining it and jointly select the individuals or agencies that will provide data and analysis.
  • Options for Resolution. The mediator helps create a supportive atmosphere in which new ideas and options can be considered. The options are evaluated for their ability to satisfy key interests.
  • Drafting & Approving Agreement. The mediator facilitates review of specific terms by all parties, ensures there is common understanding of the implications of the agreement and helps secure consensus.
  • Implementation & Monitoring. The agreement should take into account the need for ratification by constituencies and contain specific terms for implementation, monitoring and mechanisms to resolve future disputes in the event of changed conditions.

Feasibility Assessment

An investigation to understand a policy challenge and to determine whether a collaborative approach would be useful and/or how to proceed with a process for collaborative problem solving.

Assessments, whether for smaller/simpler or larger/more complex collaborative processes, provide information at the beginning of a process for working with stakeholders. Communication of the findings will educate the stakeholders on mutual concerns, highlight opportunities for seeking common ground and begin to understand breadth and scope of issues to address. The interview portion of an assessment is generally the first opportunity for the mediator or facilitator to establish a rapport with the stakeholders, and to introduce the individuals to the use of collaborative problem-solving tools/techniques for the project.

Key Features

  • Involves gathering information, such as reviewing policy documents, interviewing clients and interviewing a representative sample of stakeholders to understand the issues and interests involved in a policy matter;
  • Communication of findings to the client and/or stakeholders in text, presentation or orally depending on the needs of the situation.

Key Steps

  • Developing Assessment Protocol. Understanding the issues involved by reviewing available policy documents, talking with a small set of stakeholders in order to develop a stakeholder interview protocol.
  • Stakeholder Interviews. Usually confidential one-on-one interviews with stakeholders to understand the range of interests and concerns.
  • Qualitative Analysis and Reporting. Analyzing data to develop and communicate findings. May include an internal review with the client, or a small group of stakeholders, prior to circulating to all stakeholders.

Organizational Change Management

A process to assist an organization in achieving key goals by defining effective new methods and systems.

Key Features

  • Assumes the end goal is fixed, predetermined and knowable but that historic methods or systems will not be effective to achieve the goal;
  • Requires individual and oftentimes shared institutional willingness to create new methods or systems to achieve the prescribed goal, rather than relying on historic methods or systems;
  • Focuses on a prescribed “change” as the intended outcome, rather than defining the change itself.

Key Steps

  • Define Change. Create clear definitions and communicate what the change actually is.
  • Define Steps. Define how change will make life different for affected individuals and/or organizations.
  • Assessment. Define and describe the steps used to create new systems.
  • Define Implications. Assess and define the benefits and risks.
  • Scale/Scope. Define the system implications of the change to determine what parties must be part of the change process and when they should become involved.
  • Stakeholder Role. Define the scale / scope of the change.
  • Methods & Outcomes. Utilize stakeholders to improve both the methods and intended outcomes of the change.

Strategic Planning

A process to assist an organization or consortium of organizations in creating a systematic strategy to meet long-range goals, objectives, and needs.

Key Features

  • Assumes the future can be created by intentional action taken now and provides direction and energy to move towards that future;
  • Characterized by organizational or system self-examination, confronting difficult choices and setting priorities;
  • Produces realistic clear goals, objectives, targets and timeframes;
  • Creates actions to attain a planned future state;
  • Creates a funding plan to support the targeted actions;
  • Plans for orderly growth and progress, yet allows flexibility for contingencies and changed conditions.

Key Steps

  • Values and Environmental Scan. Discover and document facts and values in the operating environment likely to affect future work.
  • Mission. Create a shared, achievable mission.
  • SWOT Analysis. Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  • Gap Analysis. Conduct gap analysis to determine the difference between current state and desired state.
  • Goal Setting. Create realistic, measurable goals to achieve meaningful results over time.
  • Planning. Create functional plan(s) to close the gap between the present and the desired future.
  • Prioritize. Prioritize and emphasize actions best supporting the future state.
  • Implement and Monitor. Implement plans and monitor trends to determine the need for shifts in the implementation approach.


Creation of a robust description of a desired optimal end state that will be used to drive action planning and implementation. Visioning can also mean the identification of more than one future end state, sometimes called scenarios, followed by the selection of an optimal future from among the various end states.

