Using a Facilitator or Mediator

Parties in conflict often have difficulty achieving resolution on their own and may need to be guided towards a principled approach to their discussions. Facilitators and mediators work to shift the parties away from a rigid stance, to define and solve problems together.

A facilitator or mediator is often necessary because of the complexity of environmental planning. Environmental planning disputes are often characterised by:

  • Large numbers of submitters, and multiple issues
  • A mix of experienced participants and one-time participants, such as neighbours, who are unfamiliar with negotiating or with the RMA
  • Imbalances of power.

The facilitator or mediator must have sufficient standing and skill to:

  • Listen and communicate well
  • Maintain a neutral stance
  • Display sufficient confidence to deal with a wide range of people
  • Dispel tensions
  • Understand the issues
  • Know how to progress towards reaching common ground.

The role of the facilitator or mediator is to ensure that:

  • Agendas are set in consultation with the participants
  • An appropriate neutral venue is selected and the room is arranged to assist discussion
  • Ground rules of behaviour are discussed and agreed
  • Parties have the opportunity to express their views
  • Information is clarified and additional information is sought when necessary
  • Interests and priorities are identified
  • Common ground is recognised
  • A wide range of options are discussed
  • Issues in conflict are narrowed down where possible
  • Outcomes of facilitated meetings are summarised at the conclusion
  • At closure, the agreement of a mediation is nailed.

For small, low-risk cases, the reporting officer or a separate council staff member, can act as a facilitator. For larger, more contentious cases, an independent facilitator from outside the Council is often used. This ensures that the facilitator is not also involved in assessing the application.