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Facilitation At The Crossroad A Brief Look At The Facilitation I Practice

What Is A Right?
The Equality Of Differences
Environmental Justice Is Predicated On Human Equality
Perceived Resource Scarcity Accentuates Destructive Environmental Conflict
Resource Overexploitation A Matter Of Perceived Loss
Destructive Conflict Is A Mistake
Destructive Conflict Is Usually Based On The Misjudgment Of Appearances

All Resources Are Interconnected, Interactive, Interdependent, And Ultimately Finite
Air: The Breath of Life--And of Death
Soil: The Great Placenta
Water: A Captive of Gravity
Biodiversity: The Variety of Life
Human Population: A Matter of Gender Equality
Sunlight: The Source of Global Energy
Climate: The Global Arbiter
The Key to the Gate
Nature Keeps Its Own Scorecard
Nature Is Governed By Impartial Laws
Destructive Conflict Over A Given Resource Lies In Its Perceived Value
Change: The Dynamic Constant

A Child's Gift
We Take Our Families With Us
Dysfunctional Family Dynamics Lead To Ongoing Destructive Conflict
Homeostasis Is Designed To Hide Dysfunction
Boundaries, The Silent Language
Coping Mechanisms Unconscious Thoughts That Manifest As Recognizable Behaviors
Anger and Aggression
Standards and Judgment
The Capacity For Rational Thought
Everyone Is Right From His Or Her Point Of View
Acceptance Of Circumstances Offers The Choices Of What Might Be

Language As A Tool
The Use Of Silence In Communication
The Need To Be Heard
The Basic Elements Of Communication
Communication Barriers
Lack of a Common Experience or Frame of Reference
General Personality Traits
Use of Abstractions
Inability To Transfer Experiences From One Situation To Another

Faith In The Process Is Belief In The Outcome
The Primacy Of Process
Perception Is Truth; Facts are Relative
Reframing The Issue

I Am At All Times A Guest And A Leader Simultaneously
Leadership: The Art of Being a Servant
Hidden Agendas
Facilitator as Teacher
The Fallacy of Rescuing
My Role in Participant Relationships
Facilitation Means Total Participation
Detachment and Equanimity
I Am a Sieve, Not a Sponge
I Am the Keeper of Each Participant's Dignity
Have a Beginner's Mind
Being Myself
The Continual Learning Curve
Not Knowing an Answer Is Okay
Success or Failure Is the Interpretation of an Event

Compromise And The Point Of Balance
A Curriculum Of Compassion And Justice
Facilitation As A Gift Is Free, But As A Trade Has A Cost

Who Are We As A Culture?
What Legacy Do We Want To Leave Our Children?
Vision, Goals, And Objectives


Sustainable Development Within The Context Of Our World View
Mechanistic World View
The Transition
Unified World View
Sustainable Development: A Conscious Process Of Self-Determination And Social Evolution
At What Scale Is Sustainable Development Possible?

Is Local Community The Appropriate Scale For Sustainable Development?
Understanding Local Community Development
Local Community Development
Local Community Development and the Local Economy
The Sustainability of Local Community Development
Sustainable Community Development
Sustainable Community Development Means Change as a Local Creative Process
The Role of Local Government
Increasing Local Adaptability
Improving Citizen Participation
Sustainable Community Development in Relation to Its Landscape
Information Feedback Loops



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"This book is very readable and also offers additional valuable references for facilitators as well as those immersed in environmental conflicts."—Environmental Network News, January/February 1996.

"Maser's experience has proven that the facilitation process works best at the local level."— FORUM for Applied Research and Public Policy, Winter 1997.

"This synthesis of 'transformative principles' articulates the world view presented in workshops facilitated by Chris Maser. He has been called in when agencies have exhausted other options for settlement of disputes over forest management and are faced with the threat of legal action.... Written in a motivational style, the book presents themes from ecological and social sciences interwoven with strong value statements to sustain the idealism necessary for participants to work together in achieving their vision....

"By emphasizing the theme of transformative facilitation, Maser seeks to inspire readers to move beyond mere 'problem-solving.' He writes for those who believe that implications for future generations are more important than is immediate settlement of an environmental dispute. From his perspective, the problem-solving approach to facilitation is something less than transformative. A mutually acceptable solution resulting from mere problem-solving may be viewed as a lose ⁄ lose rather than a win ⁄ win compromise, depending on the state of mind of participants. In his workshops, Maser consciously strives to alter participants' state of mind to facilitate development of moral responsibility for stewardship of sustainable communities. He does so by facilitating discussion of an ecosystem from the different perspectives of disputants.

