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ADR Program

About Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement and ADR 

What are collaborative stakeholder engagement and ADR?

Collaborative stakeholder engagement and appropriate dispute resolution (ADR) 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, ombudsman services and many other processes and strategies for managing conflict and fostering agreement. In some cases, there may be overlap in both purpose and practice among the various processes. However, upstream collaborative processes are generally designed to prevent conflict from arising while downstream ADR processes involve managing or resolving an existing dispute, often with the assistance of a third-party neutral.

Why use these processes?

Both upstream and downstream processes 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 ADR 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 upstream involvement amplifies these benefits and increases the likelihood of successful prevention or resolution of conflicts or disputes.  In managing lands and natural resources for multiple-use, the Bureau is charged with balancing the diverse needs of myriad stakeholders.  Collaborative stakeholder engagement brings interested and affected parties inside the decision-making process, increasing cooperation, understanding, and buy-in, and creating more open and transparent government decision-making.

When does the BLM engage in these processes?

Bureau policy is to use collaborative stakeholder engagement or ADR as standard operating practice for natural resources projects, plans, and decision-making, and for internal workplace disputes, except under unusual conditions or when constrained by law, regulation, or other mandates.  All of these processes have increased success rates when initiated as early as possible (upstream), so beginning with the least formal appropriate process at the lowest possible level of the organization is encouraged.  If the process fails, it is then recommended that a more downstream process be selected.  It is important to recognize that many of the boundaries between the different processes are not well-defined and that many processes may contain elements of others.  Any process should be adapted according to the particular circumstances of a situation, or, in some situations, these processes may not be appropriate at all.  (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 ADR 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.  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.  Providing analysis of conflict prevention and conflict management (including litigation and other conventional dispute resolution processes), and ensuring overall coordination within the Bureau, allows the BLM to adapt to new information, conditions, and direction.  This helps to prevent future disputes and significantly increases the potential for reduced litigation in the future.

For more information, please contact us.