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Introducing international development management
Introducing international development management

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4.6 Making institutional development happen

As we've seen, institutional development involves a multiplicity of people and organisations, and depends on the working relationships between them. Negotiation and brokering are skills that are vital to organisations' and people's ability to work together.

This section looks briefly at some of the techniques and skills involved in negotiation and brokering and how they relate to the work of development managers involved in institutional development. Negotiation can mean managing different demands, understandings and expectations, not simply about having a ‘position’ on something and negotiating with someone else's ‘position’. Generally speaking, negotiating means acting on behalf of one party which is trying to agree terms with at least one other party. Brokering, on the other hand, means trying to bring together several parties and facilitate an agreement between them.

The following are some examples of the types of negotiating and brokering situations common in development management (although clearly there could be hundreds of different examples):

  • Negotiation over texts and agreement on policies as, for example, in the production of organisational strategies.

  • Negotiation between an NGO's field officer(s) and local community leaders. For example, when an NGO wants to secure the participation of all those affected by a development project.

  • Brokering where one agency takes on the job of bringing together a number of other organisations in order to try to achieve co-ordination between different roles and projects in the context of a larger campaign or programme.

  • Conflict resolution where negotiation and brokering help to create a situation in which positive development can take place, e.g. community development projects in neighbourhoods where local conflicts have prohibited development.

There is, of course, a very wide range of situations which will call for some sort of negotiated settlement or brokered agreement. Some of these will be informal, some will be formal, and there will be varying degrees of disagreement. Identifying the type of situation is an important part of constructing the best way to deal with the situation. There are, however, some general ‘rules’ which many find useful when approaching a negotiation or acting as intermediaries.

Some of the rules are treated under the heading of ‘win/win bargaining’, emphasising the fact that the simplest application of the ‘win/win’ idea is in negotiations (or ‘bargaining’) between two parties over the terms of a ‘deal’. Some of the same ideas can be applied to multi-party negotiations or brokering, but here we will consider ‘win/win bargaining’ in its simplest sense.

In many instances, negotiations for development management will not involve one-off ‘deals’ so much as the structuring of ongoing working relationships. Thus, ‘winning’ means creating situations in which all parties feel their concerns and needs are addressed, at least to the extent that they can continue joint endeavours. Some thoughts on the different dimensions and approaches to win/lose and win/win negotiation are laid out in Box 4 below. The following activity asks you to reflect on them.

Activity 14

Read the extract in Box 4 which discusses different approaches to negotiation in terms of win/win or win/lose outcomes. As you read it, make notes on any thoughts, critical or otherwise, that you have about the approaches outlined.

Box 4: Approaches to negotiation

Positional bargaining

Negotiating and bargaining have commonly been perceived as some sort of haggling over different positions, for example, arguing over the price of something, reacting to a set of trade union demands, or trying to get a larger grant from a donor agency. These are all forms of positional bargaining; that is, each of the parties has a particular position which it seeks to advance in the face of what are seen as the opposing and incompatible positions and demands of other parties. The assumptions are of the ‘win/lose’ type. Such positional bargaining may be quite ‘hard line’ or may have a superficial friendly or ‘soft’ aspect to it, but this softness belies the underlying ‘win/lose’ nature. Indeed, it may be a deliberate tactic to gain advantage.

Organisations involved in development are not immune from the pressures to adopt a positional approach. ‘Sticking to our principles’, ‘protecting our clients’, ‘asserting our right to autonomy’ – all these sorts of commitment can lead to a sense of internal and external negotiations as ‘win/lose’ positional affairs. Yet, the limitations of such a confrontational approach are such that a better way needs to be found if at all possible.

Four constructive approaches to negotiating

Fisher and Urry (1986) advocate four basic approaches to negotiation which begin to overcome the problems, limitations and impasses of positional

1 Separate the people from the problem

All negotiations involve two elements: the substantive issue over which you are negotiating and your relationship with other people involved in the negotiation process. One of the recurring problems in negotiations is that these become hopelessly intertwined. Taking the sort of approach which separates the issues from the personalities requires a conscious effort from you to consistently make that separation. Practical steps towards this are to:

  • ask people what their intentions are, instead of just assuming them;

  • be open about your perceptions;

  • avoid ascribing motives and feelings to the other party.

A consistently positive approach to the other people helps make this separation. In terms of the issues, it is wise to develop options that give them a stake in the outcome and to develop proposals which they can accept without loss of face.

2 Focus on interests, not positions

It is important to get behind specific positions to address the more general interests and concerns of the various parties in a negotiation. Once into this area, rather than the specific positions adopted, it may be that there is more scope for compatibility than at first appeared possible. The fact that all parties have multiple interests extends the scope of what is possible. Such an approach helps the people involved to focus attention primarily on the problem rather than on their respective solutions.

3 Invent options for mutual gain

Given the complexity of even the smallest organisations, there is unlikely to be a single ‘right’ solution to an organisational issue. The positional assumption of a single ‘win/lose’ solution is not really valid. The negotiation process does not have to be a limited trade-off between a fixed set of options. A search for alternatives and for mutually advantageous outcomes is possible within the framework of a negotiation. This requires a similar sort of change in mindset to that [required for] brainstorming, i.e. being prepared to develop and explore innovative options, suspending judgment till much later in the process.

4 Insist on objective or explicit criteria

Talk of ‘win/win’ outcomes should not, of course, conceal the fact that interests do conflict and that deals have to be struck. What this approach is about is seeking to ensure that the eventual agreement is underpinned by reference to a set of agreed principles or a formula which all participants recognise as valid. Depending on the context, the questions this approach would prompt you to ask would be things like:

  • What is the basis on which you would find a solution acceptable?

  • What specific standards of service are needed for the performance of this relief operation to be seen as acceptable again?

  • What are the standards by which you would assess whether or not our operation is environmentally acceptable?

Whilst such principles and criteria may be subject to renegotiation later, since circumstances and standards change over time, it is important that negotiated agreements reinforce the basic coherence and reasoned justification that are essential to organisational life.

(Adapted from The Open University, 1997, B789)


Win/win may be desirable but may also be hard to achieve. Win/win presupposes that interests can be accommodated and that different values can be addressed. However, you may think of circumstances in which such outcomes may be hard to achieve, or may not be desirable. Are there times when a positional approach on matters of principle is necessary, or is everything open to negotiation? Sometime there will be hard decisions to make. In addition, win/win may represent an ideal situation to which we may aspire, but there may always be relative losers and relative winners in the sense that the positive outcomes may not be equally shared. Moreover, we cannot always predict the unintended or unanticipated outcomes of negotiation, and there may be issues that were not taken into account or foreseen at the time. However, with these caveats, negotiation for institutional development and for joint action will require some element of accommodation to be able to move forward.