"...As more people recognize the diversity of cultural lenses through which stakeholder groups view environmental issues, the ways in which environmental disputes are resolved will also shift. This book provided another meaning to the term 'sustainable development.' Scientists, whose work is likely to interface with sustainable development at home or abroad, are advised to inform themselves of the multiple cultural lenses that affect the decisions of their collaborators.... This book is an excellent example of one cultural lens that both shapes and filters the information received by its believers."—Dr. Jane M. Packard, Texas A. & M. University. Ecosystem Health, Vol.4. 1998.

"Those seeking to resolve conflict between environmentalists and industrialists should see 'Resolving Environmental Conflict' (1996) by Chris Maser in which he discusses 'transformative' facilitation."—Tim Campbell, Community Development Society, Columbus, OH.

"I recommend this book for its carefully reasoned purpose in joining transformative human growth with notions of sustainable community development. It would be useful in an academic setting, for professional facilitators and for community members seeking an alternative process for decision making. The author presents many helpful examples from his many facilitation experiences to illustrate concepts and techniques. As with other models of facilitation, Maser relies heavily on the power of information. He goes beyond to rely on the ability of participants to reflect. A skillful facilitator would be needed to make sure that such reliance strengthens the process. Despite the book's general readability and insights, I was left wondering how anyone but a very experiences facilitator could use this method because of demanding that the facilitator carryout multiple tasks.

"I agree with the author that this transformative approach has great potential in settings of community development and planning because of the high likelihood of engendering new ideas and motivating people toward sustainability. One concern remains here as well. The process as described seems to place facilitation exclusively on contexts where the participants have decision making authority. I wonder how well the process works when the results are subject to external veto, as is common in community planning or among advisory bodies. It seems to me that participants would then be reluctant to engage in such an intense process of self-examination unless fairly certain their decision would be taken seriously.

"The procedural aspects of the method—the importance of responsibility, communication, faith in process, etc.—are in many ways similar to the more common problem-solving facilitation. What is different about transformative facilitation? It is its search for change in moral character and its purposeful modeling of the small-scale, community-level democratic process. The value of Maser's book is that it pushes those of us who believe conflict resolution processes have value to make connections to the broader issues of governance and ethics. Transformative facilitation is asking for the facilitator what Barber (1984) and Benhabib (1985) have asked of democratic participation by citizens or what Forester (1992) expects from mediators in public sector disputes:  an opportunity for enhancing democratic participation, not just problem solving. It posits an alternative method of governance—that of participatory democracy by citizens of moral character. In this light, the problem-solving model asks no more from participants than does the pluralist political model—bargaining to achieve the middle ground, which is not dependent on fundamental change or a shared vision among the participants. Maser proposes that to be better environmental citizens we need to be better environmentalist, but also better citizens, and we need to take moral responsibility for future generations, preserving the options they will have for maintaining environmental quality."

Barbar, B. (1984). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Benhabib, S. (1985) Critique, norm, utopia. Columbia University Press, New York.

Forester, J. (1992). Envisioning the politics of public sector dispute resolution. In:  S. Silbey and A. Sarat (Eds.), Studies in law, politics, and society (Vol. 12, pp. 247-286). JAI Press, Greenwich, CT.

Wendy Kellogg, Cleveland State University. The International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 7, No. 3 (July), pp. 275-287. (1996)

"This book is not what I expected, although it is true to its title. Conflict resolution is key to dealing with the challenges that must be met to achieve sustainable development. In this book, Chris Maser explains from personal experience how the transformative approach to facilitation can be accomplished. He describes, with many examples, how participants in conflict resolution can empower themselves, define the issues at hand, and settle a situation on their own terms and according to their own time schedule. He believes that all this can be accomplished when the participants understand one another's positions and perspectives. Solutions are attainable, as long as those involved share a truly sustainable vision of the community toward which they commit themselves to build.

"Readers expecting to find a description of 'sustainable community development' will be disappointed. Only in the second- and third-last brief chapters of this book is there any discussion of the nature of sustainable development. Sustainable development is described as 'a nonlinear process of systems thinking through which the social significance of nonmaterial wealth and qualitative values can be accounted for in social decision making.' Mr. Maser notes that 'sustainable' in this context has at least two elements:  '(1) intergenerational equity and the responsibility of the current generation to its own members and to its descendants, and (2) the specification of what is to be sustained.' 'Development' in this context, then, is 'a process of directed change, of social evolution you will.'

