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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Mediation is one of several approaches to conflict resolution that uses a "third party" intermediary to help the disputing parties resolve their conflict. Unlike arbitration, where the third party actually makes the decision about how the conflict should be resolved, mediators only assist the parties in their efforts to formulate a solution of their own. Thus, mediators bring the parties together (or sometimes shuttle between them), help them describe the problem in terms of negotiable interests and needs rather than non-negotiable positions, and develop a set of ideas for how the interests and needs of both sides can be met simultaneously. The mediator will then help the parties assess the relative merits of the different options and draft an agreement that works best to satisfy everyones interests. It is up to the parties, however, to decide whether to accept the final agreement or not. While there may be considerable social pressure to agree to the settlement, if it does not meet the needs of a party as well as an alternative approach might, that party is still free to reject the settlement and try an alternative conflict resolution technique, be it litigation, direct action, an election, or war.
Mediation has been used successfully in many different kinds of conflicts. It is widely utilized (and very successful) in the United States and elsewhere for handling divorce and child custody cases. It is also commonly used for other kinds of interpersonal disputes (such as disputes between neighbors, roommates, or co-workers) labor-management disputes, community disputes, environmental disputes, and international disputes.
Although it is common in international conflicts, mediation has been less successful in that context than in most of the others. In a study of 78 international conflicts which occurred between 1945 and 1986, Jacob Bercovitch (1991) found that 56 were mediated, but that most of those efforts were unsuccessful. He attributed this lack of success to a number of factors. One, international conflicts tend to be very complex and highly escalated, and involving high stakes. This makes negotiation (or by extension, mediation) very difficult. In addition, mediation tends to work best before conflicts become very heated. At the same time, however, they have to become heated enough for the parties to feel a need to resolve them. Thus, there is a very small space of time in which the conflict is ready or "ripe" for negotiation or mediation. If mediation is tried either before this time, or afterwards, it is unlikely to succeed.
Other factors that determine the success of international mediation are the nature of the parties, the issues, and the mediator. The mediator must be highly skilled and respected. It often also helps if the mediator represents a powerful party who can reward cooperation and punish obstinance. When he mediated the Camp David Accords, Jimmy Carter was able to promise U.S. assistance as a reward for cooperation, while he could threaten a reduction of U.S. support if Egypt or Israel remained resistant to settlement.
Mediation styles vary greatly according to the needs of the parties and the mediator. In North America, the tendency is for the mediator to be neutral and impartial. That means he or she is not connected to the disputing parties in any way and does not stand to benefit by any particular outcome. Therefore, typical mediators supposedly have no bias toward one party or one solution over another. Other cultures, however, use mediators who are insiders. They are people who are connected to one side or the other, but who are highly respected by both sides, nevertheless. They also might have an interest in the final agreement as they tend to be members of the negotiating communities. Thus, it is in their personal interest that the conflict be decided in a way that is lasting and fair to all sides. (Oscar Arias Sanchezs negotiation of the Esquipulas agreement ending the Nicaraguan war is an excellent example of "insider-partial" mediation.)
Another difference in style relates to the role of the mediators and the relative importance placed on settlement as opposed to the importance placed on the relationship. In the United States, the most common approach to mediation is what is called "problem solving" or "settlement oriented" mediation. Here the mediators primary goal is obtaining a settlement, and he or she may be highly directive and manipulative in an effort to bring the parties to a resolution. A less common approach which is growing in popularity is transformative or relationship-centered mediation. Here the mediators primary goals are empowering both parties to act effectively on their own behalf, while recognizing the legitimate interests and needs of the other side. Often, by fostering such empowerment and recognition, the parties are able to develop a mutually-acceptable solution on their own. However, they are not pushed in the direction nearly as much as they might be in settlement-oriented mediation.
U.S. Institute of Peace -- "Negotiation and International Mediation" in Sudan: Ending the War, Moving Talks Forward
Tom Milburn--What Can We Learn From Comparing Mediation Across Levels
Third Party Intervention
Common Ground Projects
Mediation is potentially useful for most of the problems covered in this program.
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