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The InterNeg project had its genesis in a series of European conferences on decision and negotiation support that Gregory Kersten and David Cray attended in the summer of 1993. As they listened to presentations by a number of their friends and colleagues from places such as Belgium, France, Finland, Scotland, Israel and South Africa, they noticed that each culture viewed decision making in its own particular way. There were certain underlying assumptions about how people went about making decisions, who would be involved, what a proper time horizon was, how hard one should work to satisfy the other parties, and that these assumptions were built into support systems designed in these countries. Gregory and David began to speculate about the effects of cultural assumptions on the design and operation of support systems. From here it was a short step to consider how using systems based on cultural assumptions might interact with users from other cultures. Would using a support system designed in one culture degrade or alter performance when used in another cultural context?

In August of that year, at a cottage on a lake, they began to discuss how they would investigate these issues. Much to the annoyance of their families who thought vacation was for swimming and picnics, they began to draft a research proposal. Gregory, a professor of decision sciences and information systems in the School of Business at Carleton University, was interested in the system implications of the study. David, an associate professor of organizational behavior and international business at Carleton, was more concerned with how users interact with the systems. They combined their interests in a proposal to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada which was funded in the spring of 1994.

In order to investigate these issues they needed to involve potential users from many different cultures. One way would be to conduct experiments in different parts of the world using various decision support aids. However, it would have been very time consuming and difficult to collect enough data in this way to do reliable statistical analyses. An alternate approach was to use the Internet and set up negotiations through electronic mail. It would be convenient since users could negotiate whenever they chose. It also meant that anyone with access to the Internet could participate thus enlarging the number of people and the diversity of cultures that could be included. However, negotiating electronically had its own problems because it would be difficult to observe the negotiation process unless the participants cooperated with the researchers. It would also be difficult to provide equivalent features to all participants, which was a crucial part of the research. Then, another group member, Sunil J. Noronha, a postdoctoral research fellow at Carleton University who joined the group in the Fall of 1995, suggested using the Web to conduct these negotiations. However, using the Web posed a number of interesting technical problems because all of the decision support aids were designed to be used on PCs. The decision was made to write a program to support negotiation over the Web. Sunil led and supervised the design team.

The first crude version of this system became operational in March 1996. David wrote some simple cases and the team was soon running test negotiations, first among team members and then with colleagues abroad. The first international negotiation on the InterNeg system was between Peri Iz in Hong Kong and Gregory in Ottawa in April 1996. Other individual negotiations pointed out problems with the system which were then corrected. In July, a group of ESL students (mostly Korean) at Carleton were recruited to negotiate with a group of students from Ottawa in order to check the clarity of the system. The InterNeg version used for this negotiation was Version 1.0.

The first group of negotiations were not very successful, as many of those who began the negotiations did not complete them. This was partly due to external circumstances such as limited access to Netscape over which the team had little control. There were also system problems, especially in the presentation of the pre-negotiation phase, that inhibited some users. These problems were corrected and arrangements were made for a second set of groups, including two from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, to negotiate utilizing Version 2 of the InterNeg system. The August negotiations introduced the team to some of the difficulties of international negotiation. Power cuts in India and a lack of computer facilities at the Institute kept the completion rate low. A third round of group negotiations in September was much more successful. With most of the bugs now out of the system, new negotiations are being set up on an ongoing basis. Instructors in courses which feature negotiation or the design of support systems have been especially eager to use InterNeg's capabilities.

While improving the system remained a priority, the team was able to turn its collective attention to extending the negotiations to other groups and to the development of other aspects of the InterNeg site. The site now has five sections containing material related to InterNeg, the InterNeg team and negotiations in general. The five departments are: reference desk, research studies, support tools and aids, learning and training and external links. The InterNeg team now consists of Gregory, David, Sunil, Greg, Rudolf and undergraduate and graduate students. Together, they continue to improve the system, to expand the InterNeg site and, most importantly, to collect and analyze data for the study of international negotiation and negotiation support.

At the beginning, the name InterNeg referred to the supporting tool (the software) used to conduct negotiations over the Web. Now the software has been renamed Inspire and InterNeg refers to the Web site, team and the virtual organization.

Concordia University (Montreal), the University of Ottawa and Carleton University (Ottawa)
© Copyright 1995-2005 Gregory Kersten & The InterNeg Group