Problem Solving Workshops and Implementation

Herb Kelman 

Professor Emeritus, Program on Negotiation, Harvard University

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: At the risk of stating the obvious, maybe one of the lessons learned from the Oslo process for the problem solving workshop methodology is that problem solving workshops are a great way to get an idea out but certainly a very insufficient piece of the process for implementation overall?

A: I certainly agree with that, I've never thought of it otherwise. There is no substitute for political decisions and for what you need for political decisions, which is both an official, authoritative process-our advantage is that we have no authority, but to implement an agreement you need authority. Secondly, you need to put public opinion. We contribute to that. In other words we provide potential inputs to public opinion, very significant ones, potentially, by getting these ideas into the public debate and into the public consciousness. They come out of workshops, in part, along with many other activities. Of course I don't want to exaggerate the contribution of this one approach because it is one of many. We contribute to that but the task of persuading public opinion is a task that requires political leadership and it doesn't happen by itself.

Q: Problem solving workshops can be used even to that end as you were mentioning. It can be used both for coming up with the ideas and then maybe to even generate support in the sense that people can talk about it more.

A: RIght, but it's not a substitute for the educational process that political leaders have to engage in. Our people, we do not select participants, primarily on the grounds of being political leaders. Some of them, may be, some of them are to some degree, but we select them more on the grounds of being political thinkers, influentials, but that's different from a political leader in the sense whose task it is to mobilize the public. There may be an occasional person in our workshop who performs that role in his society. That's not primarily the basis on which we select people. Workshops do not substitute for either part of the political process, the authoritative part or the educational part, whatever you want to call it. I have never claimed or thought that it does. I still believe that Oslo was useful and I'm not ashamed of our contribution to it although it's different than it was in '93 or '94. At that time I could feel good when people said, oh, you had something to do with Oslo. Now I feel defensive but I am prepared to defend.