Since 1983 the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program (PDP) has been part of the interuniversity Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. PDP is also affiliated with the Environmental Policy and Planning Group within MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the not-for-profit Consensus Building Institute.

Public disputes arise over the allocation of scarce resources, the setting of policy priorities, as well as government efforts to specify standards of various kinds (such as regulations regarding health, safety, and environmental protection). PDP has been involved in testing, documenting, and assessing the advantages and disadvantages of using mediation and other forms of consensus building to resolve such disputes at the local, state, national, and international levels. In general, we have found that mediation, when used properly, produces fairer outcomes, more efficient results, and more stable political commitments, as well as wiser use of the best scientific and technical information available.

Why Consensus Building?

Why should you adopt Consensus Building as an approach to resolving public disputes? How can a shift in your process impact the resilience and impact of the decisions and agreements you reach? What processes should you use in various situations? This section provides a Short Guide to Consensus Building to help answer these questions.


The MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program (PDP) has been involved in more than fifty complex consensus building and dispute resolution efforts over the past three decades. These projects range from municipal efforts to make development decisions, to regional projects aimed at siting necessary but local unpopular facilities; provincial, state and national efforts to formulate energy policy and natural resource management plans, to global efforts to draft treaties or multilateral agreements.

Best Practices

Public dispute resolution methods and strategies continue to evolve. In the 1980’s, professional mediators first turned their attention to environmental and land use disputes. It was unusual for public agencies, either before, during or after they made regulatory decisions to involve the full range of stakeholders in efforts to generate agreement or resolve disagreements.