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

Treatment List 1:  Treating Complicating Factors

For more information about any of these topics, click on the title.

Click here to go to Treatment List 2:  Treating Core Conflict Problems



Strategies for determining what the conflict is about and how it is being addressed.

Interest-Based Framing
Interest-based framing describes conflicts in terms of interests, rather than positions. Often, interests are compatible, even when positions are not. Thus interest-based framing enables the parties to identify win-win solutions to problems that might not have been evident when the issues were described in terms of the parties' positions.
Fairness-Based Framing
In fairness-based framing, the parties approach the conflict as an effort to obtain what is rightfully theirs. In doing this, they base their arguments on principles of fairness which are accepted by the larger society, including their more reasonable opponents.
Needs-Based Framing
This approach frames a conflict as a collective effort to fulfill the fundamental human needs of all parties. By eliminating the tensions that arise when these needs go unmet, the approach can sharply reduce the level of conflict.
Joint Reframing/Assisted Reframing
When opponents in a conflict each define, or frame, the conflict in very different terms it can make cooperative problem solving very difficult. An exercise in joint reframing can help each side see the conflict as the other side sees it, which can help both sides confront the situation in a more constructive way. It can even be helpful to get an outside observer to help one side alone assess the conflict to be sure their view is reasonably fair and accurate.
Integrative (or Win-Win) Reframing
Conflicts can usually be defined in a variety of ways. When conflicts are being approached as unavoidable win-lose situations, it is often useful to ask whether it is possible to redefine the situation so that integrative (or win-win) solutions can be obtained. This is especially important when the original problem definition leaves no acceptable alternatives for the opponent. Although integrative reframing is not always possible, often it is possible to reframe at least part of the conflict in this way.
Mirror Imaging
Mirror imaging is a strategy which parties can use to assess the reasonableness of their behavior. It asks the parties to look at themselves the way others see them and make appropriate changes if they do not like what they see. Often if disputants will look at themselves honestly, they will sometimes notice that they are doing the same kinds of things--name calling, deception, and rumor spreading, for example--that they fault their opponents for doing. Once this is understood, parties can change their behavior to appear more reasonable, without altering or undermining their true interests at all.
Accepting, Rather Than Challenging, the Situation
All grievances and complaints do not have to be framed as conflicts. Sometimes it is wiser for the parties to conclude that the issue is not important enough to justify the cost of confrontation. In such cases, the issue can be resolved by simply "agreeing to disagree" or accepting the situation as another disagreeable, but unavoidable, fact of life.
Power Sharing
Power sharing is a strategy for resolving disputes over who should have the most powerful position in the social hierarchy. Instead of fighting over who should have power over whom, power sharing relies upon the joint exercise of power. If conflicts can be reframed to focus on how such power sharing might take place, they can become much more constructive.
Goal Clarification
Being clear about one's goals before acting is essential for disputants and third party intervenors. After identifying the nature of the problem, figuring out what one wants and what a good end result would be is essential for determining how to respond to any conflict situation.
Finding and Borrowing Eloquent Statements of the Common Core Issues
One way to clarify the core issues is for the parties to review eloquent statements from prominent individuals who have struggled with similar problems and found a compelling way to state the core issues. If one of these statements seems to reflect their situation it could be adapted to the new context and used as an effective way to frame the conflict.
Understanding the Usefulness of Conflict
Although many people and cultures assume conflict is bad, conflict is actually necessary to the healthy functioning of social groups, as it provides a way for interests to be balanced and mutual needs met. If the utility of conflict is understood, then mechanisms can be developed for allowing conflict to occur in a controlled and constructive way.
Balanced Sociation
Balanced sociation is a conscious effort by a society to make both cooperation and conflict prominent in public consciousness, formal education, and public investment.


Strategies for determining who is involved, what they think, and  the context or the environment of the conflict. 

