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Collaboration and Dispute Resolution Program

About Collaboration and Dispute Resolution

What are collaborative and dispute resolution processes?

Collaboration and dispute resolution encompass a broad spectrum of processes for preventing, managing, or resolving conflict outside the conventional arenas of administrative adjudication, litigation, or legislation.  These range from familiar processes such as direct negotiation and mediation, through stakeholder working groups, joint fact-finding, ombuds services, and many other processes and strategies for managing conflict and fostering agreement.

Generally, "upstream" collaborative processes are designed to prevent conflict or manage conflict at an early stage, while "downstream" dispute resolution processes, such as mediation, involve managing or resolving an existing dispute, often with the assistance of a "third-party neutral" (someone from outside the dispute who can lead process without advocating for any particular party or side).

Why use these processes?

Collaboration and dispute resolution can produce agreements and resolutions efficiently, cost-effectively, and cooperatively.  Agreements reached this way can be more creative, satisfying, and enduring than those imposed through formal systems of redress.  These processes often serve to mend or improve the overall relationship between parties because the focus is largely on interests and cooperation, while protests, appeals, and litigation are focused on positions and win/lose outcomes.  When parties craft a solution themselves, they are generally more committed to the agreement than when a judge or hearing officer hands down a solution or when an agency decides on an issue without meaningful public involvement.  Additionally, preventing or resolving conflict through these processes often results in savings of time, budget dollars, and public resources.

While downstream dispute resolution processes allow the parties to develop a more flexible or creative solution than is generally possible in a court or formal hearing, Bureau policy recognizes that earlier, collaborative involvement amplifies these benefits and increases the likelihood of success.  In managing lands and natural resources for multiple-use, the Bureau is charged with balancing the diverse needs of myriad stakeholders.  Collaborative engagement brings interested and affected parties inside the decision-making process, increasing cooperation, understanding, and ownership, and creating more open and transparent government decision-making.

When does the BLM engage in these processes?

The BLM's policy is to seek to use collaborative or dispute resolution processes for natural resources projects, plans, and decision-making whenever appropriate, unless constrained by law, regulation, or other mandates.  (Disputes over constitutional issues or legal precedent, for example, may be handled best in the courts.  Likewise, opportunities to manage conflict at an informal level may be limited by politics or external events and constraints beyond the participants’ control.) 

Collaboration and dispute resolution processes are used across the BLM: throughout renewable natural resources and land use planning, the National Landscape Conservation System, and minerals and realty management, as well as in contracting and acquisition and internally in EEO and employee relations (through the "CORE PLUS" program).  Involving and engaging the public in projects and plans across the range of programs enhances the BLM's effectiveness and improves the quality of decisions.  Collaboration with other agencies, with Tribal, state, and local governments, and with the communities we serve allows for shared skills, resources, and information, and increases government transparency.

For more information, please contact us.