It’s tough to find a company engaged in ICT4Peace & ODR with a sense of understated humour. Parley is thus a rare find – from its name (imaginative and resonant) to the manner in which it sells itself. While I think it’s tag line is hugely ambitious and may only ever be successful and relevant in commercial disputes (Negotiations, solved it goes), Parley defines itself as:
Parley is the first software that lets negotiators easily use current research to improve the results of their negotiations. It helps to identify relevant issues and resolutions, evaluate the parties’ preferences, find efficient agreements and track the negotiation history.
What interested me the most was the scenarios, and in those listed, one on the Middle – East conflict. Sadly, the average American consciousness does not extend beyond the Middle-East and Afghanistan when it comes to ethno-political conflicts and terrorism, but Parley’s tongue-in-the-cheek approach to the Mid-East conflict is wonderfully refreshing:
Parley can be used to build lasting agreements in international conflicts. In Mideast.parley, included in the trial version, we analyzed the mideast conflict. You can find a detailed description in our blog.
Please note that we can’t promise World Peace until version 2.6.
Parley analyzes 21,600 different possible agreements. A negotiation that’s more complex than the middle east peace process, such as a lease agreement in NYC, can have millions of possible contracts. The analysis takes a few seconds and we’re presented with a nice graph.
Of course, any CR specialist will find loop holes and inaccuracies (though to the developer’s credit, no gross over simplifications of the conflict are evident), the point I wish to note here is that the manner in which Parley is introduced makes even a seasoned and peace negotiations hardened CR specialist want to read and find out more about the programme. Just on that point though, even though I was animated by the description, I still couldn’t install it – as this is a Windows only programme.
This is disappointing.
Along with many others, I’ve told developers for the past 3 years at least that increasing web services (and increasing features, reliability and ubiquitous access through mobile devices) makes it rather inadvisable to stick to a platform (or indeed browser) dependent model. I’m not advocating open source per se, but certain web based, open standards based, models that can be access by any computer (incl. the OLPC) and an increasing plethora of mobile devices that I foresee will be, a few years hence, the primary means through which ODR processes will be conducted.
Parley also seems to be deeply steeped in the Harvard Negotiation Process (HNP) model, which inter alia, attempts to locate the problem separately from the people who are embroiled in it. This is not often possible, or desirable, in the transformation of complex and long standing ethno-political disputes, especially those that are violent. The developers of Parley, again to their credit, acknowledge this:
This conflict is 50 years old, and it won’t be solved by software. Strong emotions are involved, and they won’t be overcome without the will to compromise.
Which is why its then confusing to me as to how, beyond the obvious commercial interest in positioning Parley to be a tool that’s useful to analyse and understand the Middle-East conflict, it will be used by those on involved in actual negotiations to help the process progress. This is not an indictment on the inapplicability of Parley, but rather, to caution those in search of technology to help processes that a careful selection is needed – software and tools that are built for commercial disputes and those of a familial nature often lack the complexity and adaptability to deal with ethno-political negotiations.
InfoShare’s Groove based One-Text system (now dated, but designed by me & others to respond to an actual process of peace negotiations in Sri Lanka and Nepal) offers a glimpse into how systems such as Parley can feed into the designs of tools and platform that are specifically geared for conflict transformation in the future.
If only for the extremely agreeable manner that Parley presents itself, I wish them well, and hope they are able through their experience in the development of their tools, move quickly into a web services model that I can try out for myself.