St. Joseph Shopping Mall
St. Joseph Shopping Mall is a role-play exercise in multi-party negotiations. A major commercial developer intends to build a shopping mall on a former public golf course outside of downtown St. Joseph. The City plans to approve the mall because it complies with applicable zoning. Community groups oppose the mall.
The negotiation involves a public agency, a private business and five advocacy groups, of which two represent business interests and three are grassroots, citizen activist organizations. Representatives of these organizations must reach consensus on the shopping mall's features while local residents would prefer that the land be used for a park. Several of the parties have multiple interests in this negotiation. For example, of the two pro-business nonprofit organizations, one fears the mall will draw business away from downtown and thus opposes it. The other supports the mall, and argues that, because it represents regional business interests, including those of downtown, the first group does not need a separate seat at the negotiating table. Key lessons of the exercise include:
- Identifying and building on mutual interests is crucial to reach consensus
- Negotiating the ground rules is a valuable exercise that accurately forecasts whether the parties are willing and able to seek consensus
- Sharing, not hoarding, information and power is essential to reach agreement
- A variety of communication strategies and techniques, including "active" listening, are required to achieve consensus
The exercise requires eight hours of class time and one hour of reading outside class. Negotiators must first agree to ground rules of the negotiation before turning to the substantive issues of the exercise. Students often choose to spend additional time outside class meeting with other parties seeking side agreements. Certainly the longer schedule gives students more time to understand the case and accustom themselves to its negotiation process. Because the longer timeframe more closely approximates "real world" negotiations, students tend to approach their roles in the exercise more seriously.