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

Joint Reframing/Assisted Reframing

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

One of the first things a mediator usually does is to get each of the parties to explain to the other and to the mediator what the problem is, from their own point of view. This allows each side to see how the other side or sides describes or "frames" the conflict. When there is a big difference in the parties' views about what is going on, or what the key issues are, the mediator will often try to get the parties to redefine the nature of the problem together. If they can work together to develop a new definition of the problem, it is usually much easier to then go on to work together to develop a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.

This process of joint reframing can take place quickly, or it can develop slowly over time. Usually, at the beginning of a dispute, parties have a rather vague sense of the nature of the problem. They know they are angry, they know they have been (or may in the future) be treated in a way they do not like, but they may not have identified exactly what the problem is or why it is happening. As discussions between the parties go on, their understanding of the underlying causes of the situation usually becomes more apparent. Chris Moore, an internationally-known mediator and mediation trainer, points out that parties become receptive to reframing, just as they become receptive to the idea of negotiating at all. (We often refer to a conflict being "ripe" for resolution–Moore says conflicts become "ripe" for reframing as well.)

Although parties can engage in reframing on their own, it is often very helpful to have a third party (mediator or facilitator) assist in this process. One of the mediator's main jobs is to restate things the party has said in a way that causes less resistance or hostility. For example, while disputants often open their description of a problem in terms of blame, the mediator will restate the problem is less personal, and less accusatory terms. Rather than saying "YOU did not uphold the agreement" (thereby blaming the other party and making him or her likely to respond defensively), the mediator will restate the problem in more neutral terms: "HE was not paid on time, and he needs the money to be able to fulfill HIS other obligations." The underlying truth (that one side didn't pay the other) is the same, but the way the mediator frames the problem, sounds more acceptable to the other side.

Mediators also try to reframe situations that are described in win-lose terms, as possible win-win situations. Rather than assuming that it is impossible for both sides to get what they want or need, the mediator will probe underlying interests and needs to try to get the parties to reframe the problem in a way that each sides' needs can be met simultaneously.

Mediators vary in the degree of direction they give the parties in doing this: some will just ask probing questions, letting the parties work most of the issues out themselves; others will be much more directive, suggesting new ways of defining the problem that the parties themselves might not have recognized, and trying to divert attention away from issues that really do appear to be unresolvable. In his acclaimed textbook on mediation, Moore counsels mediators to reframe issues that cannot be negotiated (such as value conflicts) into interests that can be traded. Another approach, he says, is to identify larger, superordinate goals that will override the importance of the value differences. Or thirdly, Moore suggests, mediators can "avoid identifying or responding" to values issues directly. "Because it is difficult to mediate guilt or innocence, right or wrong, respect or lack of respect, and so on, the mediator may want to avoid these questions entirely and focus only on the dispute's components that can be turned toward interest-based bargaining. If enough issues can be resolved with interest-based bargaining, the importance of value differences may fade and will be dropped from a list of demands or topics for discussion." (Moore, 1996, 221-2)


Links to Examples of Joint and/or Assisted Reframing

John Paul Lederach -- Central American Conflict Resolution
This article describes how insider partial mediators help people in conflict in Central America to come to a new, shared understanding about their situation and how to "get out" of it.
Jay Rothman -- Conflict Management Policy Analysis
This is a description of a border dispute between Egypt and Israel.  Although the dispute was actually resolved through arbitration, Rothman describes how a more integrative approach to reframing the conflict might have yielded a better outcome.
Krag Unsoeld -- Hawaii's Water Wars: A Pacific paradise settles a hellish dispute over a scarce resource
This article describes a consensus process to resolve a water conflict in Hawaii.   Joint reframing of the problem was part of the approach used.
Virgil Peterson -- The Rabbi's Resolution and the Power of Stories
This is a story about assisted reframing.  By finding an outside person (a Rabbi) to reinterpret their problem, the disputants in this case were able to see their situation in a very new perspective, which enabled them to resolve it easily when they could not before.
William Zartman and Saadia Touval -- International Mediation in the Post- Cold War Era
Assisted, joint reframing is one of the many contributions a mediator can make toward resolving international conflicts.
Louis Kriesberg--Taking Initiatives
The author states that joint framing of an issue is important for the initiation of de-escalatory moves and negotiation.
Jay Rothman--Resolving Identity-Based Conflict: In Nations, Organizations, and Communities
The use of joint reframing is illustrated in this description of ARIA workshops--a variation of the analytical problem solving approach to conflict transformation.
Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field--Dealing with an Angry Public:  The Mutual Gains Approach to Resolving Disputes
The authors' mutual gains approach to anger is essentially a reframing approach which transforms conflicts from an "us against them" or "we against you" to a "lets solve this together" situation.


Links to Related Approaches

Interest-Based Framing

Fairness-Based Framing

Needs-Based Framing

Integrative (Or Win-win) Reframing


Links to Related Problems

Framing Problems

Failing to Identify All of the Relevant Issues/assuming that everyone else defines the problem the same way

Failing to Identify Strategic Options

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