For more information about any of these topics, click on the title.
Conflict Mapping
Conflict mapping is a technique which helps parties systematically determine the scope of a conflict. It identifies parties, issues, and the larger context of a dispute. It also identifies conflict processes and options for conflict management or resolution. Overall, conflict mapping provides basic information which is essential to planning a constructive response to a conflict.
Strategic Option Identification and Costing
Part of conflict mapping is the identification of options for confronting and/or settling the conflict and assessing the costs and benefits of each.
Analysis of Similar Conflicts
Often a great deal can be learned about an ongoing dispute by analyzing the history of a similar disputes. This can yield ideas about problems that are likely to develop as well as possible approaches for conflict management or resolution.
Identifying and Involving All Potential Disputants
A careful effort to identify all current and potential parties is necessary for effective conflict resolution. While some parties to a conflict are obvious, others remain hidden. Efforts should be made to figure out who might be affected by the outcome to a particular conflict, as well as who is currently concerned about the situation but has not yet become vocal.
Understanding Historical Context
Disputes are often part of a long-running conflict. In order to handle a dispute effectively, it is important to recognize the history of the underlying conflict. This often explains why people feel the way they do, and can give hints about possible effective remedies for the current situation.
Recognizing Related Disputes
Disputes also get linked to other disputes that are going on at the same time. In order to be able to effectively deal with one dispute, it is important to recognize other disputes that are linked to it and that may effect the outcome of the initial dispute.
Assisted Scoping
Just as it is sometimes useful to have an outside party work with the disputant(s) to help frame the conflict more objectively, the same is true to help them understand the scope of the conflict.  This can be done by one side seeking an outside consultant to help them analyze the conflict; it can also be done with the other parties present in the context of mediation or consensus building.  
Conflict Group Formation
As the conflict becomes defined, allies and adversaries become more clear and one's goals usually become more clear as well.  This helps define the nature of the conflict more clearly.


Although improving communication will seldom (perhaps never) completely resolve an intractable conflict, communication improvements can often make the situation better or more constructive. (On occasion, it should be noted, better communication can make things worse, if people figure out that their opponents are worse than they thought they were!) Each of the following steps to improve communication can be used singly or in combination.

