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.