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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In very escalated conflicts, increasing communication between the parties directly can do more harm than good. Often the parties will simply continue the ongoing destructive debate--repeating their non-negotiable positions and demands over and over again, accusing the other side of wrong-doing and evil intent, and trying to score "points" against the opponents or with people on their own side or sitting in the middle. To do this, an attempt is made to seem better, smarter, more righteous than the other side, and to make the other side look as bad as possible. "Communication" that does this seldom makes situations better--it usually makes them worse. For that reason, the suggestion that one opens up the lines of communication to help resolve a highly conflict can be very problematic.
One way around this problem is to rely on shuttle diplomacy or mediated communication at the early stages of an escalated conflict when direct communication is likely to be counterproductive. If a third party can be found who will carry information back and forth between parties, a reliable means of communication can be established that is not as prone to the grandstanding of face-to-face or media-based communication. The intermediary can relay questions and answers, and can privately suggest ideas (of his own or from one of the parties) for de-escalating the conflict that could not be made publicly. By keeping the communication private and indirect, the parties will not feel a need to use the debating tactics they commonly use in public conversations, and will be able to build up a level of trust that could not have been developed in those circumstances. Once this trust and a certain level of mutual understanding is developed, then face-to-face and even routinized communications can be started.
A well-known successful example of shuttle diplomacy and mediated communication was the Camp David negotiations between Israel and Egypt, mediated by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Carter got Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin together at the beginning of the negotiations and quickly learned that the relationship between the two men was very hostile and tense. Requiring the two men to negotiate directly would make settlement very unlikely, Carter concluded. However, he did see the possibility of progress if he (Carter) would do the negotiating for each side, carrying proposals and counter-proposals back and forth over the course of the two-week negotiations. Although the discussions appeared to be stuck several times, through his non-stop shuttle diplomacy, Carter was eventually able to get Sadat and Begin to agree to a text for peacemaking between their two nations.
Such shuttle diplomacy and mediated communication can be done on a much less grand scale. In international conflicts, low-profile mediators such as Quaker or Mennonite peace workers, members of humanitarian NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), or scholars can help relay messages back and forth before direct communication is feasible. In smaller-scale disputes, mediated communication can also be helpful. Even in family disputes, it is common for a brother to act as an intermediary between another brother and a parent, or for a trusted family member to act as a go-between for angry husbands and wives. In any situation where communication is made difficult because of distrust and anger, mediated communication can provide the impetus to get productive conflict management started.
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