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Finding third parties and influential people

Third parties and influential people could be of great help in the negotiation and decision making process. But it is crucial you find and select the right people.

What challenges does it focus on?

To find third parties. Or other influential persons who can help the parties reach a decision.

Short summary

While looking for a third person, it is important to keep the following challenges in mind.

  • Neutrality of the third person. Risk of improper payments or other influence by a party.
  • Influence of the person. Will the parties listen to her or him?
  • No threats or other undue influence.

Facilitators say that a good question to ask is: "To whom will each of the parties listen?" The following practices have been collected: 

  • Judges, members of a village courts and other officials which have a task in solving disputes. They are the first ones to think of. Will they be effective and neutral?
  • In many cultures and communities, there are people with a role as dispute solvers. Uncles of husband and wife may have the role to help solve family disputes. A kebir is a wise man/woman in the family of the husband in some Arab countries.
  • For younger persons, teachers and parents may have influence.
  • Local leaders and religious persons can be involved as well.

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  • A list of suitable neutral persons can be developed. It may be possible to organize an election for this. Or to let an assembly from the people accept a proposed list. The list can be published, so that the group in which conflicts may arise already knows there are third parties.
  • At a marriage or the start of an important relationship, a person can be chosen. This can be written down in the contract.
  • The dispute mapping process (Download example here) can be of use to identify if there is a third party to whom both parties (or one of them) will listen.
  • Asking about the background to the conflict can also highlight influential people (Asking about the Background)

Research evidence

 Evidence from practice

  • Levels of influence: Among the Tumpuon people in Cambodia, if a negotiated solution price cannot be reached, a Kanong (first level facilitator) may become frustrated and stop the negotiations. S/he would then refer the parties to the Krak Phoang (second level facilitator. Any party can also stop the negotiation at any time by telling the Kanong that s/he will take the dispute to a Krak Phoang.
  • A list of selected people to choose from: The Rwandese Abunzi system works with a list of 15 judges, each party can choose his own judge and they together choose the third to complete the panel that will adjudicate the case. These 15 members are chosen through an open election by the community.
  • Choose a trusted expert: in Cambodia the idea is proposed by facilitators in the network of ZOA to look for someone from a respected organisation such as Buddhists for Development. (ZOA)
  • Mapping neutral people: Some facilitators in Cambodia make a map of the powerful people in the network of the unwilling party and explain the situation to the best positioned person to influence the party. The same could be done to identify the best neutral people to select (a) decision maker(s).
  • Integrate dispute resolution into the communities: In the refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border, elected section leaders are the first outpost of communal organization. Section leaders are the first to be called in almost all types of problems, including problems that might require legal solution. Similar functions are exercised by Umukuru in Rwanda.
  • Trust and respect: In Mali family disputes are often facilitated by "demarcheur" - the person who organized the marriage. If his intervention is unsuccessful, the parents of the man are expected to intervene in the dispute.

Evidence from handbooks

Village Court Magistrates in Papua New Guinea:
• Should be chosen by the people of the area
• Are officially appointed by the National Minister for Justice
• Are appointed for an indefinite period
• Can be suspended or dismissed by the National Minister for Justice for misconduct or incapacity
• Cannot be suspended or dismissed by a Local Council
• Can be women

Village Magistrates may be the older leaders in the village who have had little or no schooling or they may be younger, more educated people. This is of little importance. The main qualifications for Magistrates are a detailed knowledge of the people and customs of the area and being a respected and fair person. If a Magistrate does not have a detailed knowledge of custom it will be difficult for him or her to make decisions based on custom. At the very least a Magistrate should know who to ask about custom.

Evidence from literature

When is third party decision-making needed?Sometimes, in mediation parties can not come to an agreement. Research has shown that the need for third party decision-making to solve a conflict is influenced by:

  • The level of correspondence between the expectations of the parties towards the outcome of the conflict
  • The level of time pressure
  • The extent to which a clear standard exists for resolving the problem.

Lind, E.A. & Tyler, T.R. (1988).The Social Psychology of Procedural Justice. Plenum Press, New York.

Aspects of the legitimacy of third party decision-makers are:

  • How are judges nominated and elected?
  • Who is involved in appointing judges and what considerations are at play?

Mackenzie, Ruth and Philippe Sands QC ‘Judicial Selection for International Courts: Towards Common Principles and Practices’ in Malleson, Kate and Peter Russell (eds.) Appointing Judges in an Age of Judicial Power: Critical Perspectives from Around the World 2006

Three motivations for third party engagement:

  • The dispute may endanger their own welfare, or that of a group whom they like.
  • There may be strong cultural norms promoting engagement, particularly of more socially powerful individuals
  • They may be repaying a debt of friendship to one or both parties, or may be currying favour with a group who wish to see the conflict resolved.

Pruitt, D. G., & Kim, S. H. (2005). Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, 3rd Edition. McGraw Hill, New York.

Best practices