In 2017, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute facilitated a two-day deliberation among members of a statewide task force concerning the use and effects of the herbicide dicamba in the U.S. state of Arkansas, and about ways to address those effects.
Problems and Purpose
In 2017, numerous farmers and other residents of rural communities in the U.S. state of Arkansas found that many of their soybeans, other crops, and non-agricultural plants had been damaged, apparently by the herbicide called dicamba. More than 900 Arkansas residents filed complaints about dicamba with the Arkansas State Plant Board (ASPB) . In addition, there was conflict over the use of dicamba between residents of numerous Arkansas rural communities, as well as among scientists, representatives of companies that manufactured dicamba, and other stakeholders. In response to the complaints, the ASPB created a task force, which included representatives from the parties experiencing conflict, to create a policy for addressing dicamba. The purposes of the task force’s deliberation, facilitated by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (the Institute), were to reestablish constructive relations between the parties in conflict, and to develop recommendations for addressing the dicamba issue that would be acceptable to as many of the parties as possible.
Background History and Context
In the mid 2010s, many soybean farmers in Arkansas began to use the herbicide dicamba to control a plant called pigweed. In summer 2017, the ASPB was inundated with complaints from farmers about the “misuse and off-target effects” of dicamba . In September 2017, the ASPB received more than 900 complaints from residents from more than 26 counties in Arkansas . The exigency of the problem prompted the ASPB to promulgate an “emergency rule” prohibiting dicamba sales and use “for 120 days” . Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson then directed the ASPB and the Arkansas Agriculture Department (AAD) to develop a task force that would “review dicamba technology,” investigate the controversy over the “use and application” of dicamba in Arkansas, and issue “recommendations for” addressing dicamba over the “long-term” .
This directive resulted in the creation of an 18-member task force designed to analyze and address the dicamba-misuse matter. The task force examined how farmers were applying dicamba and considered both the benefits and negative impacts of its use. Then the taskforce employed these findings to propose recommendations designed to guide the state in addressing the use of dicamba. This problem was deeply personal for many of those involved, so the use of an uninvolved party that would guide a public dialogue was suggested. As a result, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute was chosen as an “impartial, independent” body—which was mandated to facilitate, mediate, and guide the task-force members during the deliberative decision-making processes .
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the late Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, for whom the Institute is named, “convened more than 200 formal and informal discussions among business, political and thought leaders to hammer out solutions to a huge variety of issues” . Thus the Dicamba Task Force deliberation continued a long Arkansas tradition of employing dialogue to find constructive resolutions to conflicts among stakeholders.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
This deliberative process was centered around the development and involvement of a task force, as mandated by the governor of Arkansas.
The task force was supported by “an advisory group” of 23 agricultural experts, who included University of Arkansas faculty, independent academic researchers and scientists, and representatives from manufacturers that produce dicamba.  Advisory-group members acted as sources of knowledge—they were present to answer any questions posed by the members of the task force and to provide task-force members with all of the information and data needed to engage in the decision-making process. These advisory-group members offered evidence-based presentations on all sides of the issue, and when the participants felt they needed more information before discussing an aspect of the issue further they turned to the advisory board with questions and requests for specific data. It is important to note that the advisory board did not actually contribute to the finalization of the recommendations.
Other organizing, supporting and funding entities for the dicamba deliberations include the Arkansas State Plant Board, Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Monsanto, manufacturers BASF, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Three groups of participants attended the task-force meetings: the 18 task-force members, nine “convening members,” and members of the general public (22 of whom attended on the first day and 26 on the second day).
The members of the task force were chosen to be “[representative of] a cross-section of those most affected by the issues surrounding dicamba use” . These individuals were selected by Governor Hutchinson with the guidance of the Institute to ensure that a range of perspectives were actively represented. Many of those selected had extensive experience in the farming and agricultural industries and were deeply knowledgeable about these industries in the context of the state of Arkansas. The opinions of the task-force members on the use of dicamba covered a range of viewpoints, which made for in-depth and engaged discussion.
The convening team—consisting of eight members from the state government, including Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward and Director of the Arkansas State Plant Board Terry Walker, and one member from an agricultural trade association —served the purpose of gathering the participating members and creating space for this facilitation to take place. The convening team assisted in bringing the advisory board together, in liaising with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, and in managing inquiries from the media. The available sources do not indicate how the convening team were recruited or selected. Like the advisory board, the convening team did not contribute to the finalization of the recommendations.
Further, members of the general public who had a substantial interest in the task force’s decisions attended each task-force meeting and submitted comments. These members of the general public were self-selected, and responded to notices about the meetings that the Arkansas Agriculture Department had posted on their website.
In addition to these participants, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, the Arkansas State Plant Board, and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture worked closely with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute to ensure that a comprehensive and productive public dialogue on dicamba usage and its effects on crops in Arkansas was held.
