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The hallmarks of the new economy are all things electronic, for example, e-commerce, e-business, e-government and e-health, not to mention eBay. Few people realize that the negotiation, or more precisely the e-negotiation, is the common thread in such applications. Governments, businesses and individuals constantly make decisions, and in this process they negotiate roles, prices, dates, delivery terms, and so on. The phenomenal growth of telecommunication enables equally well simple exchanges that lead to simple decisions, and very complex exchanges. It is the latter that we will study.

The complexity arises from the fact that the Internet knows no borders—geographical or cultural—and that software tools required to adequately assist negotiations adequately may be among the most complicated artifacts ever designed. Our challenge is to harness the possibilities of the information technology in the service of the human aspects of the new economy, in particular to investigate the social problems that may be caused by the increasingly widespread “virtual life.” Our international and interdisciplinary research team will tackle a dozen major objectives in half a dozen interrelated projects.

We plan to integrate the various perspectives on e-negotiations, coming from management science, organizational science, computer science, and behavioural science, to mention a few. We will propose a unified classification of negotiation-related concepts that have been defined, over the years, very differently by different researchers and practitioners.

We will consider many modes of negotiation, from the traditional face-to-face, through those facilitated by email, enhanced by multimedia, to those assisted by negotiation support systems. We will evaluate the effectiveness of the new modes, which are impoverished by the missing human contact but, somewhat paradoxically, en-riched by powerful and fast data analysis tools. We will look for ways of making up for the lack of direct contact. We will also look at the cultural influences in negotiation, and especially at language. We plan to consider such profoundly humanistic questions as the issues of trust and the effect of linguistic skills on the success in negotiation.

The experimental work will build on several systems for e-negotiation, which our team members have developed in their recent research projects. These systems mediate, organize, and even partially conduct, complex negotiations with many issues and many participants. Such negotiations are not unusual in the traditional mode but still rare in electronic form; we will build tools that manage complex conflicts, not merely help buy the cheapest product.

The existing systems have helped gather data that we plan to use in several projects. For example, we will examine the records of mediated negotiations to identify patterns of cultural and linguistic behaviour.

A system assists and perhaps guides the negotiator, who however has the final say. Such assistance is important because negotiation experts conduct smaller and smaller percentage of the negotiations, and only rarely they do it via the Internet. We will also explore mixed-mode negotiations, in which people cooperate with the so-called software agents; these systems represent individuals or organizations, apply strategies and make independent decisions. Their cooperation, or indeed competition, with humans is a fascinating area of study.

Finally, we plan to consider the use of e-negotiations and related applications in non-competitive situations, notably in training and education. The systems we have developed have been used in teaching, professional training and preparation for negotiations. This was done on a course-per-course and case-by-case basis; we plan to leverage our individual experiences and work on joint courses and training programs.

The goal of our interdisciplinary team comprising academics, members of large industrial research establishments and small high-tech organizations is to create an international network of researchers and practitioners who jointly work on the theoretical and practical aspects of e-negotiation in business organizations, governments of all levels and educational institutions. This cooperation builds on many research activities jointly undertaken by the team members. And, while its focus is on e-negotiation processes and systems, and their roles in resolving economic and other conflicts, we strive to contribute to better understanding of the interactions between people and technology that transform our society, and the impact of technologies on social and economic processes.


January 13, 2004