"The point of this book became clearer to me when I realized that Mr. Maser believes that sustainable development must be implemented where people are able to learn, feel, and be empowered to act, that is to say, at the local level. According to Mr. Maser, sustainable development must be integrated into policies and decisions in local communities where people have the power to effect change and make decisions based on a unified worldview, one that begins healing the environment in the present for the future. "Sustainable community development is a potentially powerful strategy for change. By addressing the needs and concerns of both individuals and community groups, it increases the solidarity and adaptability of a local community, which means that the issues on which a community focuses become increasingly centered within the context of long-term sustainability.

"Conflict can be constructive. It is also capable of destroying human dignity, degrading the capacity of an ecosystem, or foreclosing options for present and/or future generations. Destructive conflicts are created by the choices people make and can therefore be resolved by electing different choices. Transformative facilitation is shown to be an approach that has worked well in the resolution of environmental conflict. In contrast to the problem-solving approach to facilitation, wherein the most important goal is to maximize satisfaction for individuals engaged in a conflict, the transformative approach emphasizes the capacity for personal growth, which is embodied in the ability to accept risk. Transformative facilitators concentrate on helping parties empower themselves to define the issues and decide the settlement through a better understanding of one another's perspectives.

"Mr. Maser's writing style tends to be wordy, bordering on tedious at times. However, he writes from the heart and provides insights to the experiences that have shaped his attitudes and convictions. This relatively short book gives the reader reason to be optimistic that sustainable community development is possible." — B.D. Haddon, The Forestry Chronicle, 72 (3):337 (1996)

"The title of this book suggests that the main topic is about implementing policies or creating institutions, which can be used to resolve environmental conflicts or at least to confront them. However, on the contrary, Chris Maser writes with the main purpose of showing people that the key to resolving destructive environmental conflicts lies within ourselves. The idea of "us and the choices we make" is developed in the book using simple and understandable language. But more importantly, Maser uses a wide variety of examples, most of them drawn from his experience as a facilitator for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and other U.S. governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

"The book is divided into two main parts. The first one, entitled Resolving Destructive Environmental Conflict, deals exclusively with the definition and explanation of what he calls the seven "givens." Maser defines the givens as the basic elements that must be understood, accepted and acted on if a destructive environmental conflict is to be resolved. These seven givens, according to the author, are the mechanism by which transformative facilitation can be implemented. Following, a brief description of each one is presented.

"The first given deals with the idea of conflict is a choice, which means we can choose peaceful ways of resolving differences as well as understanding that the peaceful way lies in the art of transformative facilitation, where differences are resolved through inner shifts in consciousness. The second given, environmental principles:  the need to know and the fear of knowing, is concerned with the principles governing nature's dynamic balance. These principles are:  (1) the law of conservation; (2) the law of conservation of energy; and finally (3) the law of entropy. He also warns of the consequences of not taking them into consideration in our daily life. The third given, the human equation refers to the equality in love, trust, respect and environmental justice. In other words, environmental justice asserts that we owe something to other people, both those present and those yet unborn. The fourth given, communication: the interpersonal element, is focused on the ability to transfer experiences from one generation to another as well as from one situation to another. The fifth given, the process is the decision, is about the faith facilitators must have in order to achieve the outcome they seek. The sixth given, conflict is a learning partnership, is concerned with facilitating someone else's ability to reach his or her potential as a human being. In this process, both the facilitator and the combatants learn each other's capacity to expose their human values and their human dignity. The last given, practicing transformative facilitation focuses on democracy, compromise and the point of balance that resolves conflict, and on the importance of compassion and justice, which are essential in continuing the facilitation process. At the same time, in almost the whole first section he emphasizes our ability not only to make the right choices for our present environment but also for future generations.

"The second part of the book, called Beyond Destructive Conflict:  Social/Environmental Sustainability, is a separate proposal rather than a continuation of the first section. This section examines the notion of sustainable community development. Maser's idea of sustainable community development is a community-directed process of development that is based on six points. The first one is based on transcendent human values of love, respect, wonder, humility, and compassion. The second one is based on sharing, generated through communication, cooperation, and coordination. The third point is based on a capacity to understand and work with the flow of life as a fluid system, recognizing the significance of relationships. The fourth point is about patience in seeking to understand a fundamental issue rather than applying band-aid quick fixes to symptoms of a problem. The fifth point is based on consciously integrating the learning space into the working space within a continual cycle of theory, experimentation, action, and reflection. The last point is about a shared societal vision that is grounded in long-term sustainability, both culturally and environmentally. This is, according to Maser, the best type of community for which to aim because it gives people the chance to employ the principles of democracy, aesthetics, utility, durability and sustainability in the planning process. He looks at this type of community interacting with local governments and local economic developments. Even though the author does not give any practical example of a sustainable community development, the book gives the right image of the community he is proposing.

