Institute for Engagement & Negotiation

Empowering communities to create shared solutions

A Message from the Director 

As a leader in the field, the IEN is recognized nationally for both its depth of experience and breadth of work. We work on most anything that impacts both our natural and built environment – natural resources, public health, community infrastructure, and equity and social issues. IEN is a change-agent with the skills, experience and vision for transforming chaos into order, for helping people navigate daunting challenges toward collaborative solutions.

IEN’s 35-year history is rich with successes at all levels, from small organizational issues to complex, high stakes issues. In our early days we mediated the Chesapeake Bay Roundtable that led to the adoption of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Act and changed the face of Virginia’s regulatory environment east of the I-95. Later we facilitated the Southern Tobacco Communities Project that impacted the Tobacco Master Settlement and paved the political path for creation of Virginia’s Tobacco Revitalization Commission, which has distributed billions of dollars in Virginia’s tobacco counties. We are not shy of tackling the big issues and we embrace the opportunity to make a positive difference on a larger tableau.

Our portfolio is also rich with work at the community level. Here, our expertise in community engagement enables us to avoid cookie-cutter approaches. We work with our clients and stakeholders to design thoughtful deliberations, effective consultations, and successful collaborations. We are creative and inventive – trying new approaches when other approaches have failed. We have convened large collaborative problem-solving summits, using innovative approaches – from Governor’s Natural Resource Leader Summits to the interfaith Living Waters Summit.

As facilitators, we are also leaders, willing to identify issues that deserve attention and to create collaborative approaches to those issues. An award-winning regional approach to development in Southwest Virginia – the Clinch River Valley Initiative – is in its fifth year of addressing issues of parks, river access, environmental education, and downtown revitalization. A collaborative approach to addressing food system issues – the first Virginia Food Security Summit – led to the formation of the Virginia Food System Council that continues to influence state policies. A collaborative approach to addressing the harmful legacy of slavery at the University of Virginia – the University-Community Action for Race and Equity – led to the President’s appointment of a Commission on Slavery and the University.

Of course, it would be foolish to say that a collaborative problem solving or consensus approach works for everything. Some situations are simply too hot or not yet ripe enough for a collaborative approach. Even in these circumstances, IEN has experience in designing approaches to reduce the vitriol, ease the hostilities, and help build understanding.

While our work is rarely easy or simple, we love what we do. Our highest wish, truly, would be to work ourselves out of a job. Yet, if anything, as our world is now socially, politically and economically connected 24-7, issues arise and inflame more quickly than ever before. So, more than ever before, safe spaces are needed: spaces where people can talk with each other, learn from other, and build bridges to better outcomes.

Please call us anytime. We are passionate about bringing people together to create sustainable solutions. Let us know how we may help you.

Tanya Denckla Cobb


Photo credit: Andrew Shurtleff, Charlottesville Daily Progress