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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D.

Alternative Mechanisms for Negotiating Policy

When problems become intractable, what recourse do you have? How do we best deal with angry citizens when trying to move forward on contentious policies, e.g., health regulations or the setting of a hazardous waste facility? In this class we will consider the potential of alternative dispute resolution as well as conduct an in-class simulation of a real dispute with class members role-playing for points.

Quotes of the Day

Former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected Senator from New York in 2000. During President Bill Clinton's first term, she spearheaded the Administration's effort to establish national health care. It ultimately failed and some analysts have suggested that the way the debate was handled seriously set-back the cause of health care reform. Here Clinton describes the importance of compromise in the political process.

“In the painful aftermath, I realized that I had crossed the line from advocate to policy maker. I hadn't altered my beliefs, but I respectively disagreed with the convictions and passion of the Edelmans and others who objected to the legislation. As advocates, they were not bound to compromise, and unlike Bill, they didn't have to negotiate with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole or worry about maintaining a political balance in Congress. I remembered all too well the defeat of our health care reform effort, which may have happened in part because of a lack of give-and-take. Principles and values in politics should not be compromised, but strategies and tactics must be flexible enough to make progress possible, especially under the difficult political conditions we faced. We wanted to pass a welfare plan that would motivate and equip women to obtain a better life for themselves and their children. We also hoped to persuade the American public, now that the old welfare system had been replaced, to address the greater problem of poverty and its consequences: one-parent and no-parent families, inadequate housing, poor schools and lack of health care. I hoped welfare reform would be the beginning, not the end, of our concern for the poor.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Living History, 2003, Simon and Schuster

Discussion Questions

What is the role of compromise in policymaking? How do you determine when compromise is “good” and “rational” and when it’s a betrayal of principles? Is “gridlock” always a bad thing?


  • Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field. Chap. 6, When Values Collide, Dealing With An Angry Public. The Free Press, 1996.


Case Application: Harvard Program on Negotiation "games": Appleton v. Baker and Mountain View Farm

Policy Exercise #3 due

Please see the Assignments folder for this course. It includes the assignment along with student examples.