For more information about any of these topics, click on the title.
Opening Lines of Communication
Successful communication requires that the parties have a way of contacting one another which they feel comfortable using. This means that they should know what to do if they want to pass a message to other parties and that the other parties will carefully attend to the messages that they receive.
Question Stereotypes
One of the most important communication techniques is also one of the simplest. The parties need to recognize that the stereotypes (overly simplistic images) that they have about their opponents (and allies) are likely to be inaccurate, and that a failure to correct these inaccuracies can easily lead to bad decisions. This recognition then provides the parties with the motivation that they need to correct misperceptions.
Stereotype-Breaking Actions
Unrealistic and overly hostile stereotypes can often be broken or at least limited when a party unexpectedly takes some type of conciliatory action which would have been unthinkable had the stereotype been true. Sometimes called "disarming" moves (though they have nothing to do with military disarmament), these are actions that are surprisingly reasonable. They help break down negative stereotypes as they prove that the enemy is actually reasonable and likable.
Communication Accuracy
Many factors determine how accurate communication is.  An introduction to some of these factors is given here.
Active Listening
Active listening is designed to overcome poor listening practices by requiring parties to listen to and then restate their opponent's statements, emphasizing the feelings expressed as well as the substance. The purpose is to confirm that the listener accurately understands the message sent and acknowledges that message, although the listener is not required to agree.
Dialogic Listening
Dialogic listening is similar to active listening, although it emphasizes conversation as a shared activity and stresses an open-ended, playful attitude toward the conversation. In addition, the parties focus on what is happening between them (rather than each party focusing on what is going on within the mind of the other), and it focuses on the present more than on the past or the future.
Shuttle Diplomacy /Mediated Communication
When hostility between parties reaches the point where they refuse to talk to each other, communication can often be re-established by a mutually-trusted third party who shuttles back and forth between opposing sides carrying messages. In some cases, these third parties may go beyond simple communication and assume the role of a mediator.
Dialogue is a structured form of communication which emphasizes respectful and attentive listening about deep-rooted feelings, beliefs and experiences.  In many cases, the parties may be unwilling to participate in a negotiation process because they don't want to compromise their deeply-held values. Nevertheless, they may be willing to participate in a dialogue where the objective is for the parties to better understand each other and establish a positive relationship with each other without being pressured to change their own views.
Unofficial Communication Channels / Citizen Diplomacy/ Multitrack Diplomacy
In cases where official diplomats and formal representatives of the parties are unwilling or unable to communicate effectively, unofficial contact between informal representatives may provide a workable alternative. Originally formulated as "track two diplomacy" to be differentiated from, but supportive of, official or "track one" diplomacy, John McDonald and Louise Diamond suggested that there are actually nine tracks that all mutually reinforce each other in a peacebuilding system.
** TOUR ** Cross-Cultural Communication Strategies
Cross-cultural communication strategies are designed to help people with different interaction styles communicate with one another more effectively in conflict situations.
Constituent Communication
Constituent communication techniques enable a group's negotiators to convey information obtained through their small group negotiation or communication efforts to the larger group of constituents.
New Leader Briefings
When new people enter a negotiation or become leaders of a group involved in an ongoing conflict, it is essential that they be fully briefed about the history of the conflict and conflict management processes. Although it is inevitable that the new people will not see things exactly the same way as the people they replace, less disruption of the conflict management process will occur if the new people at least enter the process understanding what is going on and what has gone on before.
Crisis Communication Mechanisms
Crisis communication mechanisms are designed to overcome crisis communication problems by providing highly accurate and timely information beyond that which is available through normal communication channels. While these mechanisms are ideally established on a standby basis for implementation in times of crisis, there are other approaches which can be implemented in the midst of a crisis.
Respectful Communication
Often interactions between parties with opposing views on highly contentious and emotional issues can be made less painful when the parties follow a series of ground rules outlining the principles of civil communication and debate. While this approach still permits the parties to address the difficult issues, it does so in a way which focuses upon substantive arguments rather than personal attacks.
Communication Skills Improvement
In cases where communication problems arise from limitations in the parties' public speaking or writing skills, editors, writers, and trainers can help improve the situation. Also helpful are people who can help the parties make more effective use of mass communication channels, and trainees who can teach conflict management skills such as active listening or cross-cultural communication.
Communication Pre-Tests
Before the parties distribute public materials or make important speeches, it is can be helpful to "pretest" these materials by showing them to representatives of the intended audience to see if they are understood in the ways in which they are intended. This provides the parties with an important opportunity to eliminate likely sources of misunderstanding.
Rumor Control Teams
Inaccurate images can often be corrected by rumor-control teams who periodically consult with opposing parties to determine what they think of recent events. In cases where unfounded and inaccurate rumors have arisen, the team can investigate the rumor, then report the truth as they see it to the parties. Rumor control teams can consist of third parties trusted by all sides to a conflict or representatives of contending parties who have committed themselves to work with partners from the other side in an effort to determine the truth.
Telecommunications-Based Communication
The information revolution has resulted in the widespread availability of many telecommunications technologies. The ability of these technologies to dramatically lower the cost of disseminating information enables them to play an important role in the limitation of many communication problems.
Public Information Strategy / Media Management
Sometimes the media tends to sensationalize events and cover only those stories that it considers "news-worthy." In other instances, it covers up or "down plays" information which people need to know. Participants in a dispute benefit from having a strategy to get the information they want covered in the media to be covered fairly, while preventing media stories that unfairly damage their cause from being widely circulated.
Establish Personal Relationships
People who have personal relationships are more likely to be able to communicate effectively and understand each other than those who do not. Again, though this is not a panacea, it helps to try to establish personal relationships with people on the other side of a conflict when such do not exist.


Strategies for obtaining information about facts and uncertainties.

