Special Section
Negotiation Becomes a High-Resolution Art

Online and on the road

Harvard's Program on Negotiation is moving into new territory

Robert Mnookin and Susan Hackley
Tanit Sakakini

Professor Robert Mnookin '68, Program on Negotiation chairman, and Susan Hackley, managing director

Waste of this kind is just one of many problems being tackled by legislators from around the world in a new Internet project launched with the help of Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation.

The e-Parliament, a PON-backed initiative, will connect legislators from many nations through a Web site where they can strategize about the best ways to negotiate solutions to problems like energy waste. And it's just one of several initiatives through which PON--already prized for its oversubscribed negotiation workshops for law students, U.S. business executives and lawyers--is going global.

Since its founding 22 years ago, PON has been building on its expansive conception of the field. Today, PON scholars are likely to be chipping away at obstacles to peace among warring factions in the Middle East, or opening a door of their own to China.

"Carrying on a tradition reflected in the pioneering work of faculty giants like Roger Fisher, Frank Sander and Howard Raiffa, the Program on Negotiation has always had a broad view of the relevance of negotiation both to conflict resolution and to deal making in a wide range of contexts," said Professor Robert Mnookin '68, who has led the program since he came to HLS from Stanford in 1993.

In a field that is necessarily interdisciplinary, said Mnookin, "our goal remains to improve the theory and practice of negotiation as a means for helping people efficiently and fairly resolve their differences, whether within families, the workplace, the shadow of the courthouse or the political arena."

Perhaps nothing demonstrates PON's elasticity better than its support of the e-Parliament project. The idea came to William Ury, an anthropologist and one of PON's founders, while he was sitting in a pub near England's famed white cliffs of Dover in 2001, talking with a colleague about ways to democratize global institutions. "We have democracy within countries, but we don't really have democratic problem solving applied across national borders," said Ury. "The question was how to begin to take some small steps toward applying democratic principles to global issues."

Their proposed solution was an online forum where legislators from around the world will share ideas about negotiating for legislation on issues of common concern, such as the environment, space and the oceans.

It was not hard for Ury to convince his PON colleagues that e-Parliament was worth supporting. "PON really looks at developing better methods for problem solving, and the e-Parliament is precisely designed to apply state-of-the-art problem-solving methods to difficult issues," he said.

PON provided seed money as well as the brainpower to help solve some of the toughest questions posed by the project. Harvard law students researched problems such as how to make it possible for legislators who speak so many different languages to communicate online.

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