What is Single-Text Negotiation?

A single-text negotiating strategy is a form of mediation that employs the use of a single document that ties in the often wide-ranging interests of stakeholders in a conflict. Parties to the conflict add, subtract and refine the text, which represents a "placeholder agreement" and is intended to be the foundation for a final ratified agreement. However, since all parties must agree to the final document and offensive entries may lead to a cessation of the process, disputants must also be sensitive to how their changes to the text will be perceived by the other parties. "The advantage of this model," Scott McCreary suggests, "is it encourages parties to talk to...focus on each other's interests instead of drafting competing documents that meet only the interests of smaller coalitions."[1] In other words, it helps disputants shift their attention from grievances and ill feelings of one another toward areas of agreement, mutual recognition of responsibilities and potential solutions.

Single-text negotiation can be more product than other types of mediation, such as shuttle diplomacy, when faced with heavily polarized disputants. Drawing off of William Ury's influential book, Getting to Yes, Paula Young argues that other forms of mediation often turn into a process of "concession-hunting," whereby the third-party moves between private caucuses and focuses on positions rather than interests.[2]

The Process

Dayle and William Spencer, of the International Negotiation Network, describe the process of using a single-text negotiation.[3] They suggest that a third party manage the development of a single working document that reflects the issues and interests mutually held by the disputants, in an effort to better dovetail the interests of the parties to expose the areas of agreement. The third party drafts a document that reflects an initial inquiry and clarification of the disputant's interests, not hard positions. No one is initially committed to the document. The third party presents the document to each disputant to gather criticisms of the draft, not concessions, incorporates the comments and moves between the parties asking for more criticisms. The intended product is a document from which all major objections have been removed but one that sufficiently expresses the interests of the disputants in a manner that is acceptable and brings about an agreement that guides their future behavior.

Guy Burgess is a Founder and Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar and a practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts, public policy dispute resolution, and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He is one of the primary authors and creators of the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, and is the Co-Director of CRInfo -- the Conflict Resolution Information Source. Dr. Burgess has edited and authored a number of books and articles, the most recent being The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (with Heidi Burgess, ABC-Clio 1999). www.beyondintractability.org