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Building a Collaborative Nation

Stewart Levine Posted by Stewart Levine, Resolutionary, ResolutionWorks.

Stewart Levine is a lawyer, management consultant, mediator, and trainer. His clients and students include American Express, Caterpillar Corporation, Chevron, ConAgra, General Motors, Oracle, and others.

Building a Collaborative Nation

Celso FLORES, Creative Commons 2.0

John Bartels is a South African lawyer who wants to make a difference. He is the Legal Officer of the Nelson Mandela Municipality. Before South Africa’s first democratic constitution of February 1997, John provided “large city” input about the laws that would facilitate the transition to democratic local government. After the new constitution, there was public discussion to give detail to the vision for democratic local government. John played a large role at both a municipal and a provincial level-arranging workshops to explain, listen, and consolidate input. His efforts contributed to a white paper on local government.

The new constitution requires laws that facilitate the building of democratic local government with a strong emphasis on developmental activities. These laws provide for boundaries, structures, systems, finance, information, and promotion of justice. Because John felt so strongly about the potential for local government to heal some of the wounds of apartheid, he was deeply engaged in the process of law-making. He was tireless in giving presentations on the new legislation to previously disadvantaged people new to democratic local government.

John helped people to understand that the new South African constitution:

  1. Requires municipalities to cooperate with one another in mutual trust and good faith by fostering friendly relations; assisting, supporting, consulting, and coordinating actions and legislation with one another; and avoiding legal proceedings against one another;
  2. Requires Parliament to support intergovernmental relations; and provide for mechanisms to facilitate resolution of intergovernmental disputes;
  3. Requires municipal government agencies to settle disputes without going to court;
  4. Requires local government to provide: accountable government for local communities; services in a sustainable manner; social and economic development; a safe and healthy environment; encouragement for community involvement in government organizations; and
  5. Requires that a municipality organize all of its activities to give priority to basic community needs while promoting social and economic needs at a national and provincial level.

Peter Gabel, professor of contract law, said that my book, The Book of Agreement , “begins from the premise that the purpose of agreement is to build a bridge to the -other’ and to realize your common aspiration for connection. Writ large, this idea would… help to realize our spiritual nature as social beings in pursuit of mutual affirmation.”

John Bartels read The Book of Agreement and believed it could provide great value for South African municipalities. He believed the new constitution created a beautiful vision for local government, a vision that needed to be implemented in a new way. He had a sense that municipal government could become a driving force-facilitating both positive change for the future and reparations for people disadvantaged in the past.

John believed that “the provisions of the South African Constitution require mandatory processes that would benefit greatly from the -Agreements for Results’ approach.” He decided that the contracting process for his municipality must not be adversarial-it must be about creating new visions for the future. He is using the Agreements for Results approach during the negotiation and crafting of municipal contracts, with very encouraging results. He wants to teach all contracting officials in his municipality to use the Resolutionary form of Agreements for Results in all contracts. He is seeking permission from the Municipal Council to train municipalities all over South Africa!

I was introduced to John when he emailed and asked if I had a certification program. I said no and he said he wanted to create one. He keeps reporting progress and I know I will be traveling to South Africa to certify a team of Resolutionaries. Why? Because a lawyer named John Bartels was MAD.


  • Never doubt the power and vision of your own thoughts-if you can think it, you can achieve it.
  • Lawyers can be good guys.
  • Great adversity can lead to lasting significant change. The post-apartheid vision may generate a new paradigm we will all be following.

Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks. He forms teams and joint ventures in a variety of difficult situations. He works with individuals, couples, partners, and small and large organizations of all kinds. Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration (Berrett-Koehler, 1998) was an Executive Book Club Selection; featured by Executive Book Summaries; named one of the Thirty Best Business Books of 1998; endorsed by Dr. Stephen Covey, and featured in The Futurist magazine. The Book of Agreement (Berrett-Koehler, 2002) has been endorsed by many thought leaders and called “more practical” than the classic Getting to Yes. Information: www.ResolutionWorks.org.