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Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center (CPRC)

Frequent Questions about Alternative Dispute Resolution

The following are some frequently asked questions about terms typically associated with alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and conflict prevention. Use of these terms varies widely in the field. The questions and answers provided below are intended only as a guide and do not represent a definitive EPA policy interpretation.

What is alternative dispute resolution (ADR)?
EPA uses the definition of ADR in the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 "[ADR is] any procedure that is used to resolve issues in controversy, including but not limited to, conciliation, facilitation, mediation, fact finding, minitrials, arbitration, and use of ombuds, or any combination thereof."  All these ADR techniques involve a neutral third party, a person who assists others in designing and conducting a process for reaching agreement, if possible. The neutral third party has no stake in the substantive outcome of the process. Depending on the circumstances of a particular dispute, neutral third parties may be Agency employees or may come from outside EPA.  Typically, all aspects of ADR are voluntary, including the decision to participate, the type of process used, and the content of any final agreement.

How is ADR used at the EPA?
The EPA encourages the use of ADR techniques to prevent and resolve disputes with external parties (e.g., state agencies, industry, environmental advocacy groups) in many contexts, including adjudications, rulemaking, policy development, administrative and civil judicial enforcement actions, permit issuance, protests of contract awards, administration of contracts and grants, stakeholder involvement, negotiations, and litigation.  In addition, the EPA encourages the use of ADR techniques to prevent and resolve internal disputes such as workplace grievances and equal opportunity employment complaints, and to improve labor-management partnerships.

What is conflict prevention?
Sometimes it is possible to prevent disputes before they occur, by creating and strengthening communication among stakeholders regarding substantive issues, how stakeholders interact, and relationships among stakeholders. Alternative dispute resolution techniques such as mediation, facilitation, and conciliation are used in a variety of contexts (e.g., public participation, team building) to assist in preventing conflict.

What is consensus building?
Consensus building is a process in which people agree to work together to resolve common problems in a relatively informal, cooperative manner. It is a technique that can be used to bring together representatives from different stakeholder groups early in a decision-making process. A neutral third party helps the people design and implement their own strategy for developing group solutions to the problems.

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What is convening (or conflict assessment)?
Convening (also called conflict assessment) involves the use of a neutral third party to help assess the causes of the conflict, to identify the persons or entities that would be affected by the outcome of the conflict, and to help these parties consider the best way (for example, mediation, consensus-building, or a lawsuit) for them to deal with the conflict. The convener may also help the parties prepare for a dispute resolution process by providing them with information on what the selected process will be like.

What is facilitation?
Facilitation is a process used to help a group of people or parties have constructive discussions about complex, or potentially controversial issues. The facilitator provides assistance by helping the parties set ground rules for these discussions, promoting effective communication, eliciting creative options, and keeping the group focused and on track. Facilitation can be used even where parties have not yet agreed to attempt to resolve a conflict. 

This short video describes how facilitation is different from mediation.

What is mediation?
Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party (the mediator) assists disputants in reaching a mutually satisfying settlement of their differences. Mediation is voluntary, informal, and confidential. The mediator helps the disputants to communicate clearly, to listen carefully, and to consider creative ways for reaching resolution. The mediator makes no judgments about the people or the conflict, and issues no decision. Any agreement that is reached must satisfy all the disputants.

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