"The book will be of interest to those who focus on social change as well as social behavior, and also for those concerned with environmental ethics and a sense of environmental balance. Chris Maser's ideas of the "givens" are of special importance for those involved in the environment and facilitators in particular. But whatever our field of study, we must realize that we have to take into consideration that the theme addressed here is simply too important to ignore and that action must be taken sooner rather than later."—Carlos F. Lascurain, Department of Government, University of Essex, Environmental Change & Security Project Report, Issue 5 (Summer1999).

"Chris Maser's Resolving Environmental Conflict is a good book, especially for those interested in the community aspects of environmental issues."—Craig L. Infanger, In:  Proceedings of a Regional Workshop:  Industrialized Animal Agriculture, Environmental Quality, and Strategies for Collaborative Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution.

"Transformative Mediation—introduced by Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger in The Promise of Mediation—is one of the newer [Alternative Dispute Resolution] practices contributing to change.  …According to Bush and Folger, [Transformative Mediation] focuses on the transformative effect that empowerment and recognition have on mediation participants. To Bush and Folger, conflict resolution is only a secondary concern. This ideological, value-laden step away from the mainstream model of conflict resolution—whereby a neutral third-party mediator works to facilitate a settlement—is quite controversial to some.

"In Resolving Environmental Conflict, Chris Maser takes yet another controversial step away from the [Alternative Dispute Resolution] mainstream. Maser's agenda is long-term social and environmental sustainability, and he has adopted [Transformative Mediation] as his vehicle for achieving it. He argues that destructive conflict—the barrier to sustainability—can be resolved through [Transformative Mediation], whereby mediation participants also are instilled with a shared vision of the future. This shared vision is produced by supplementing and manipulating a mediation's content with its context.

"Unlike Bush and Folger, who began as mediators, Maser is a veteran research scientist in the field of natural history and ecology. He adopted [Transformative Mediation] because he believed that it was the best way to bridge the gap between human material desires and the sustainable capacity of the environment. The task, he says, is to move on to the next evolutionary stage of human existence, the conquest of oneself. Again, he writes:  'In the material world, self-conquest means bringing one's thought and behaviors in line with the immutable physical [and] biological laws governing the world in which one lives...' (Maser, 1996, p. xiv). Like Bush and Folger, Maser believes that [Transformative Mediation] has the capacity to change society for the better.

"…the self-interest that makes Maser somewhat less than neutral is a dedication to social and environmental sustainability. His adaptation of the [Transformative Mediation] model to that end is unique. Maser imbeds his [Transformative Mediation] process in a 3- to 4-day educational odyssey. The first day covers the basics of ecology and cultural values as they relate to the particular resource in question. The second day takes participants to the resource at which abstract concepts turn into relevant and concrete experiences. Interestingly, by the middle of the second day, there has not yet been any discussion of the actual dispute. Maser believes that the participants should not discuss the dispute until they have a common understanding of the ecosystem. On the third day, he moves into the ecosystem's historical perspective. Then, and only then, are a shared vision and goals for the ecosystem possible. Little is left in dispute. By working in this way, Maser adds significantly to the [Transformative Mediation] model. Thus, where Bush and Folger let the model work the magic, Maser is an active agent of change.

"…'will a mediator with Maser's experience and stature be able to use the [Transformative Mediation] model to correct the power imbalances between federal agencies and private citizens?' The answer to this question depends on how seriously people are committed to resolving the conflict."—Steven C. Etcheson, Transformative Mediation:  A New Current in the Mainstream. Policy Studies Journal 27:393-396 (1999).

"One of the most important challenges facing civilization is how its natural resources will be used and protected. Too often polarization and litigation cause results with which no one is truly satisfied. Enemies are made, lines are drawn and both people and the environment are degraded.

"Resolving Environmental Conflict explains the transformative approach toward facilitation. It shows how to help parties empower themselves to define the issues and decide the settlement on their own terms and on their own time through better understanding of one another's perspectives.

"The transformative approach allows a conflict's outcome to be decided solely by the participants even though resolution may not take place for some months after facilitation is complete. Inherent in the solution is a shared vision for the community without which sustainability is not possible.

