Cases and Simulations


The materials developed by the Harvard Legislative Negotiation Project are designed to develop skills crucial to legislative negotiation.  These skills include:

  • Establishing the right tone early in the negotiation
  • Sequencing partners or allies
  • Working past “no”
  • Finding effective co-sponsors
  • Engaging in process opportunism and building momentum
  • Setting the table, managing the process and time, and closing the deal
  • Active and effective listening
  • Increasing one’s power in the negotiation and minimizing others’ power
  • Interest-based understanding for mutual gains
  • Getting beyond positions to interests
  • Asking probing and clarifying questions
  • Target setting
  • Negotiating with/against your allies
  • Early and effective anchoring
  • Trading low-cost concessions for high-value gains

Cases, simulations, and exercises

For the full package of cases, simulations, and exercises, please visit the HKS Case Program.

Building a 21st Century Workforce

This 1-on-1 Congressional simulation involves negotiations before the introduction of a bill between a senior Senator (D-OH) and the President of the Business Association of Ohio (SBAO), a key interest group for the Senator. The two parties are trying to find agreement on a workforce assistance package for small businesses in rustbelt states hurt by the economic recession.

(90-120 minutes to teach)

Bridgeton’s Polluted Waters

This 1-on-1 Congressional simulation between two senior Representatives on the House Water Resources Environment subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee involves sorting out a sub-issue in a water infrastructure bill that affects water pollution in the Ranking Member’s District.

(120-150 minutes to teach)

Negotiating an Energy Policy Bill

This 1-on-1 Congressional simulation involves a scored negotiation between the Chair of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (D-WA) and Ranking Member from same committee (R-NC).  The case requires negotiating the final six remaining issues for an energy policy bill: nuclear power; addressing climate change; offshore drilling; investing in renewable energy; safeguarding the electrical grid; and funding offsets.

(195 minutes to teach)

Turning Down the Heat: Negotiating Wildfire Prevention and Recovery

This 2-on-2 Congressional simulation of a pre-conference negotiation involves reconciling quite different House and Senate bills on wildfires; the goal is to develop a uniform bill that could pass both chambers. The negotiation is among staffers to the Chair of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (Dem), a Minority Member of Senate Energy and Natural Resources (Rep), the Chair of House Committee on Natural Resources (Rep), and a Minority Member of Committee on Natural Resources (Dem). All negotiators share a desire to address wildfire prevention and funding, but differ on key sub-issues.

(160 minutes to teach)

Funding the FDA

This 4-person Congressional simulation concerns how to fund FDA User Fees. The negotiation is a 4-corners pre-conference scored exercise among: the Majority staffer of Senate HELP Committee; the Minority staffer of Senate HELP Committee; the Majority staffer of House Energy & Commerce; and the Minority staffer of House Energy & Commerce. The costs of not reaching agreement rise as the simulation continues and the impact of the FDA not being funded are felt.

(195 minutes to teach)

Rebuilding Bridges

This 6-person capstone Congressional simulation centers on negotiating elements of a Manager’s Amendment before introducing a large infrastructure bill on the floor. There are 6 issues to be resolved: the number of amendments allowed, implementation timeframe, size of infrastructure bill, gas taxes, how the bill is paid for, and provisions on self-driving vehicles).

Outcomes are scored for each negotiator.  The parties negotiating include the Senate Majority Leader (R-IA), the Senate Minority Leader (D-OR) , a Republican Majority Senator (R-AR), a Minority Senator (D-NJ), the White House Legislative Affairs representative, and the president of an Autonomous vehicles interest group (AVIA).

(150-210 minutes to teach)

A New Airport?

This 6-role capstone state-level negotiation simulation in the Senate Public Works Committee involves several issues, including siting the airport, regional transportation, possible healthcare concerns, and environmental questions.

(225 minutes to teach)

Bipartisanship in the US Congress: Water for the World case (video and print)

The mixed video/written case describes key decision points leading up to the unlikely passage of the Congressional bipartisan Water for the World Act of 2014.

It illuminates issues such as: Listening to/understanding the perspective of other key negotiators; Looking beyond fixed positions (or demands) to uncover underlying interests; Reframing proposals to meet other negotiators’ interests and help other negotiators sell an agreement as an internal “win” (to their constituents and party leadership); Building winning coalitions (sequencing of allies, picking effective cosponsors); Building trust across political parties and chambers; Exercising process opportunism; Mobilizing stakeholders, constituents and lobbyists to influence negotiation counterparts.

(90 minutes to teach)

Utah Immigration Reform case (print)

The case describes how state legislators in Utah, a very conservative state, assembled a “Coalition of the Willing”— Republican and Democratic representatives alongside religious, civic and business leaders—to negotiate a bipartisan compromise to address the emotionally-charged issue of immigration reform in 2010-2011. The case illuminates issues such as: Diagnosing the barriers to agreement; Understanding the role of the Utah Compact in shaping the negotiation strategy and trajectory of the 2010-2011 legislation; Showing how a focus on problem framing brings more people to the table and creates the conditions for buy-in of an acceptable compromise solution.

(90 minutes to teach)

Oregon Tackles Equal Pay...and Wrestles with Bipartisan Compromise case (video and print)

This mixed video-written case describes the landmark Oregon Equal Pay Act of 2017, contrasting the very partisan House result with the bipartisan Senate result. The case helps participants gain insights on bipartisanship, the benefits and risks of that strategy, how a culture of bipartisanship is created, and other insights.

(90 minutes to teach)

“Be Reasonable, See it My Way” Exercise

This research-based exercise is designed to enhance legislators or staff’s willingness to engage with and listen to those with whom they disagree on important, partisan issues, a key obstacle in many bipartisan negotiations.

(90-120 minutes to teach)