To maximize the parties' opportunity to reach a voluntary resolution of the dispute, a Panel-appointed representative (usually a Panel Member or staff member) explores settlement possibilities with the parties in a face-to-face setting. Discussions between the parties and the representative, who is well-versed in how the Panel has decided previous cases involving similar issues, take place across the bargaining table and in caucus sessions. Often these explorations result in a voluntary settlement of some or all of the disputed issues.
Should settlement efforts prove unsuccessful, the procedure permits the Panel representative to gain a full understanding of the parties' justifications, demonstrated needs, and other evidence presented on the merits. The representative then reports to the full Panel at a subsequent Panel meeting; the report includes the parties' final offers, any statements of position the parties are required to submit by the representative, and his or her recommendations for settlement. The Panel then takes final action on the matter, which could include issuing a Decision and Order.
The informal conference historically has been the Panel's most misunderstood procedure. Nevertheless, it has permitted numerous parties to craft the resolution to their own dispute in an interest-based, non-litigious setting. The interchange of ideas, with the guidance of a Panel representative, increases the possibility for a more satisfactory resolution than a decision imposed by the Panel. Where a voluntary settlement does not occur, the procedure preserves the Panel's discretion to resolve issues that it believes should be decided by the full Panel in plenary session.