Inspire© is a Web-based negotiation support system. It allows for the specification of preferences, assessment of offers, management of communication, graphical display of the negotiation's progress, post-agreement analysis, and other functions. The system is flexible and can be used as:
- a game,
- a demonstration decision support system (DSS),
- a negotiation simulator,
- a demonstration negotiation support system (NSS), and
- a research and training tool.
Using Inspire requires following a sound approach to negotiation that has been proposed by experts, has been used by over 8,000 users, and is the cornerstone of negotiation analysis. There are three basic phases of a negotiation:
As a game, Inspire provides an opportunity to practice and sharpen your bargaining skills. For inexperienced negotiators, Inspire's clear steps provide a guide through the negotiation process. For more experienced practitioners, the system allows the player to graphically track the development of the negotiation through numerous rounds of offers and counter-offers. You can elaborate your arguments for your position through the message facility.
- DSS for the pre-negotiation phase
One of the key features of Inspire is that it can act as an individual decision support system. Before beginning the actual negotiation, players must consider the importance of each issue as well as the acceptability of each option within an issue. This forces the negotiator to define her/his preferences over issues and to consider what trade-offs may be required. The system also presents estimates of the utility of the various combinations of options and overall utility of complete packages.
- Negotiation simulator
Inspire can also act as a simulator to prepare you for a particular negotiation. The system is designed so that cases may be entered by users. When faced with an upcoming negotiation, the user can engage in mock negotiations to understand how the issues may emerge once the bargaining has begun in earnest. One could even use Inspire to parallel an ongoing negotiation. After each offer the opponent's offer could be entered to understand what progress, if any, is being made and what trade-offs are emerging.
- NSS for real-life negotiations
Inspire can also act as an NSS and support and facilitate real-life negotiations. The system is designed so that two parties who can agree on the issues and the possible options for those issues can negotiate over the Web. This is an obvious advantage when the parties are widely separated and may have difficulty arranging meetings. Using Inspire is also helpful when post-settlement improvement is likely.
- Research and training tool
Finally, Inspire has an international dimension. The current implementation of the system links players from around the world. This reflects the current reality of economic organizations. Through Inspire users can study and practice international negotiation involving people from diverse cultures to help understand how different values and expectations may influence the negotiation process.
There are three basic phases that are usually followed in any negotiation:
- Preparation for the negotiation, during which you assess the situation, identify the stakeholders, and develop a very clear understanding of the issues and interests involved. To help you through this phase, Inspire provides you with a detailed description of your negotiation case, and then it guides you through a sequence of steps in which you state the importance of each issue and each alternative. This phase is also called preference elicitation. The information obtained is used by Inspire in the next phase to give you helpful feedback when constructing new offers or evaluating your counterpart's offers.
- The actual negotiation phase during which you and your counterpart exchange a series of messages and offers, creating a suitable atmosphere for the negotiation, presenting your side of the case, and bargaining until you reach an agreement. Inspire gives you menus by which you can construct offers, and boxes for messages. It further supports you by displaying a rating (score) beside each offer based on your preference information from the first phase, and by plotting a graph of the history of both sides of your negotiation (entirely from your perspective).
- The post-settlement period during which you have the option of renegotiating a settlement that you have already reached. Based on the preference information provided by both you and your counterpart, Inspire determines whether the settlement you have reached is an "optimal" one in the sense that neither of you can improve it without loss to the other side. (This is also known as a "non-dominated" or "Pareto-optimal" agreement.) If Inspire can suggest better packages than the one you have agreed upon, you are shown some of the possibilities and given the option of continuing the negotiation until you reach another settlement.