For more information about any of these topics, click on the title.
Joint Fact-Finding and Data Mediation
Joint fact-finding can help the parties resolve factual disagreements in ways which are acceptable to all parties. This technique requires the parties to collaborate in the joint design and oversight of the fact-finding process. This usually involves the hiring of experts who then work on behalf of and under the joint direction of the parties.  Another method of resolving disputed facts is data mediation, in which experts from both sides sit down together to discuss the discrepancies or disagreements and come to a joint conclusion about what is known, what is unknown, but determinable with more fact-finding, and what is unavoidable uncertainty.
This alternative to joint fact-finding applies in situations in which the one of the parties is doing the fact-finding and the other parties have to decide whether or not they believe the results. The oversight approach relies upon the parties to use their own experts to independently review and assess the fact-finding efforts of others.
Credibility Demonstrations
Credibility demonstrations are used by those conducting fact-finding projects to demonstrate the reliability of their work to potentially skeptical parties.
Impact-Study Requirement
One way to insure that dispute resolution efforts will be informed by available fact is to require some type of impact study. Under this approach, careful studies are made of a proposed action and possible alternatives to determine the likely social, economic, and environmental results of each possibility. If appropriate credibility guarantees are implemented, this approach can provide a basis for more informed decision making by all parties.
Dealing With Uncertainty
Experts can also help the parties understand and implement strategies for dealing with unavoidable uncertainties.  One way of dealing with uncertainty is to plan flexible approaches to problems that can be adjusted as the situation changes.
Technical Primers
In order to help the parties understand and then sensibly deal with complex technical studies, trusted teams of technical experts and educators can prepare simple and practical explanations of what the studies really mean and how the facts can be used to help parties make more sensible decisions.
Alternative Methods For Presenting Data
Sometimes it helps to present technical data in new ways, using graphs, charts, or even demonstrations of ideas that are difficult to grasp in their standard form. 
Truth Commissions
One way to determine contested facts is to empanel a "truth commission" such as those used in South Africa to deal with the crimes of the apartheid era.


Strategies for improving the formal (and informal) processes which the parties use to interact with one another.

For more information about any of these topics, click on the title.
Meeting Design
In many cases efforts to increase the constructiveness of intractable conflicts revolve around some type of meeting between contending parties. Both the process and structure of the meeting must be well designed if they are to succeed in any conflict management or conflict transformation effort. 
Meeting Facilitation
The person who facilitates or runs a meeting can have a very large effect on the meeting process and outcome.  Some facilitation techniques can help the participants reach consensus and move forward with their agenda, while others are more likely to stimulate controversy and escalate the conflict further.
Majority Rule Processes
Several methods are available for organizing meetings and decision making processes. One is the principle of majority rule, where issues are discussed, proposals are made and then the electorate, legislative bodies, and/or decision making committees vote on issues and the majority wins. This has the advantage of being generally accepted as fair, and it can be a relatively quick decision making strategy. However, it does little or nothing to satisfy the losers, who are likely to try to build power so that they can overturn the decision at a later time.
Consensus Rule Processes
In consensus processes, action cannot be taken unless it is agreed to by all parties. This makes it extremely difficult for any party to get what they want unless they are simultaneously willing to grant others their wishes. This approach works better than majority rule in satisfying all the parties, except in situations where opposing parties have absolutely irreconcilable and contradictory interests. Another problem with consensus processes is that they can be very slow--majority rule (voting) is usually much quicker.
Administrative Decision-Making Processes
Many disputes are resolved by individuals who are empowered by their organizations to be decision makers.  Included are business executives and elected officials (mayors, governors, and presidents, for example).
Negotiation of Process Issues (Pre-Negotiation)
When process issues are themselves an issue in dispute, it can be helpful to negotiate the procedural questions before going into the other issues in conflict (this is sometimes called "pre-negotiation").  This can resolve some issues quickly, making the others less complicated, and giving the parties a "success"--a feeling that progress can be made and solutions are possible.
Good Timing/Identifying Ripe Times For Negotiation
Sometimes negotiation or de-escalation efforts do not work because the timing is wrong. By understanding when conflicts are ready or "ripe" for negotiation or other de-escalation processes, and undertaking such steps at that time, more progress can often be made.
Private Meetings
When confidentiality is a problem, meetings and/or formal negotiations can take place privately. This allows parties to say things that they could not say if they were being watched by the public.
Public Information Strategy
To counteract problems associated with inappropriate publicity, the parties need to have a public information strategy which keeps their constituents informed about the progress of negotiations, and builds support for potential agreements, while still maintaining the confidentiality necessary to negotiate effectively.
Confidentiality Rules
Closely affiliated with public information program are rules of confidentiality which clearly specify types of information which are not to be made public.
Protection of Minority Rights
One problem with majority rule processes is that minorities can be exploited by the majority. To prevent this, democratic systems also need to grant minorities basic rights which cannot be taken away by the majority.
Action Forcing Mechanisms/Deadlines
Action-forcing mechanisms counter-balance delaying tactics by using deadlines or other strategies to require the parties to take specific actions by specific dates. To be effective, these mechanisms must also impose meaningful penalties when the parties fail to meet their obligations.
Clear Rules and Procedural Expectations
If people's expectations regarding fair procedures are not met, they often will be upset, even if they agree with the end result. The problem of unfulfilled expectations can be sharply reduced by carefully establishing and following a clearly-defined decision-making process. It must be clear how this process will protect the rights and interests of all parties. There should also be a fair and clearly-defined mechanism for changing the rules, should that be appropriate.
Deliberation Requirements
Minimum deliberation times prevent parties from gaining a tactical advantage by rushing a decision. The goal is to establish procedures which assure that each party has enough time to prepare and present its case.
Conflict of Interest Rules
Conflict of interest problems can be addressed by requiring that intermediaries and decision makers clearly and publicly disclose any personal interest which they might have in the outcome of a dispute. In cases where clear conflicts-of-interest exist, it may be appropriate for the intermediary or decision maker to withdraw from the dispute so they can be replaced by those who do not have such conflicts. Here, clear rules and enforcement strategies are needed to assure public confidence.
Public Participation Mechanisms
In cases where large groups or entire communities are involved in a dispute, public participation mechanisms can provide a means for large numbers of people to play a significant role in addressing the issue. Such mechanisms include, for example, public hearings, opinion polls, focus groups, and advisory committees.
Grassroots Process Design
While approaches to conflict can be developed and imposed by outside "experts," such strategies are more likely to inspire resentment and resistance from the parties involved. An alternative approach gives the parties primary responsibility for deciding how they will deal with a dispute. Such grassroots efforts tend to work best when they are supported by innovative ideas suggested by outsiders. Here the role of outsiders is to share insights from people who have dealt with similar problems in the past, and not impose their own approach.