Methods and Tools Used
The Institute brought a range of methods that its personnel had successfully utilized in previous deliberative processes. These methods included the Rockefeller Ethic, facilitated round table discussions and plenary discussions, deliberation, voting, the development of consensus, the Gradients of Agreement , and Reflective Structured Dialogue  .
To ensure effective mediation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute applied the “Rockefeller Ethic,” the “guiding mindset” that the Institute uses in its collaborative programs to help build consensus and identify solutions to pressing issues . According to this principle, “diversity of opinion, engaging in respectful dialogue, and practicing collaborative problem solving combine to create transformational change” . The Institute pulls from a variety of resources, including various facilitation styles and techniques, in order to create a dialogue process that adequately fits the issue at hand. These methods include the use of Gradients of Agreement (Kaner et al., 2014), and other common deliberative methods frequently used in community dialogue sessions.
Gradients of Agreement is a tool used when trying to reach consensus around a contentious issues. This participatory-engagement tool allows participants to place their level of agreement on a scale, as opposed to a simple yes/no binary. Using this gradient, task-force members had the ability to identify with one of four options: strong objection, objections/meager support, lukewarm support, and enthusiastic support. By utilizing this scale, participants were able to give more than a yes or no response to a recommendation. Participants could then explain their position in greater detail.
The Four Gradients:
- Strong objection: Veto: “I cannot support this under any circumstances.” 
- Objection/Meager Support: Serious disagreement: “I don’t want to stop anyone else, but don’t count me in.”; Don't like but will support: “I want my disagreement noted, but I will support the decision.” 
- Lukewarm Support: Don’t like but will stand aside: “I don’t like this but I don’t want to hold up the group.”; Support with reservations: “I can agree, but I have some reservations.” 
- Enthusiastic Support: Agreement with a minor point of contention: “I like it with some minor changes;” and Whole-hearted endorsement: “I can fully support this as it stands.” 
Reflective Structured Dialogue is a public-engagement technique developed by Essential Partners in which parties in conflict engage in a highly ordered set of facilitated discussions designed to rebuild trust and empathy, and to lay the groundwork for the resumption of constructive communication about the issues in dispute .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Task-force meetings were held on August 17 and August 24, 2017 at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain, in Morrilton, Arkansas.
The facilitation process. Guided by the principles of the Rockefeller Ethic, the facilitators from the Institute set out to engage all members of the task force in a formal and structured dialogue process that included group deliberation, voting on topics and issues, reaching consensus, and making concrete recommendations. The Institute made sure to provide enough information to all members who were part of the task force in order to enable them to accurately analyze and discuss the use of dicamba. It should be emphasized that this deliberative process was an iterative one, meaning that each stage or meeting led to the next and built upon previous ones that had been held. This is a valuable feature of public engagement processes: creating the dialogue structure in such a way that it builds upon itself overtime, creates buy-in among participants, and helps to ensure that all ideas, thoughts, and opinions are genuinely taken into consideration.
The deliberative process began with a facilitated discussion where participants broke off into small groups to discuss the use of dicamba, the harmful impacts it was having on the state, and the potential ways to address these impacts. Facilitators then identified which topics came up independently in multiple small groups, and brought up those topics with the task force for a larger group discussion surrounding these issues. Potential recommendations were discussed and debated, and facilitators then asked each member of the task force to vote on the proposed recommendations in an effort to reach a consensus.
Reaching consensus. Due to the divisive nature of this issue the Institute felt that a simple yes/no vote would not suffice for building consensus around these issues, and sought to identify a way for participants to more accurately share their differing opinions. For this purpose the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute utilized the concept of “Gradients of Agreement” , an exercise that allowed task members to not only show their support for or opposition to a concept, but enabled them to show the extent to which they felt that way .
Initially the Institute had settled on a consensus threshold of 85%, or 15 members of the task force falling into one of the support gradients. This threshold proved to be too high as there were strong feelings of opposition towards certain recommendations (especially regarding the cut-off date proposal) and had to be reconsidered in order to allow the task force to reach a consensus. With the approval of the task force members the Institute lowered the consensus threshold from 85% to 75%, or from 15 members in a support gradient to 14 . After holding a series of facilitations and engaging in repeated dialogue and deliberation, the task force came to agree upon a set of three final recommendations, which are outlined below. The need to lower the consensus threshold indicates that there was a significant amount of disagreement among the members of the task force, and there was. Despite this, post-deliberation surveys show that although there were considerable disagreements, participants felt their opinions were not only listened to but were taken into consideration when creating the recommendations.
The final recommendations. After an extensive deliberative process the task force was able to come to a consensus and recommended the following:
- “A cutoff date for the in-crop use of dicamba in Arkansas of April 15, 2018, and the need to revisit the issue for the 2019 growing season after more data and research has been collected and reviewed.” 
