Monthly Archives: October 2020

22. Not in My Backyard

Big cities and small towns have at least one thing in common: they’re hot houses for breeding costly conflicts.

In a leafy suburb, the Hatfields’ application for a zoning variance to expand their house can spark a fight with the McCoys next door, who want to protect their own views. In a metro area, economic development advocates seeking to lure new industries can count opposition from others concerned about adverse environmental impacts.

The irony is that in many such cases, there are legitimate concerns on all sides. But in the public hearings and courtrooms where these battles are fought, they become win-lose contests. And everyone—even bystanders like us—stand to lose. The disputants must dig deep and pay their lawyers, of course. In turn, public officials have to spend days, months, and sometimes years on these cases, when they could be engaged in something else more productive.

And more subtly, but just as important, the rest of us—the innocent bystanders, if you will—can lose, as well. Courts and regulators only can declare who’s the victor and who is vanquished, with little power to fashion more creative solutions in the broader public interest.

Our guest for this episode is MIT Professor Larry Susskind, who has long championed an alternative process—multi-stakeholder negotiation supported by a neutral mediator/facilitator to promote mutually beneficial outcomes. This isn’t pie in the sky. In our conversation, Larry describes how his real-world approach works in these controversial cases. And his achievements in the public realm are equally relevant for multi-party conflicts in the private sector—even for internal clashes, as well.

Want a hint about the secret of his success? The title of one of his books is Breaking Robert’s Rules.