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Restoring Civil Dialogue in the US Congress

With the changes in the political landscape on Capitol Hill in the wake of the US mid-term elections, an opportunity presents itself for the US Congress to abandon its previous Team A/Team B approach to legislating and adopt new techniques based on the concept of Adversarial Collaboration.

Adversarial Collaboration is a relatively new concept championed by Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. In a paper published in 2002, Kahneman said he was “…appalled by the absurdly competitive and adversarial nature of these [social science debates], in which hardly anyone ever admits an error or acknowledges learning anything from the other.” He proposes, as an alternative, good-faith efforts to engage in joint research, assuming that the contestants will not reach complete agreement but can lay out their differences in an informed way.

Kahneman’s desire to encourage people to make good-faith efforts to resolve their differences was operationalized by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. Heuer developed three techniques that could be adopted by US Senators and Representatives to shift the dynamic from name-calling to problem-solving:

Mutual Understanding. Side 1 is required to explain Side 2’s position to Side 2 until Side 2 believes Side 1 understands the whole of the argument. Then roles are reversed, and Side 2 must present to Side 1 the argumentation used by Side 1. Once both sides accurately understand each other’s positions, a more rational and less emotion-laden discussion can result.

Joint Escalation. When two sides disagree, instead of escalating the conflict to their superiors to resolve, both sides are required to generate a single document that lays out both sides of the disagreement. Then both sides can “jointly escalate” the position to their superiors based on the agreed description of the differences. Their superiors then have a much more balanced view of the dispute and can more easily propose a just solution.

The Nosenko Approach. Both sides draft separate papers summarizing their positions and identify the ten items of logic or evidence that are most critical in supporting their positions. Each side then shares its paper and its list with the other side and the other side must factor these critical items of evidence and logic into its position paper. Both sides read each other’s revised papers. Hopefully, a more productive discussion will result.

More detailed descriptions of forms of Adversarial Collaboration can be found in Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 2nd ed. by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. and Randolph H. Pherson, pages 277-282.

Other techniques that support effective dispute resolution are the Key Assumptions Check, Argument Mapping, and Analysis of Competing Hypotheses. These techniques are described in the newly-published Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques, 5th ed. by Randolph H. Pherson.

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