OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Design-and-Control Systems and Complex, Natural Systems


A fifth important distinction is one between relatively simple systems that are fully understood and open to manipulation, and complex, natural systems that are only partially understood and manipulatable. Many conflict professionals see conflicts as relatively simple situations which can be completely assessed, analyzed, understood, altered, and hence, "fixed." For example, many conflict consultants engage in what is called "dispute systems design." They look at a "dispute system"--a family, a school, or a business, for instance, and learn what conflicts arise repeatedly and what causes these conflicts. They then design a new way for dealing with these problems. The new approach will either avoid the conflicts in the first place, or resolve them efficiently when they do occur.

Dispute systems design is very effective when the system under examination is relatively simple, predictable, and controllable. In these situations, the same people (or types of people) are involved in the same kinds of conflicts over and over again. In addition, the assumption is made that people can be controlled. A manager can tell employees what to do, and the assumption is made that they will do it. A parent can tell the children how the family will be run, and the assumption is made that the children will agree. This approach views conflict producing systems--families, schools, or businesses much like machines. They break, but the problems can be clearly identified and fixed.

Resolution resistant conflicts often do not fit this simple, predictable, and remediable model. They tend to be complex, and highly volatile. While one can identify most of the parties, issues, interests, and positions, these and other conflict characteristics are often changing. So too are the conflict dynamics. The end result is a system that can only be understood and dealt with bit-by-bit, not as a unified whole. Rather than trying to design a solution that will "fix" or "resolve" the entire conflict, a more effective approach is to identify particular dynamics that are causing problems and fixing those. This will not resolve the entire conflict, but it will probably make it more constructive. Therefore, unlike many conflict specialists who try to use one particular technique, for instance negotiation, mediation, or analytical problem solving, to resolve intractable conflicts, our approach seeks to identify the incremental changes that can be made in the way the conflict is being handled that may make the outcome more beneficial. Often these incremental changes can be made by one side acting alone. At other times, they require all the parties to cooperate, either on their own, or with the assistance of a third party intermediary.


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu