Comparative Review of Problem Solving Assessment Tools Through Learning Orientation: A Focus on Hong Kong

In assessing problem solving negotiation capabilities in a graduate level course taught in the law faculty of the University of Hong Kong, students are trained to use a peer-evaluation feedback sheet.  The sheet is used following in-class negotiation simulation exercises.  The use of this instrument is based on a number of underlying assumptions: 1) students can be active agents of their own learning; and 2) a learning-orientation methodology positively correlates with the development of knowledge, insights and capabilities.

Learning orientation is a relatively field most recently discussed in management literature.  Its focus is primarily on attention toward self-referent levels of performance.[1]  Through feedback on past performance in order to evaluate current performance, individuals with a learning-oriented approach focus on improving skills and acquiring knowledge, and are less concerned with ‘making mistakes.’[2]  Such an approach, according to recent research, leads to greater intrinsic motivation.[3]

The in-class assessment tool is divided into 3 sections that correlate with three stages of the collaborative problem solving process: 1) Framing, 2) Dialogue and 3) Decision Making.

In the first stage of Framing, students are asked to evaluate their negotiating partners capabilities in:

  • Creating a supportive physical space for the negotiation
  • Making an opening statement that establishes a collaborative negotiation climate
  • Attitude, tone of voice, body language contributed to creating a collaborative climate.


In the second state of Dialogue, students are asked to provide feedback on their negotiating partners ability to engage in an effective process of listening, informing and identifying common ground.  Finally in the last phase of Resolution, students provide feedback to one another on capabilities in the following areas:

  • Reframing the conflict as a mutual problem to be solved in partnership
  • Engaging in creative brainstorming to generate innovative solutions to the problem-solving and transformative levels of the conflict
  • Considering how follow-through will be undertaken

The benefits of this approach include the development of capacities for continuous learning, strengthening the habit of self reflection, improving the ability to give constructive peer feedback, transforming the view of stumbling blocks as stepping stones to progress, reminding students of the goals and principles of the collaborative negotiation process, and providing an opportunity to make adjustments based on constructive feedback.

The drawbacks of the approach are likewise apparent.  In the assessment context, peer evaluation creates difficulty in effective quantification and measurement, and therefore difficulty in translating assessment into course grades.  Furthermore, subjective viewpoints can lead to a high degree of variation in feedback.  As a result, students are generally assessed on their participation on the feedback process and on other more objective measures such as student’s negotiation skills journal, in-class presentation and research paper.

[1] DeShon, R.P. & Gillespie, J.Z. (2005). A motivated action theory of goal orientation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 1096-1127.

[2] Elliot, A. & Church, M. (1997). A hierarchical model of approach and avoidance achievement motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,72, 218-232.

[3] Id.

Hong Kong to Introduce Mediation Bill

Following a three month consultation on the Report of the Working Group on Mediation, the Hong Kong Government’s Mediation Task Force aims to introduce a Mediation Bill later this year.

According to Clifford Chance attorney, Cameron Hassall, “the move constitutes a serious effort on the part of the Task Force to promote wider recourse to mediation in civil disputes. To this end, the Task Force is deliberating on the Report’s 48 recommendations and the widespread (and largely positive) feedback from public stakeholders on the Report.”

China Issues Guidelines on Resolving Social Conflict

According to a May 4th news release published by Xinhua, a set of guidelines for resolving social conflicts in China was jointly issued by sixteen government agencies and released to the public this past Wednesday.  The guidelines encourage the use of mediation to resolve social conflict and define the role of various government agencies in handling specific case types.  For example, “the human resource and social security authorities are responsible for settling labor disputes, health authorities for medical disputes, land resource authorities for conflicts resulting from land appropriation and land ownership disputes.”

According to the report, “the public security authorities are asked to make offices available in their community branches for mediation work, and invite volunteers in” and “the Central Committee for Improvement of Public Order Through Comprehensive Measures will oversee the performance of all government agencies in carrying out their conflict-solving duties, according to the guidelines.”