I am extremely fortunate that Rafael Gely, the director of Missouri’s Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution, has been my partner in developing the Stone Soup Project.
A year ago, when I first emailed him about it, the subject line was “a crazy idea?” Rafael’s immediate response was, “I love this idea! (Of course that does not mean it is not a crazy idea ☺).”
He immediately took the initiative to be a guinea pig, using his negotiation course last spring to test our ideas by requiring students to conduct an interview about an actual negotiation. I described his course in some detail in this post, listing the wide range of negotiations that students learned about in their interviews and including two sample papers.
This fall semester, in the spirit of experimentation, he required students to conduct four to six interviews about a negotiation, focusing on issues discussed in the course. Some students had a hard time recruiting four interview subjects and he gave them permission to do fewer interviews. Ideally, the students would ask all the subjects about the same topic, which some but not all students did.
A virtue of having students conduct multiple interviews is that it increases the “sample size” of interviews for each student and the class as a whole. On the other hand, Rafael found that the discussion of the interviews mostly was pretty general and didn’t go into as much depth as in the spring.
As in the spring, students were extremely resourceful in identifying a incredibly wide range of people to interview and subjects of negotiation. The people interviewed included (in no particular order): customer of solar energy systems, real estate firm executive, owner of a small business, sales person, real estate agent, university athletic director, sports agent, insurance client, insurance claims representative, employee, corporate recruiter, car owner, construction general contractor, automobile broker, boyfriend, hospital risk manager, lobbyist, church couples counselor, corporate executive, software company project manager, employment supervisor, student, car buyer, and homeowner. Oh yeah, some students interviewed lawyers.
The negotiations involved purchase of a solar energy system, complex real estate development, adjustment of government regulatory penalty, personal injury settlement, equipment sale, employment contract, real estate sale, corporate restructuring, media rights deal, athlete’s contract with a national sports team, insurance claim, sale of a company, sale of a car, employment discrimination claim, romantic relationship issues, legislation, software development, employment termination, collective bargaining agreement, payment of a court judgment, equipment lease, student scholarship, plea bargain, problems with home remodeling, restitution for crime victim, claim of illegal lending practice, construction contract, and negligence of a contractor.
The wonderful range of people that students interviewed and the interactions that they discussed demonstrated that people negotiate in many parts of their lives and that legally-related negotiations are just the tip of the iceberg (much as I described in this piece about the definition of negotiation). This is an important lesson considering the understandable focus on legal negotiations in law school courses.
Here’s Rafael’s advice to colleagues considering using Stone Soup in their courses: “Do it! I think students really appreciate the opportunity to talk with others about the concepts and skills they are learning in class. If you are concerned about what work product you will get back from students, you can always make it a very small part of the final grade at first.”
Here’s his assessment. And here’s a link to other course assessments as well as a summary of Stone Soup experiences and general advice based on this semester’s courses.