Montag, 21. November 2011

responsive government

Good news from Berne!

The Swiss minister of Justice, Simonetta Sommaruga, just gave us a beautiful example of responsive government. The story is a case of new legislation about parental rights for child care in case of divorce. Under current practice the right for child care is mostly adjudicated to the mother only. The father often feels discriminated, reduced to the role of financial provider. Men's organizations had submitted proposals for adjusting the law to give equal rights to both parents. The matter was pending for several years. When Simonetta Sommaruga took office early this year she announced that she intended to work on a broader review of divorce legislation, including also maintenance payments. However, such a broader review would have caused further delay in dealing with the burning issue of parental rights. Men's organizations came out in angry protests. They camped on the Bundesplatz, the public space in front of the federal parliament, and they launched a campaign inviting angry citizens to send protest stones to the minister. (see

Simonetta responded. She came out to meet the protesters at the Bundesplatz and engaged in a dialogue. Her message was clear. I hear you, she said, we shall expedite the matter. That was in February. And protest stones kept being sent to her one by one, by ordinary postal mail. By November she had received more than 1700 stones. But now she sent out an invitation to the protesters. She wanted to meet them at a children's playground near Berne where she offered them two surprises. The first surprise was that the protest stones had been used to build a public square at the playground, dedicated to the concerned organizations. The second surprise was the minister's announcement that the new law was ready for parliament and that the demands of the campaign had been met. Responsive Government had a field day.

I think the story is good stuff for a mediator's blog. Three aspects deserve to be highlighted:
  • the power of symbols: both the protesters and the minister communicated with strong symbols. the protest stones did not do any physical harm, but they carried a strong message, and the media were keen to use the pictures. The minister also used the stones as symbols, turning them into a public good;
  • responsiveness: the response was given on the spot, through personal presence and open dialogue, taking the media along so that the communication was widely accessible;
  • transformation: by using the protest symbols to build common ground the minister opened up a new creative dimension in the communication with the concerned "constituency".

So next time when protest stones are coming your way, don't be afraid. Think of a creative response.

Yours in mediation

geri baobab

Dienstag, 7. Juni 2011

turning points

dear colleagues and friends,

sometimes it's difficult to recognize that we have reached a turning point.

this time the media marked the decision as "historic" right from the beginning when the news were broadcast for the first time:

Switzerland will say No to nuclear energy.

The waves of Fukushima have reached Berne. The Swiss Federal Government - a cabinet of 7 ministers, 4 women (picture), 3 men - has announced its decision to refrain from this high risk option and to lead the society towards a more sustainable energy policy. This is big change. Some 40% of the Swiss energy consumption are currently fed by nuclear energy. Giving up the nuclear option will mean nothing less than changing our way of life. For the better, I think.

How is this possible?
What happened in the minds of our political leaders? What made them take such a bold decision? Is it opportunism, as the critics say, driven by opinion polls in an election year? Or are they moved by new insights that make them see their responsibility for future generations?

Let us imagine that some kind of inner mediation has happened inside the decision makers. Imagine that they chaired a meeting of their inner team and that all the different voices were heard, the voices of the bold and enthusiastic, the voices of the sceptics, the cautious, the pragmatist, the dreamer, all of them. And that the dialogue happened in such a way that they all listened to each other. And so they reached a turning point.

Turning points are crucial in the mediation process. Friedrich Glasl and Rudi Ballreich distinguish four different turning points in mediation: (see
  • The initial turning point is reached when all the involved parties agree to come to the table and engage in the mediation process.
  • The second turning point happens at the cognitive level when the parties are ready and able to change perspectives. When they realize that there are different ways to read the conflict story.
  • The third turning point is emotional. At this point the parties in conflict express their feelings in an authentic and credible way so that the feelings can be mutually understood and accepted. It is the point of empathy for the other side.
  • And finally there is the intentional turning point. The parties are now willing to go for a win-win solution and to take responsibility for its implementation.
Somebody must lead the process. The role of the mediator is to offer an environment that opens up paths of understanding that lead towards the turning points, to highlight these points, and to encourage the parties on the way forward. It can be done with the inner team as well.

Be the change that you want to see in the world, Gandhi said.
Be the turning point.

Yours in mediation
geri baobab