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Throughout its history the Consortium has tried to link the experience of conflict professionals and disputants with the theoretical knowledge of conflict scholars. This effort has led us to develop and continuously expand our organizational knowledge base.
The concept of an organizational knowledge base is a bit unusual. The traditional research model suggests that researchers need only understand a field's knowledge base sufficiently to identify an area of the frontier in which they would like to work. At this point researchers tend to become specialists, developing projects which push back that frontier by making incremental additions to a field's overall base of knowledge. This approach has produced a world dominated by specialists. While this specialization is responsible for the rapid advances in many fields, it is not a particularly good model for solving complex, real-world problems. For that, we believe generalists are neededresearchers and programs devoted to bringing a field's entire, multi disciplinary body of knowledge to bear on specific situations.
The Consortium is trying to be such an organization. Our goal is to use the University's research and information management skills to provide people with state-of-the-art information on the full range of strategies for dealing with intractable conflict. The core of this effort is the Consortium's knowledge baseits collection of information about conflict problems and possible solutions. Our goal is to master this collection of ideas (most of which were initially generated by others), and to be able to help parties apply these ideas in particular conflict situations. Our primary focus is on the special problems of dealing with intractable conflict, with less emphasis on the many conventional ADR processes embodied in concepts such as principled negotiation and mediation.
Ultimately, the Consortium's goal is to develop: 1) a diagnostic ability to help parties determine exactly what problems are present in specific conflict situations, and 2) a prescriptive ability which helps parties identify options for dealing with each problem, as well as their relative advantages and disadvantages.
The quality of such a service is ultimately dependent on the quality of the information underlying the advice given. Thus, the Consortium's first objective has been to build its internal knowledge base to the point where it provides a solid basis for these diagnostic and prescriptive efforts. To do this, we have pursued a series of projects designed to incorporate into the Consortium's knowledge base the cumulative expertise of the conflict-resolution field, as well as knowledge from the many related disciplines which address the problems of human conflict from other perspectives (eg. law, politics, non-violence, military science).(2) In addition to reviewing as many of the classic and new books and journal articles as we can which relate to the topic of intractable conflicts, we have undertaken a variety of projects and programs intended to supplement our knowledge base. These have included the following activities:
A major source of insights incorporated into the Consortium's knowledge base has come from our continuing series of seminars and conferences. These sessions have involved presentations by more than 125 scholars, practitioners, and disputants representing many academic and professional specialties and conflicting parties: advocacy groups, third-party intervenors, law enforcement officers, journalists, politicians, and others interested in finding better ways of dealing with resolution-resistant conflicts. Typically, speakers have suggested ways in which, from their unique perspectives, confrontations over intractable issues could be handled more constructively. Most of these presentations, along with the ensuing discussions, were either transcribed and published as Consortium working papers, or written up by graduate student reporters for the Consortium Newsletter. In this way, these documents provide a permanent record of seminar and conference proceedings which has been incorporated into the Consortium's knowledge base.
The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution project, which is nearing completion for 1997 publication by ABC-CLIO, has played a major role in helping the Consortium more fully incorporate the major accomplishments of the conflict resolution field into our knowledge base. To help write the encyclopedia, we have built an extensive library and computer database with abstracts and citations to more than 4500 passages outlining the field's key insights. Since the encyclopedia project has focused primarily on mainstream alternative dispute resolution and the handling of tractable disputes, this effort constitutes an important complement to our long-running examination of intractable conflict. We are confident that this database and library now represents the majority of the field's principal ideas.(3)
In addition to the literature search done in conjunction with the encyclopedia project, the Consortium has also compiled an extensive library and database of materials specifically related to intractable conflicts. This database complements the encyclopedia's more "resolution-oriented" materials with information describing how traditional dispute handling fields such as law, diplomacy, and politics deal with resolution-resistant conflicts. It also includes material on confrontation strategies derived from the work of many advocacy groups, and information on nonviolent confrontation strategies researched earlier for the Consortium's Justice Without Violence book. Also included is information documenting how an over-reliance on traditional force-based strategies can yield counterproductive results.
The University's Global Change and Environmental Quality Program has funded a Consortium project which will bring together university expertise in environmental problem solving and dispute resolution for distribution over the Internet.(4) The project is predicated on the fact that large universities, like the University of Colorado, address conflict problems from many disciplinary perspectives. Our project is designed to make this collective expertise much more accessible and usable, both on and off the CU campus. To do this, we are working with University faculty who are teaching courses and conducting research related to environmental problem solving and conflict. In addition to collecting and posting information about these courses and research, we are asking each faculty member to identify key works in their disciplines which relate to environmental problem solving and dispute resolution.
These works are then being reviewed by Consortium graduate students, who are preparing executive summaries outlining the key insights of each work, and providing citations to sources of more detailed information. The resulting database is being made available for Consortium research, and is being distributed over the Internet as well. We are currently seeking funds to expand this effort to address other kinds of resolution- resistant conflicts, and to include scholars and practitioners from other institutions to supplement the information from CU.(5)
In many respects, in-depth case studies constitute the field's most useful source of data, since they can capture the nuances associated with complex conflict situations. To aid our research the Consortium has created an on-line archive of case studies of intractable conflicts. Currently, many of the case studies in the archive have come from students in the Consortium's graduate seminar on intractable conflict management. These papers, as well as those from Consortium small grant projects and other seminars, make up the core of the case study archive which is accessible over the Internet with full-text online searching to be added. Preliminary discussions are underway with other research centers about pooling case studies into a single searchable database, again available on the World Wide Web.(6)
A similar pooling of the Consortium's general working papers into an online searchable database is also underway. While we are not yet compiling a multi-institutional working paper archive, the Consortium's home page on the World Wide Web has links to many Hewlett and non-Hewlett conflict research centers, many of whom post their working papers on the Web as well.(7)
The Consortium's oldest effort to use computer technology to facilitate access to the field's knowledge base is its Information Exchange Program. This program, which was largely funded by the United States Institute of Peace, combined bibliographic data from dozens of sources into a single system. The system is still available with continuing updates and more than 70,000 entries. Our original diskette-based distribution system is now being replaced with on-line, Internet-based searching.(8) While the Exchange does suffer from a severe case of information overload, it remains a useful resource.
In response to the information overload problem generated by the Information Exchange, the Consortium undertook two core-bibliography projects, testing the feasibility of producing more manageable "short lists" of the key works which collectively embody the field's principal insights. This effort produced two core bibliographies--one covering ethnic conflict and the other focusing on environmental problem-solving. (This was a forerunner of the bibliography now being compiled for the University Expertise on Environmental Problem Solving Project discussed above.) (9)
The field's utilization of the Internet is now high enough that much useful conflict information is readily available over the Web. Additional conflict-related information is available on the Web from general sources such as newspapers, government agencies, and advocacy groups. Given the amount of information an increasingly useful component of the Consortium's knowledge base project has been the systematic identification of useful Internet sites. Initially, these site lists were compiled through an extensive search and review of hundreds of sites by Consortium staff. Using advanced search systems such as AltaVista, the Consortium is now extending its Internet search capabilities to include complex, instantly-updated, and precisely-focused Internet searches. These capabilities are being incorporated into the Consortium's Web Site and are being used as an increasingly valuable resource in our research and theory-building activities.(10)
The Consortium library has benefitted from the incorporation of collections of journals and books from Elise Boulding and the International Peace Research Association Foundation, the Department of Sociology's Social Conflict Concentration library, and materials from the Peace and Conflict Studies library. Appropriate materials from these collections are being reviewed and added to the Consortium knowledge base databases. They are housed at the Consortium, where they are available for public use.