- “Amend the current law (Arkansas Code 2-16-203) allowing there to be ‘egregious violations’ subject to enhanced penalties without the need to prove ‘significant off-target crop damage.’” 
- “Increased independent and university testing of new products before they come to market, with an additional stipulation that the entire technology package (seeds and herbicide) be ready for market at the same time.” 
These recommendations were offered up to the Arkansas State Plant Board, which then made decisions on whether to adopt them into practice. Following their decision, the recommendations were then reviewed by Governor Hutchinson and the Arkansas Legislative Council. The results of that review process can be found in the following sections.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
This ongoing deliberative process had a number of significant results and outcomes, both at the policy and at the personal level. For starters, the Institute’s specific style of deliberation and engagement drove participants to come to a place of understanding. While they may not have completely agreed, participants on the task force walked away from the experience with a greater sense of empathy for their counterparts of differing opinions. This helped to reduce tensions around such a divisive issue, and acted as an example to the rest of the farming and agricultural community that this issue could be addressed in a peaceful, nonviolent manner.
It should be noted, however, that after the state of Arkansas restricted dicamba use, tensions rose once again and many members of the community expressed anger over this decision (and some even continued to use the chemical illegally) . The use of dicamba remains controversial in Arkansas today .
This process also resulted in the creation of three concrete policy recommendations that the government of Arkansas could take into consideration. This was the overarching goal of the process, which was achieved through continued dialogue and consensus reaching facilitated by the Institute. After these recommendations were made, the Arkansas State Plant Board decided to accept them and implemented a strict April 15th cut-off date for the 2018 growing season [6, 7]. While this was in accordance with what the task force had suggested, Monsanto (the producers of dicamba) saw it as a threatening violation of a farmer’s right to utilize resources useful to them and sued the ASPB .
Ultimately, the community dialogue did achieve its immediate purposes. Under the guidance of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute the task force was able to reach a consensus on a series of recommendations that would be offered to the ASPB and the Arkansas government for their consideration. Many of these recommendations were put into practice just a few months after this process concluded. In addition, the members of the task force were able to come to some level of understanding regarding the use of dicamba in the state despite their strong differences of opinion, fostering a sense of empathy among the community.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The dicamba task force was able to leave the state leadership in Arkansas with clear, concrete suggestions for how to approach this issue. In addition to these recommendations, participants were able to leave behind the divisiveness and violence for a “dialogue first” approach, one that enabled them to understand both sides of the issue with a more empathetic perspective . This can be concluded by reviewing the results of the post-deliberation survey, which show that the participants of the task force were overall fairly satisfied with their participation in the discussion and felt that their opinions regarding the issue had been adequately considered by all other members . The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute was able to productively apply to this situation methods and tools they had worked with in the past, leading to the outcomes that the task force had set out to reach at its formation.
 Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. (2017). Report of the 2017 State of Arkansas Dicamba Task Force meetings. [S.l.]: Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, University of Arkansas System. Retrieved from http://rockefellerinstitute.org/uploads/dicamba-report-092017.pdf
 Kaner S., Lind, L., Toldi, C., Fisk, S., & and Berger, D. (2014). Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 Essential Partners. (2019). Our method. Retrieved 5 October 2019, from https://www.whatisessential.org/our-method
 Upholt, B. (2018, December 10). A killing season. The New Republic. Retrieved 21 September 2019, from https://newrepublic.com/article/152304/murder-monsanto-chemical-herbicide-arkansas
 Breen, D. (2019). Arkansas Plant Board votes to loosen Dicamba restrictions. KUAR. Retrieved 24 September 2019, from https://www.ualrpublicradio.org/post/arkansas-plant-board-votes-loosen-dicamba-restrictions
 Charles, D. (2018). These citizen-regulators in Arkansas defied Monsanto. Now they’re under attack. National Public Radio. Retrieved 21 September 2019, from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/02/14/584647903/these-citizen-regulators-in-arkansas-defied-monsanto-now-theyre-under-attack
 Smith, P. (2017). Dicamba ruling advances. Great American Crop Division. Retrieved 22 November 2019, from https://www.greatamericancrop.com/news-resources/article/2017/09/15/dicamba-ruling-advances
 Essential Partners. (2018, July 23). Small communities, big divisions: Fostering dialogue in rural Arkansas with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. News & Notes: The EP Blog. Retrieved 21 September 2019, from https://whatisessential.org/blog/small-communities-big-divisions-fostering-dialogue-rural-arkansas-winthrop-rockefeller
 Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. (2019). About us. Retrieved 22 November 2019, from http://rockefellerinstitute.org/about-us
The original submission of this case entry was co-authored by Bailey Fohr, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and Heather Southard, Program Coordinator for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service or the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.