Ep. 038: Rob Fersh: Finding Common Ground in the Belly of the Beast
A main focus of this podcast is to explore the best process interventions that build common ground and consensus in diverse and often polarized groups. But the reality is -- unless you are a process person like me – eg. a facilitator, coach, mediator – you probably don’t pay attention to process. Process is a little bit like plumbing: if it’s working, you don’t notice it, but if it’s not, watch out!! I started this podcast because I know that HOW we come together to resolve our differences has everything to do with whether we will be successful. If you create the right “container” with the right ingredients -- including meeting conditions, stakeholders, design – I am confident that you can make significant progress in bridging divides that seem unbridgeable. So, that’s why, when Convergence and Rob Fersh came to my attention I got interested. A divide that currently seems intractable to many people, especially those living in the United States, is the one between the Democrats (the left) and Republicans (the right) in the US Government. Most Americans these days are pretty frustrated, and even despairing, at the tone in Washington, the level of polarization, the acrimony. Rob founded Convergence in 2009 “to promote consensus solutions to issues of domestic and international importance”. Convergence has “mediated” or done creative problem solving around public policy issues where opposing sides agree on a goal but disagree, sometimes intensely about how to get there. The organization creates “containers” that allow opposing sides to build relationships and think together more clearly about creative ways forward. To date, it has worked on initiatives around health care, education, incarceration and is exploring other hot topics in the public policy arena such as gun safety and climate change. Rob came to Convergence after serving as the U.S. country director for Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization, where he directed national policy consensus projects and health care coverage for the uninsured and U.S. Muslim relations. He is also a very seasoned Washingtonian after many years of public service prior to Search for Common Ground. What I think will stand out to you, as it has to me, is the commitment that Rob brings to creating a safe and neutral environment for opposing sides to come together and think constructively about ways forward. When you create a good climate, people stop the demonization, trust builds, and it’s even possible to create solid and lasting relationships though people may still disagree on a number of issues. In Rob's own words “ at a minimum, at a time when people don’t talk to each other well, the people that we get to come to our tables --who are very diverse politically and otherwise -- have an amazing experience of seeing and understanding people -- and at a minimum we are lowering temperatures of the most important people – and at the best end we are having a real impact on the issues we care about. So, I invite you to tune in and hear Rob’s stories. Get inspired. It will give you hope that we can find common ground in the belly of the beast.