Key Features

  • Focuses on creating a new optimal solution, rather than fixing an existing problem;
  • Requires a shared willingness to create new systems to achieve the optimal future condition rather than relying on historic systems.

Key Steps

  • Understanding the Past. Establish a common information base / shared history.
  • Future Trends & Drivers. Discuss trends and driving issues that will impact the future.
  • Responses. Identify current and optimal responses to the matter(s) under consideration.
  • Optimal Future. Discuss what is currently being done, what should be done, and what should be discarded.
  • Implementation. Create systems to achieve the optimal future.

Training Services

Design and delivery of highly interactive, customized learning experiences for the purpose of sharing knowledge and building participant skills and abilities to design and manage collaborative processes.

Key Features

  • Customized for a specific audience and a specific purpose;
  • Utilizes adult learning techniques;
  • Contains a mix of knowledge sharing, experiential learning, and application of concepts and skills to participants’ lives;
  • Brings forward the existing experience and knowledge of participants;
  • Engages participants in creating shared meaning;
  • Provides opportunities for the practice and integration of new skills.

Key Steps

  • Assessment. Define audience and assess needs of participants.
  • Development of program and materials. Design an interactive program and materials to share knowledge and develop skills to apply that knowledge.
  • Delivery. Present training program and supporting materials.
  • Evaluation. Evaluate effectiveness of the training to help participants achieve the learning objectives.

Research Services

Collaborative Policy Research

Contributions to the body of knowledge on the practice and outcomes of collaborative policy making and public engagement.

Key Features

  • Contributes to the body of knowledge on collaborative policy practice, with particular attention to the roles of facilitators, conveners, stakeholders, and contextual influences on process and outcomes;
  • Empirically scrutinizes the conventional wisdom regarding best practices;
  • Emphasizes research questions that have practical applications while contributing to the testing and development of one or more theoretical frameworks;
  • Pluralistic regarding guiding theories and research methods (quantitative and/or qualitative);
  • Emphasizes reliable, valid, and replicable methods of data collection and analysis;
  • Serves and invites peer-review from multiple audiences including facilitators, stakeholders, and scholars.

Key Steps

  • Scoping. Identify important research questions and an empirical setting ripe for either exploratory field research or testing of hypotheses.
  • Grant Writing. Identify suitable foundations, agencies, or clients. Submit a formal proposal describing research questions, literature review, research design, field methods, budget, timeline, and deliverables. Apply for California State University, Sacramento approval or waiver for use of human subjects.
  • Final Design. Convene a focus group or advisory committee to refine research questions, approach, and field methods.
  • Field Research. Collect data using interviews, surveys, focus groups, content analysis, or other appropriate methods.
  • Analysis. Describe the data and draw valid inferences using statistical techniques appropriate for the data, research question, and audience.
  • Discuss Findings. Communicate research results through workshops, conferences, seminars, newsletters, and academic journals. Solicit feedback from informants, stakeholders, and other researchers. Scope new research.


Collection of information about a collaborative process, either during the process (a “formative” evaluation designed to inform mid-course corrections), or at completion of the process (a “summative” evaluation designed to assess its effectiveness and inform future practice).

Key Features

  • An evaluation may be formative (produces information that is fed back during the process to help improve it) or summative (carried out at completion to provide information about effectiveness, and to inform future processes).
  • Improves accountability to clients and stakeholders.
  • Improves decision-making regarding midcourse corrections, continuing or ending a process, testing a new idea, choosing the best of several alternatives, or deciding whether to continue funding.
  • Improves organizational learning by providing feedback to practitioners, recording a process or program history, or highlighting program and process goals.
  • Uses a theory of change to focus on program or policy inputs, activities and dynamics, interim outcomes, and desired end results.

Key Steps

  • Plan and design the evaluation
  • Develop measures for evaluation criteria
  • Collect data
  • Analyze and interpret the data
  • Prepare and disseminate the results

Five Stages of Collaborative Decision Making

As practiced by the Center, collaborative policy making typically involves five stages:

  • Assessment/Planning
  • Organizational
  • Educational
  • Negotiation/Resolution
  • Implementation

See the Full Five Stages Diagram

DIAD Network Dynamics

See the Network Dynamics Diagram