IV. The Smartsettle Process

Smartsettle (footnote 4) is a new negotiation support system that networks multiple parties located anywhere in the world and manages their confidential information with a neutral Internet site. This section describes a multi-phased process in which Smartsettle uses optimization to quickly transform conflicting objectives into fair and efficient solutions. Of course, it is expected that during the process, parties will continually compare options for a negotiated agreement with trial risks or other alternatives to settlement. The parties will continue with the process as long as they can rationally see the advantages of settlement. With the aid of a facilitator, the parties proceed through the various phases in the following sequence.

A. Qualify Interests

The focus in this phase is on quality rather than quantity. The parties engage in a creative and cooperative process that describes the problem and identifies all issues that must be resolved. Recognizing that a well-defined problem is already half solved, this task requires adequate attention to allow success in subsequent phases. This initial phase is best conducted in joint sessions with all parties and the facilitator present.

The main task in this phase is to build a Single Negotiating Form (SNF), an outline of the desired agreement, that contains blanks for the unresolved issues. The emphasis of the SNF is on those unquantified blanks. When parties have built the SNF, they should be able to refer to the blanks to identify a comprehensive and non-redundant list of all the unresolved issues of the conflict (whether qualitative or quantitative).

While building the SNF, the facilitator should also help the parties identify preliminary bargaining ranges for the issues represented by the SNF. The facilitator should emphasize that this is not an opportunity to claim value but rather an exercise in collaboration. Establishing some common ground early in the process will help parties establish confidence that possible resolutions exist within their collective view of reasonability.

B. Quantify Satisfaction

After identifying the issues and possible ranges of resolution, the facilitator assists parties individually to analyze their own priorities among their interests and possible outcomes. Each party’s task now is to teach the SmartSettle software how that party can become satisfied on each of the issues, and thereby with any potential final outcome. An intuitive preference elicitation method called “Even Swaps” simplifies complex tradeoffs by having parties deal with comparable issues in pairs. The private preferences quantified in this phase are not shared with other parties. Rather, a patented neutral site on the Internet keeps that information confidential and secure.

C. Establish Equity

Having worked individually to assess their own preferences, parties now move to searching for an equitable resolution, i.e., one that fairly divides the benefits of resolution. Understanding that Smartsettle will use the “equitable resolution” as a Baseline from which to search for improvements, parties do not need to try to find an efficient resolution in this phase. That work is best left for Smartsettle in the next phase.

D. Maximize Benefits

The Baseline resolution found in the previous phase becomes a reference point from which improvements can be generated. When requested, SmartSettle generates a single package that proportions benefits according to previously agreed influence (footnote 5).

E. Secure Commitment

The goal of all negotiations is to secure a commitment from parties to implement the decisions agreed upon. The parties’ ability to secure commitment, usually represented by a well-written final agreement, determines the degree to which they will realize the benefits of the entire process.