Yesterday saw the end of the first week of evidence at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Leveson Inquiry. This third and final day for this week heard evidence from Michelle Stanisbrook, general secretary of the NUJ and Michael Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian Newspaper. Next week the Inquiry is anticipating to host a red carpets’ worth of stars, with Hugh Grant, JK Rowling, Charlotte Church and Sienna Miller all expected to take the stand.

Addressing the issues
The Inquiry process got under-way on the 14th November 2011, after the Prime Minister announced the investigation into the role of the press and police in the phone hacking scandal, on 13th July 2011, under the Inquiries Act 2005. The highly respected Lord Justice Leveson was appointed as chair of the Inquiry shortly after this announcement and has been working between then and now to set down the “Terms of Reference” for the Inquiry.

Terms of Reference
His “Terms of Reference” set out the aims and objectives of an Inquiry and generally they direct its investigation to; establish the facts, decipher learning from these events, reconcile and find resolution for those affected, rebuild public confidence in institutions, elucidate on accountability, lay blame and attribute retribution and serve the broad political agenda.

It should be recognised that consciously or not the “Terms of Reference” will be influenced by his perspective and knowledge, his peers, colleagues, social groups, and culture. It is normal procedure that an individual would lead the process, and it is understandable that the government would want a firm leader heading up the investigation into such a sensitive and perilous subject. However in determining the flight path of this Inquiry, could it have been done differently? Were stakeholders involved at this design stage of the process or were their interests represented?

Getting a wider view from the outset or is there a missing piece to the puzzle?
As experts in dialogue and facilitating difficult conversations, CEDR has been looking at the Public Inquiries process to see how they would function with more of a focus on collaborative dialogue. This research leads to questioning the traditional methodology used in the design of an Inquiry. Was this process the most effective to deliver the most appropriate Terms of Reference? Was there consideration of any other processes? Will these Terms of Reference lead to the most appropriate outcomes for the Inquiry? Who are the outcomes aimed towards and why?

In the “Applying Neurobiology to Mediation and Negotiation” course at CEDR, delegates were asked to consider how early stakeholder involvement in the decision making process can affect their engagement, trust and sense of value of the process. Similarly to a mediators perspective, it is frequently those who have been greatly affected by events that know the pathways to resolution, although their judgment and focus is often clouded by emotions. Their involvement, specifically at the design stage, in determining the direction of the Inquiry, would act to build public confidence and will often find the most appropriate route to resolution. In a case of such breadth of impact, with potentially over 6000 individuals hacked, it would seem prudent to involve those stakeholders somehow in determining the tracks on which to run the Inquiry.

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by Daniel Kershen

Daniel Kershen is the Foundation Project Co-ordinator for The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).