In basic mediation and conflict resolution training, a key message is the identification of the often opposing ‘positions’ taken in disputes, and how those positions can be mitigated by examination of ‘interests’.

There is lots of literature on the subject, readily available on the net, so I won’t try to replicate the entire philosophy of conflict resolution here. The basic premise I want to address is that there are methods to negotiate and/or facilitate disputes so that both sides achieve at least part of what they are looking for. Otherwise, by the time it is necessary to resolve the issue, folks are entrenched in their positions. The objective suffers.

‘Positions’ are often intractable, in that no options will be considered. “We need a new library” and “We don’t want a new library” are both ‘positions’.

‘Interests’ on the other hand, are defined as desires, outcomes or goals that people want to achieve in a given situation. This often includes the reasons why an outcome is important. “We value libraries but don’t want to pay for a new building. How can we achieve better services without the cost?” could be described as an ‘interest’. Generally, interests are negotiable, while positions are not.

It’s also reasonable to conclude that there are only winners and losers when one or both parties remain steadfast in a ‘position’. There is no room for wiggle room or middle ground.

With a bit of critical thought about the ongoing debates in St Albert, and how our City should be managed, it would be healthy for our community to move off of the firmly entrenched positions. Solving the issue amicably is always the best option.

In the example of the ongoing debate about the need for a new branch library, one ‘position’ is that a new branch is needed. This is often explained as a requirement because of a shortage of space for programs available to the community. The arguments are further bolstered with studies premised on data and statistics, which are summarily dismissed by the opposing party in the spirit of the dispute. Perhaps unfair, but a part of the polarization.

The problem with taking a position is that it is very difficult to then move to a more conciliatory stance if and when the issue must be resolved. In this case, those that insist that a new branch library is an absolute necessity, or completely unnecessary, may struggle to then agree that some form of interim proposition will be satisfactory. 

I am encouraged that in spite of the positions taken by some, many others are still seeking to explain how the ‘interests’ of our community could be well served by alternative solutions. We have read on different local forums, in the Gazette and heard in Council that there are different ways that the ‘interest’ of better service by the SAPL could be achieved without building a stand-alone building dedicated to a branch library. 

There are many possibilities to make this work. We could use any of the ideas presented as temporary solutions. Remember, that unlike a swimming pool or skating rink, the function of a library does not require specific infrastructure. We could plan, in a new development on the northern edge of St Albert, to have a new library attached to a new school, or a new sports facility. There are an almost infinite number of possibilities for achieving the community ‘interest’ of improved service, without building another single-purpose City building.

This dispute has the potential to focus the pending election on ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a library branch. It should not be that way. We risk the possibility of a whole slate of candidates - leaning either for or against - subsequently losing this election. Worse, and with that possibility, we risk missing out on some true leadership talent if one side or the other is eliminated because of this single issue.

It’s time for everyone to move off their positions. Think firstly of how our community can achieve improved library services, while ensuring that everyone feels like they have been heard. Think of the common community interest. There is a solution hiding amongst all the rhetoric.


 


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