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Finding possible outcomes

Having many possible solutions makes it more likely a solution that works will be found in the end.

What challenges does it focus on?

Support parties to develop many possible solutions

Short summary

 Facilitators indicate that having many possible solutions makes it more likely a solution that works will be found.

  • Talking about possible solutions should not begin too early. First, each party needs to know that the other party understands and respects her interests. 
  • The key to finding solutions is to start from the interests of parties.
  • You can ask the parties to choose the interest they want to work on first. Then ask the parties to propose ideas for solutions that protect this interest. And possibly other interests as well. 
  • A list of possible solutions is developed. Making this list visible for both parties can help. On paper, blackboard or by using symbolic objects (glue for staying together, torn paper for splitting up).
  • Ask parties not to comment on solutions. Judgement is postponed until all options are listed.
  • Try to avoid talking about the size of payments or other 'how much' issues. Compensation can be listed as an option. 
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When the list is ready, parties can look at combinations of solutions.

  • Support parties to think freely. Strange proposals can lead to creative outcomes.
  • Many facilitators propose solutions. This can help. Proposals by the other party are often not trusted. It is often more easy to accept a proposal by a neutral. The best solutions are made by the parties together.
  • On basis of this long list of ideas the parties can discuss what solution is most acceptable to them.
  • You can ask parties which solutions meet the needs of both parties best.

Research evidence

 Evidence from practice

  • Making people see what happens if they do not find a solution: Facilitators of CEWLA in Egypt explain to parties the risks of not finding a solution and going to court.
  • Emphasize that parties need to find a solution themselves: The Karen facilitators in north Thailand and lawyers for Praxis in Azerbaijan emphasize that the parties need to find a solution to the problem together and support creative thinking.
  • Ask Direct Questions: Praxis lawyers in Azerbaijan ask direct questions about parties' interests and needs. This helps to focus the discussion on the important issues.
  • Allow for different scenarios to exist next to each other. Sometimes the truth cannot be determined objectively. Or the perceptions of the parties on the facts, issues, possible outcomes are simply not compatible. In the Dutch Code of Conduct for Handling Personal Injury Claims, Principle 14 states: If circumstances are difficult to determine, parties consult on possible outcomes (scenarios).


Evidence from handbooks

Linked bargaining

  • This is the technique in which agreement on one aspect of the problem is linked to finding an agreement on another aspect. Example: If A agrees that B can continue to live in the house, what could B do for A to help him with the harvest?

Increasing the pie

  • This is a technique in which the facilitator guides parties to new solutions by increasing the scope of what is included in the negotiation.

Additional techniques for finding creative solutions:

  • making lists
  • develop one shared vision
  • engage experts
  • ask mediator to develop options
  • consult external sources
  • stimulate creativity en let go of negative framework

Schonewille, M. (2005) Mediation toolkit


Evidence from literature

Brainstorming instruction is an effective method for increasing the production of good ideasIt works for a particular type of creative thinking problems, and is even more effective if preceded by extensive training in its use.

Effects of "brainstorming" instructions on creative problem solving by trained and untrained subjects.Parnes, Sidney J.; Meadow, Arnold
Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 50(4), Aug 1959, 171-176.
: 4 steps to generate solutions:

Separate inventing from deciding. Postpone the judgements of ideas
Seek many options rather than look for a single answer
Seek win/win ideas
Make it easy for both parties to agree without loosing face
R. Fisher, W. Ury and B. Patton, Getting to Yes; negotiating an agreement without giving in, New York 1991, p. 65.


Parties may address issues one at a time, in an ad hoc manner. The parties may alternate choosing issues to discuss. They may work from most to least important issues, or from easiest to more difficult issues. They may start by identifying which issues are key, and which issues are contingent on other agreements. They may package issues together to enable balanced trade-offs.

Moore, C., The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict, 3th ed., San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2003


Finding solutions through a creative brainstorm can produce novel and useful solutions. This is particularly true if all solutions each party can think of are written down without shouting them out, prior to a collaboration or exchange process. This accesses the largest number of possible solutions, thus improving the chances of finding an appropriate solution.

Diehl, M. & Stroebe, W. (1987) 'Productivity Loss in Brainstorming Groups: Towards a Solution to a Riddle'. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 53(3) p.497

Creating a 'Concert'
Try to make sure that the facilitation is not conducted as a 'performance', where one person is 'performing' for all the rest. Generate a 'concert' where all participants are taking part. In this way, the best ideas will come to the fore.

The Handbook of Conflict Resolution (2006) Deutsch, M., Coleman, P. T., & Marcus, E. C. (Eds). Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, US.

Best practices