Jonathan Bartsch is the CEO of Collaborative Decision Resources (CDR), a company that works with agencies, organizations, groups and individuals to resolve big issues like political disagreements, or social or natural resource issues. CDR specializes in collaborative decision making and consensus building locally, nationally and even internationally. CDR has trained thousands of mediators, negotiators and facilitators at their facility in Boulder.
Jonathan’s background is in international affairs, international aid and international development. He’s studied and lived in Israel and the West Bank and it was there that he became very interested in conflict. In particular the type of conflict that he describes as, “us vs them.” That led to going back to school for his Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation. He was very interested in how individuals, groups and even societies can resolve conflict without violence. All of his studies, experiences and interests led him to CDR. CDR was founded in Denver in the basement nursery room of one of the founders some 40 years ago and moved to Boulder about 30 years ago.
CDR is a non-profit and they provide mediation, facilitation and stakeholder engagement for environmental and community conflicts.
CDR has a different focus now than it did when it was started. The first disputes they dealt with were barking dog issues. They evolved from disputes that were among individuals into dealing with complex multi-party disputes and then into groups, organizations, agencies and international disputes. Part of that transformation was the desire to have greater impact. The founders’ goal was to support the field of dispute resolution in addition to supporting their own mediators and facilitators.
The evolution of CDR continues as they focus not just on the transformation of current conflict. Now they are looking at ways apply the collaborative problem solving process to disputes that may occur as part of large scale infrastructure development, land use projects and water projects, for example.
Jonathan gave a few examples of the work CDR does. Recently, Jonathan was in Zimbabwe to work with their Land Commission to deal with land and property disputes. Why Zimbabwe? Jonathan explained that one reason post-conflict areas slide back into war is unresolved property disputes which can involve competition over natural resources and dealing with the complexity of governance of those property issues. People who cannot access their ancestral properties because of war, or cannot farm their land to provide for their families tend to be much more likely to support militant groups advocating for change.
In areas affected by war and population displacement, title to property can be exceptionally difficult to resolve. For example, if a group of people leave their homes because of war, many will go to another area, and some will settle on land that may belong to other people. Those people may have been displaced themselves. Much of the title information in areas affected by war are on paper, not necessarily digitally stored and if the title office is destroyed, it is a serious obstacle for those who need to prove their title to the land.
CDR has been working on conflict resolution systems for places like Sri Lanka which has been recovering from a 30 year long war. Part of their reconciliation and rebuilding plan includes the need to address land disputes. The property dispute issue had to be dealt with on their national plan level because the local institutions like their courts were not equipped to deal with the number of disputes nor the complexity of the issues. The systems that CDR has been developing for Sri Lanka are the model for Jonathan’s work in Zimbabwe.
One of the tools that CDR developed is called the Triangle of Satisfaction.
This tool is used in areas where there are land disputes like Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. It allows the country to set up a process outside their legal institutions that deals specifically with land issues.
In this model, there are procedural interests, psychological interests and substantive interests. Procedural interests can include things like transparency of process, credible data, and the structure of the process. Jonathan says he thinks of procedural process by keeping in mind that, “people support a world that they helped to participate in.”
Psychological interests have to do with how people feel in the process. Were they heard? Did they feel like they were taken seriously? Did they feel respected?
And the substantive side of the triangle in land disputes is about the outcome; where is the house going to be on the property? Where can you farm?
CDR’s interest based process is a different approach to land disputes in countries recovering from war. Most often the focus has been on the legal rights of individuals within the country’s court system. By shifting the focus to interests, individuals and communities are able to dig into what matters most for the people involved rather than focusing on what someone can prove through their legal institutions. The focus on legal institutions as a way to solve this type of problem can snarl courts for years, cost individuals huge amounts of money and leave the poorest people out of the process entirely.
CDR also deals with water policy disputes. Jonathan gave the example of their work in Idaho with the Eastern Snake Plain Aquafer (ESPA.) The ESPA is an area in Idaho that has different types of water users and different ways the water is accessed. It’s about 10,800 square miles in an area of Idaho that produces more than 20% of Idaho’s goods and services. The Snake river runs through this area and there is an aquifer below it. The aquifer is recharged through the groundwater. The area has been using more water for things like farming and other businesses and the aquifer has not been recharging to the levels it had in the past which means users have been losing access to water.
There have been three previous attempts to resolve the matter. Jonathan said that in one attempt, the Governor of Idaho said, “we’re going to the woodshed and banging heads till we get an agreement!” That approach did not work. Another attempt was made by a former federal prosecutor that brought a small number of key water using parties to the table to negotiate around usage, conservation and incentives. There were too few parties at that table for the plan to work. The Idaho Legislature also got involved and decided to develop a collaborative management plan. That was better because it brought significantly more parties to the table and was much more comprehensive in terms of the specifics like who would pay for it. CDR helped the Legislature in this process.
Jonathan explained that in Idaho, CDR brought insight into conflict dynamics in the collaborative problem solving model. Jonathan said that before you can get to looking at collaborative problem solving through an interest model, you have to work through some of the thorny existing issues that the conflict has generated so far. That’s where the conflict “wheel” comes in. CDR has to deal with these relational conflicts first.
Like any conflict, one of the primary areas of conflict is “relationship problems.” Things like a history of negative interactions, competing with each other in the legislature or court rooms, sabotaging of operations in the ESPA, created an environment where people did not trust each other at all.
Another area of conflict that was particular to the ESPA – data challenges. Issues around measurement, impact, connection of the river to the aquifer were all points of contention. Jonathan called that particular challenge, “the law of competing PhDs.”
When you have such a large group of people and institutions, you have lots of areas of conflict around values and structural constraints. All of these were present in the ESPA dispute.
Jonathan said that when you have disputes at this level, there are conflict dynamics in each of these “spokes.” So much so that some have called it the “wagon wheel of despair!”
As part of the process- this conflict dynamics wheel tool helps the parties plan to deal with the conflicts from all these areas so that the final agreement will be more effective for more people.
Closer to home, Jonathan has worked to solve problems with Highway 36 planning and development as well as working with Broomfield to work through their planning for oil and gas land use development. One issue that is close to Jonathan’s heart now is an inter-agency working group that is working on “Navigating Ecological Transformation.” It’s a concept that tries to plan for and deal with ecosystems that are rapidly transforming. For example, the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska is moving from a spruce forest into a savanna grasslands as a result of land usage, development and climate change. He’s working with a group of federal land managers to determine how they feel about the change to the land and not just resist the change but figure out how to manage the change.
Jonathan wanted BRC to know that the work he does with CDR is in line with the work that Rotary is doing in the world and can be an excellent tool to help facilitate change in all our areas of focus.
Collaborative Decision Resources (CDR) is Jonathan’s organization and you can find out more by visiting their website, click HERE
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