The following is an outline for creating working relationships for program and project development. The process can be adapted to any context and environment.

In presenting this concept, I will use the Indigenous community – Resource Development and Extraction Industry context as a back drop.

When company people come onto the traditional lands of the Indigenous people, they often have no idea there are people living on the lands where they propose to work in. The company people may see the lands as pristine, empty wilderness ready for resource development. But for the Indigenous people their land is made up of the bones and the blood of their people from over many, many thousands of years. Therefore, whatever is done on the land needs to be done with care and respect.

Using the following algorithm to engage the community will ensure the process is done respectfully.

Community Development and Discussion Stage

At this stage, the community comes together to talk about the prospect of a proposed development coming to their lands.

  • Should they allow it to proceed?
  • If they agree, then they talk about what they would like to see come out of the presence of the resource developer on their lands. The central concern that always presents itself is concern for the community’s traditional hunting and harvesting lands and waters. They want assurances that their lands will not be destroyed as they will still be there when the company leaves.
  • They assign a lead spokesperson who will be the negotiator on their behalf when the project proceeds. Along with this individual, they identify an advisory group of elders and community influencers to work with the spokesperson in identifying issues important to the community members.
  • This list of issues identified by the community members acts as the map for the community negotiator when they start engaging the resource development company in formal meetings with them.

Agreement-In-Principal Stage (AIP)

At this point, the community and the company are in formal meetings about the proposed development project. The goal of these meetings is to arrive at an agenda for the negotiations that will lead to a working relationship on the needs of the project and just as importantly, the needs and concerns of the community. Once the agenda (AIP) is arrived at, both parties will sign it and the negotiations begin after that.

In theory, it sounds simple, but it isn’t. It is a lot of work by both sides to grasp and understand the initial positions given. Each of them has to be willing to drill down into the positions they have to explain their underlying interests, wants, and needs. Doing this requires research and reading and preparation of material for presentations and discussion. Both sides have to give each other time to digest information and for responses. As well, each has to also be open to possible alternatives to their initial positions based on the responses from the other side.

This process can easily be explained by the following anecdote most used in alternative dispute resolution training. Mom has one orange and both her daughters, Susan and Nancy, want it and are not backing down.

Mom asks Nancy why she wants the orange. “I want to drink the juice”.

She turns to Susan, “I want the grinds so I can bake a cake”.

By drilling down into the positions and getting at the interests and wants, Mom was able to satisfy both her girls. Nancy got to drink her juice and Susan baked a cake.

Mom, in this anecdote, is a respectable facilitator and mediator.

When you are like Mom in more complex projects, you gain the respect of both sides and they will work with you in exploring possibilities towards an agreed upon AIP.

Often, during in between formal meetings and it is allowed by both parties, the negotiators could meet to talk about the details and the mechanics of dealing with issues. These meetings are known as working group meetings.

The negotiators may have these sessions with the facilitator if they wish. But more often than not, it is just between the two of them along with resource people they need to detail out the proposals for solutions to problems encountered at the formal discussions. Such proposals are vetted and explained to key members of the constituents behind each negotiator. Once a tentative consensus is arrived at these working sessions, the proposals will then be forwarded to the formal discussion table where they are dealt with and agreed upon by each party to the negotiations.

If the process does not flow like it does in the ‘Mom” story, the discussions will not succeed and break off. This happens when one side refuses to move from their initial position rather than explore alternatives that could address their underlying interests and needs.

However, if the discussions are managed well and there is willingness to explore workable alternatives to positions, the talks will lead to an AIP which then leads to the next stage of this algorithm, the Final Agreement Negotiations.

Agreement to Work Together

Once the AIP has been agreed to and signed by both parties, the negotiations begin to reach agreement in items identified and listed in the AIP.

The facilitator manages the discussions, keeps record of discussions and provides the rolling draft of the negotiations document. The development of this document is guided by the AIP.

Once the items listed in the AIP have been checked off and agreed to, an agreement to work together is reached and formal document to that effect is signed by the parties.

This part of the algorithm goes much faster than the previous section as a much of the detail of items on the AIP have been explained and agreed upon. However, time is given to other information that may have come up in the interim. By this time, the issues can quickly be dispensed with as comfortable relationships have been built to facilitate dialogue leading to resolutions.

Implementation Agreements

These agreements are subsidiary to the Final Agreement but nevertheless are important to settle before the Project can proceed.

Such agreements detail how the Final Agreement itself will be managed so that its integrity is assured. This might call for central management committee (CMC) comprised of the leadership of the project and the community. There could be a working group of technical people who would be accountable to the CMC for overseeing that all items agreed to are in fact worked on.

The issue of finances of the process right from beginning is settled here as well.

In the instances where I have been involved, I have often told the company to see these expenses as part of cost of doing business. After some friendly discussion they always agree with this rationale.

Sometimes the community is able to acquire funds from the Federal Government to help in the initial cost of talking with the company. Other times, if one of the items for negotiation is revenue sharing then the community is open to paying for part of the cost from future cash flows of the revenue sharing agreement.

Once these agreements are reached, then the project proceeds.


Sometimes when I am in staying in one of the more expensive hotels in my travels I am often amazed at the cleanliness of the facility. These days I know now that just does not happen. There are no self-cleaning windows, nor are there self-cleaning rugs or anything of the sort. There are people who come along to polish and dust every nook and cranny of the room I stay in. They go out into the hallways and polish the hallway mirrors, they pick up the smallest particles of dust or dirt in the hallway corners that vacuums cleaners don’t pick up, they make sure the plants are dusted and watered, and etc. They do all this as per a checklist that has come about through management thought and process.

In much the same way, creating a successful working relationship in the context of Indigenous – Resource Development context doesn’t happen by itself. There is much upfront work required to create a working relationship that will allow resource extraction to begin in Indigenous traditional lands. The algorithm of steps I have outlined will serve to do this in a respectful manner to the Indigenous community.