Communications Studies Associate Professor Darrin Hicks got to know many current conflict resolution students last fall during his course in communication and collaboration, as they looked into designing and evaluating collaborative processes. With a background in argumentation, rhetoric, cultural studies, debate coaching and collaboration, he has also served on many students thesis committees since joining the CRI Core Faculty in 1999.
Hicks' latest work includes a New York Times editorial review on the word "reasonable", a term frequently used in policy debates. However, the policies described as 'reasonable' has shifted significantly. One example is in how protections against 'unreasonable' search and seizure in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution have changed over time. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USAPATRIOT) Act redefined what is considered 'unreasonable' search and seizure in 2001.
Hicks further notes the use of 'reasonableness' has shifted in the world of financial representation. After the Great Depression, financial professionals were held to the standard of fiduciary duty for their client – i.e. a financial representative should never act in any manner contrary to the interests of the client, or make choices for the representative's own benefit (1). Today, financial managers are held to a different standard, one that only considers a client's risk tolerance the degree of uncertainty that an investor can handle in regard to a negative change in the value of his or her portfolio (2). Both kinds of representation were considered reasonable at the time.
'Reasonableness' is often a basis for legitimizing conflict. Both sides claim to be reasonable and have evidence to support their conclusions, although Hicks has discovered that conclusions drawn on the same evidence may later no longer be seen as 'reasonable'.
Hicks also works in collaboration. He has observed how collaboration is often misused, how most collaborations fail and how many programs use a great deal of time and money, without delivering significant results. To change this paradigm, Hicks and colleague Carl Larson are working on a new collaborative site development model for the health and education programs of Invest in Kids, an organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of vulnerable children and families throughout Colorado.
Functioning as an intermediary between communities and state agencies, Invest in Kids is attempting to link program development with the community, using a bottom-up collaborative process instead of a tradition top-down model.
Hicks and Larson's work includes the development of a process quality scale that can statistically measure a community's collaboration processes and their effects on outcomes. To date, they have been able to prove this model results in increased fidelity to the programs and improved relationships between the caregivers and the patients, which has lead to significant reduction in crime, teen pregnancy and drug use, and higher graduation and employment rates.
Hicks and Larson's collaboration statistical model could serve as a guide for other large-scale programs – from ways to stage inclusion to increase effectiveness and how to maintain multiple collaborations, to how to exit collaborations or transfer from one collaborative process to another without losing energy. Neglecting these issues can have disastrous consequences, including reducing stakeholder commitment and communities' trust in future programs.
To become more effective conflict resolution practitioners, Hicks advises students take courses in collaboration and evaluation, which will help them understand the synergy between processes and programs. However, he also recommends that a basis in philosophy is necessary for good work in conflict resolution and collaboration. For it is in studying the work of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and John Rawls that students can gain insights into why processes work, and the natures of reason, affect and emotion. Such insight is necessary to innovate in practice.
Professor Darrin Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Autumn Gorman