Focusing on Smaller Problems to Reframe Values

Marcia Caton Campbell

Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Can you re-frame issues in a conflict where worldviews are fundamentally different?

A: What you can do is get groups to agree on a practical problem that needs to be resolved. You are not asking them to alter their worldviews, and you are not asking them to come to agreement on a unified worldview. You are asking them to turn their energies toward the solution of a practical problem. The Katryn County collaborative case in New Mexico is a good example of coming to that kind of resolution. You have ranchers, you have environmentalists from the forest service, you have loggers, and you have very strong concerns about the local economy (which is being decimated by the death of the logging industry), and problems with ranching as a livelihood. There, you had people — ranchers and loggers — clinging to past views about how life was and how it should continue to be, when the reality was that that wasn't going to work anymore. The town needed economic development of some kind. You had the forest service concerned about a number of issues related to forest management. The local populace also needed employment.

Through an extended process of collaboration, working on what appeared to be an intractable problem that had risen to the level of violence — people were shooting at each other, people were engaging in fisticuffs at meetings — they were able to arrive at a practical problem that they could agree upon: "The town needs some local economic development that is sustainable. How are we going to get there?" Melinda Smith was the mediator in that case and she wrote a terrific case study of it. I think you can get people to agree on a practical problem that needs to be addressed from their different worldview perspectives, and then work together to resolve that. Have they resolved the fundamental values differences between them? No. Have they learned how to work together on something? Yes. Does that help minimize the potential for conflict in the future? Perhaps. It depends.