Representation of the Parties in Mediated Negotiation Processes

27 November 2022

Representatives of the conflicting parties are required in each mediation of agrarian or natural wealth conflicts. Representation is necessary since the conflicts are generally concerning the interests of various parties whose number can be quite large, while it is practically impossible to involve them directly in negotiations. Representatives who are able to speak for and to voice the aspirations of the parties they represent (their constituents) is one of the main factors that determine the quality of the agreement as well as the constituents’ support in its implementation.

On the other hand, an agreement resulting from a negotiation process between incapable and unrepresentative representatives could be less relevant to the actual conflict and could not be implemented because it lacks the support of the parties.

Therefore, it is important to discuss the definition and some general criteria for representation. A representative is a person or more who are entrusted by the conflicting parties to represent them in a negotiating process. One absolute prerequisite is that the representatives must be trustworthy and uphold the mandate of the group she or he represents. In addition, the representatives of the parties must understand the issues, be able to negotiate with other parties and continue to consult closely with the party they represent.

Throughout its journey of dealing with various agrarian and natural wealth conflicts, CRU has often faced various quite challenging problems in finding representatives of these parties, some of them are:

  • Representatives who lack understanding over conflict issues and the ability to communicate their interests to other parties. This can happen because the selection of representatives has been improper and even carried out without clear considerations and criteria.
  • Elite bias. This is the fact that often the representatives from community groups are community leaders who tend to be dominant due to capacity gaps among community members themselves. Community leaders are generally more used to dealing with people from outside the village, are more confident and adept at speaking in public or forums, so that in the end the community trusts these figures. There are several cases where these figures have different views regarding the conflict. If this happens, it could be that the solution reached are more profitable for them and are not necessarily the aspirations of the party they represent.
  • Disorganization or even internal conflict. In some cases, it was found that one of the parties was not unified and there were even opposing factions that emerged who were conflicting with each other. As a result, this party was unable to agree on the subject matter of the negotiations and their common interests and were even unable to agree on who their representatives would be. Representatives appointed by one group were rejected by the other group.
  • Lack of authority in making decisions about conflict resolution options that arose in negotiations. It can happen that even though the representatives were agreed upon by the parties, they are not fully trusted to make the necessary decisions.
  • Claims of representativeness.  In some cases, the people who volunteered as negotiators to represent the community were agencies who provided community assistance. It should be noted, a spokesperson such as a staff member of a community development   agency does not necessarily become a community group representative, although this is possible as long as they obtain a mandate from their constituents.
  • Lack of communication between representatives and constituents. During the negotiating process, representatives need to stay in touch with the party they represent so that the party they represent understands how decisions are being made and solutions are agreed upon.

Then how could we overcome those challenges?

  • From the pre-assessment stage to the follow-up study, we should begin to identify and bring up alternative figures who have the potential to become representatives. Without intending to determine the representatives, this process is more to identify individuals who have the potential to become representatives.
  • Furthermore, the assessment process is also utilized to discuss internal differences and build awareness about the need for cohesiveness in dealing with negotiations with other parties. Building cohesiveness is often similar to mediation, although it is not the same. What is important is that there is an agreement to negotiate and a shared commitment to defend common interests.
  • Encourage the convening of an internal meeting between parties to discuss the objective criteria for representation and agree to select representatives accordingly, formulate their mandates and agree on a communication protocol between the representatives and their constituents.  It will be more likely that agreements between representatives will meet the expectations of their constituents and receive sufficient support to be implemented if there is clear mandate from their constituents.
  • Prepare the representatives as well as possible, because even though they have been chosen carefully, the representatives are not necessarily ready to face other parties in negotiations. Representatives need to understand the goals and principles of negotiations, their mandate and the interests of the constituents being fought for, and how to communicate them properly.
  • Provide time and opportunity for representatives/negotiators to consult and communicate with their constituents so that negotiations and their results receive adequate support. The parties need to be able to follow developments in the negotiation process so that they believe that the negotiations are running fairly.

Those are some things that should always be given adequate attention before the actual negotiations happens. As the saying goes, good preparation is more than half the work, which is quite valid in this case.

Credit photo by Tom Fisk.