Conflict Research Consortium

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The Conflict Research Consortium is a multidisciplinary program of research, teaching, and application, focused on finding more constructive ways of addressing difficult, long-term, and intractable conflicts, and getting that information to the people involved in these conflicts so that they can approach them in a more constructive way. A joint university-community program, the Consortium unites researchers, educators, and practitioners from many fields for the purposes of theory-building, testing, disseminating, and applying new conflict management techniques. These efforts are designed to lead to an improved understanding of conflict dynamics, along with better methods for confronting and managing intractable conflicts and reaching good decisions.

In order to fulfill its purpose, the Consortium is pursuing six primary objectives, which are illustrated in Figure 1. All of the objectives involve the development and dissemination of what we call the conflict knowledge base--the set of information that is available to help intermediaries and parties better deal with conflicts of all kinds. (While we are especially interested in resolution resistant or intractable conflicts, the conflict knowledge base includes information about resolving tractable conflicts as well.) While these objectives are arranged in something of a step-by-step order, they are all ongoing and highly interrelated activities.


Objective #1:

Collecting Ideas

We believe that "none of us is as smart as all of us." The conflict resolution field has grown so quickly and the complexity and variability of destructive conflicts is so great, that no one person or organization has an adequate understanding of all conflict problems or methods of resolution. Rather, understanding any conflict problem and designing effective solutions requires the collective efforts of large numbers of people, each contributing a piece or two to the puzzle.

Therefore, the first objective of the Consortium program has been, and continues to be, the collection and synthesis of information that contributes to the development and expansion of the collective conflict knowledge base.

Objective #2:

Understanding the Conflict Context

Our second objective is to take the information collected from parties, practitioners, and scholars, and use it to improve our understanding of the nature of intractable conflicts. It is not enough to know that intractable conflicts are often destructive -- we need to know why. We also need a detailed understanding of the parties' motivations and constraints, since these will determine what can and cannot be done to correct problems and increase the constructiveness of inevitable confrontations.

Objective #3:

Developing an Organizational Framework

Our third objective is to use the information collected in Objective #1, and our understanding of the nature of intractable conflicts developed in Objective #2 to develop a theoretical framework and a set of practical techniques, which can be used by all types of parties (disputants, third parties, decision makers, and bystanders) to deal with difficult or intractable conflicts in more constructive ways. Unlike other scholars who rely on only one approach (for instance principled negotiation, dispute system design, or human needs theory), we have tried to incorporate useful ideas from as many of the fields' experts as possible. The purpose of our third objective, therefore, is to develop a framework for organizing this vast amount of information so that it is cohesive and understandable, rather than a haphazard list of divergent ideas.

Objective #4:

Developing an Information-Management System

Our fourth objective is to develop an information management system that makes all of the information we have collected findable and usable--both for ourselves and for others. This goes beyond developing a theoretical framework for organizing ideas (Objective #3) to developing an actual physical (and computer-based) system for information storage and retrieval that indexes and cross references information in a variety of ways and allows retrieval of individual pieces of information by anyone who needs it.

Objective #5:

Disseminating Information

Information on more constructive approaches to resolution-resistant conflict will be of little value unless it can be successfully disseminated to those who are in a position to alter the course of a conflict. Thus, the bottom line objective of the Consortium is to provide intermediaries and parties with affordable access to information which directly addresses their specific needs. In addition to providing information to disputants and professional intermediaries, our goal is to reach decision makers, the media, religious leaders, law enforcement officers, and other people involved in or affected by intractable conflicts as well.

To do this we must make potential users aware of 1) the potential benefits of having more information on difficult or intractable conflicts and methods of constructive confrontation, 2) the information's low-cost availability (as measured in terms of both time and money), and 3) how to access the information. In short, the system must be able to move the information out of the research centers and libraries and into the grassroots where it can make a difference.

While the information management system described above is an important element of our information dissemination program, we are also relying on printed documents (books, articles, and newsletters) and person-to-person education, training, and consultation, to supplement our electronic dissemination efforts.

Objective #6:


Achieving the above objectives is a long-term task which will require substantial investments before we can hope to significantly increase the constructiveness of large numbers of confrontations. Fortunately, we have reached the point where much of the initial research and development has been done. Thus, we are now entering a phase where more of our efforts can be concentrated on dissemination. (We do, of course, continue to expand the information included in the system as new ideas are developed). We expect some of the funding needed for the next stage of the Consortium program will come from end-users: people who directly benefit from using the information. Additional funding will, however, be needed to continue development of the program and to provide services to those who are unable to pay for the Consortium's assistance.




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For More Information: Contact: Guy Burgess or Heidi Burgess, Co-Directors, Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Campus Box 327, Boulder, Colorado, 80309-0327, E-mail: Phone: (303) 492-1635; Fax: (303)492-2154.

Copyright 1997 by Conflict Research Consortium