"Beyond shared vision, this book examines notions of development, sustainability, and community and the synergism of ecology, culture and economic needs that promote a healthy environment enriching the lives of all its inhabitants."— (Return to Top of Page)


"Resolving Environmental Conflict:  Towards Sustainable Community Development, according to its author Chris Maser, has been written 'to give people the necessary philosophical underpinnings for practicing transformative facilitation.' The first part of the book explicates what the author believes about facilitation and the second part 'examine[s] notions of development, sustainability, and community.'

"If I were asked to edit this book as printed, I would make the following suggestions for how to improve it. 1. Explain 'transformative facilitation.' After all, that is the reason you wrote the book. You say what it can do, what are its potential effects, but not what it is. Be clear about how transformative differs from other types of facilitation. The reason for reading your book, rather than Bush and Folger (1994), would be if it provides new insight into the use of transformative facilitation. Your description in chapter one cries out for actual examples and for you being clear about how your approach is transformative.

"2. Be clear about how 'facilitation' differs from other processes. 'Facilitation' and 'mediation' are not synonymous as you imply. Is it facilitation when you put on slide shows or make presentations? I cannot imagine any circumstance when a facilitator would need to begin a process with, according to your report, 'a several-hour monologue.'

"3. Either drop the first person approach or get help tempering the imposition of Chris Maser into the ideas of the book. It is tricky to write in the first person without appearing self-promotional. It does not work even when self-deprecating. Part II has a much improved tone because it does not use so many first person pronouns.

"4. Decide whether you want to present your views about the environment or you want to write a book about facilitation. You cannot do both. You reveal your ideological viewpoint throughout the book and your views get in the way of your perceived neutrality as a facilitator. In your discussion of personality traits, for example, it is apparent that a 'systems' thinker is more desirable than a 'piece' thinker.

"A piece thinker is likely to be a rural resident who is very much concerned with land ownership and property rights and wants as much free rein as possible to do as he or she pleases on his or her property, at times without regard for the consequences for future generations. A systems thinker, on the other hand, is most often an urban dweller who is likely to be concerned about the welfare of others, including those of the future and their nonhuman counterparts. Such a simplistic rural/urban dichotomy is indefensible.

"5. Use illustrative material (examples, illustrations) that fit the topic of the book. Why illustrate the use of 'questions' with 'Do you know what the moon is?' when you can easily select an example from your work on environmental disputes. Use actual examples from your own work in the chapter on 'Conflict' rather than garbage collectors and doctors. Use environmental facilitation situations to illustrate how the concept of boundaries apply to people wishing to facilitate them. Why not use examples from your work when discussing anger and aggression?

"6. Improve the style. Take out the repetition. You make the reader work too hard by having to read the same ideas and the same phrases over and over again. Don't be so extreme. One example is your claim that 'anything short of [listening as you describe it] is an act of passive violence.' Reduce the frequent use of allness terms such as 'only' and 'all.' Be sensitive to the use of words or phrases that will act as a red flag for some readers (e.g., 'out of the closet')

"7. Reconcile what is now a mixed message. On the one hand you indicate that the facilitator should not influence the content, but you give an example where you do influence the content. When discussing the use of silence, you give an example where the breakthrough was your suggestion to 'call it lifestyle,' but you go on to say 'had I in any way helped them with the answer. . ., it would have been my answer—not theirs—and it would have been useless to them.'

"A few additional concerns:  Your understanding of 'communication" does not match your description. You seem to believe that communication is what is received, yet you say that 'communication occurs when one person transmits ideas or feelings to another.' You recognize that communication is a two-way process yet do not include 'feedback' as an essential element.

"You say 'I intentionally go into each facilitation with very little specific knowledge of the conflict or the participants.' One of the most powerful tools a facilitator has is to interview people individually before they come together. It introduces her to the participants and it encourages people to be more candid then they would be in the meeting and thereby enables the facilitator to be the messenger of ideas that might not otherwise surface in the meeting. It is one way a facilitator can achieve your goal of making 'the process safe enough that all hidden agendas are placed on the table.' The facilitator need not be an expert on the topic, but the more a facilitator knows about the content, the more helpful s/he can be. The key, of course, is to proceed in such a way that the work is the work of the participants, not the facilitator.

"Two of my least favorite statements in your book are:  'I must never crack a joke.' and 'My data are my truth and I will not allow it to be compared to other data.'"— Carl Moore, Human Ecology Review, 4 (1):61-62. (1997) (Return to Top of Page)

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