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.
International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict
Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA
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Many mediation processes break down because the mediator is either not skilled or not credible, or both. Good mediation is a very difficult task, requiring a great deal of experience, sensitivity, and skill. Yet it appears to be simple enough that many people who have never been trained in mediation, or who have never practiced it, will volunteer to mediate a conflict or otherwise find themselves performing a mediation role.
When the conflict is a relatively simply one, between two individuals over one issue, for example, inexperienced mediators may be able to do a fine job. All that is usually needed in that case is a knowledge of social norms, a willingness to listen, and some common sense. But as conflicts get more complex--involving more issues, more parties, more time--the importance of having a experienced and skilled mediator increases.
In addition to having skill, the mediator must have credibility. In North America (and other countries that utilize the North American model of mediation), the mediator is usually expected to be both neutral and impartial. That means that the mediator has no connections to any of the parties, and does not overtly favor one side over the other. (Mediators often cannot avoid liking one side more than another or feeling more sympathetic to one side over another, but their rules of ethics require them to keep such feelings to themselves and make a strong effort to treat each side equally.)
Other societies, however, have different expectations for mediators. In Central America, for example, people prefer mediators who are involved in the community--and hence in the conflict itself. They may even be partial to one side or another, but are people of such high stature that they have credibility with people on all sides of the conflict. John Paul Lederach and Paul Wehr refer to this as "insider-partial mediation." One well-known example of such a mediator was Oscar Arias who mediated the Central American Esquipulas agreement.
Regardless of the mediation model that is followed, the mediator must have the skills to do the job well, and must be trusted by people on all sides. If either of these characteristics is absent, the mediation is likely to fail.
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