Strategies for reducing the intensity of a conflict.

For more information about any of these topics, click on the title.
Escalation Training
Parties often do not understand the threats posed by escalation, so they fail to take simple steps which can significantly reduce this threat. They also escalate conflicts intentionally, without recognizing the problems this can cause. By simply understanding the costs--as well as the benefits--of escalation, disputants can make better decisions about when and how to escalate a conflict, and when de-escalation is a better approach.
Cooling-Off Periods
In crisis situations angry people are often under great pressure to make instantaneous decisions of great importance. Under such circumstances, people commonly act in overly confrontational ways which they later regret. One strategy for limiting this problem is for the parties to agree to a "cooling-off" period, during which everyone can re-evaluate the situation and make more carefully reasoned decisions. A related strategy involves the restructuring of forces (usually military) in ways which make instantaneous responses impossible.
De-escalatory Language
It is helpful to be careful about the way one speaks to opponents and to the public-at-large in a conflict situation.  If care is taken to use conciliatory and calming language, conflicts can be de-escalated more successfully than they can be when inflammatory language is used. 
Dealing with Destructive and Hateful Speech
Although democracies usually support the concept of freedom of speech, an argument can be made that hate speech should be censored to prevent conflict escalation and limit dehumanization.  An alternative to censorship is to respond to hate speech with "good speech" that takes the moral "high ground" and tries to defuse the situation.
Media Management
The media will often escalate a conflict by emphasizing the extreme people and events. By educating the media about more responsible and constructive ways of reporting about a conflict and particular events within that conflict, the media can play a much more constructive role in constructive confrontation.
Step-by-Step De-escalation (GRIT)
De-escalation is much more difficult to implement than is escalation. One strategy for starting a de-escalation spiral is what Charles Osgood called GRIT--graduated reciprocal reductions in tension. This involves one side making a small conciliatory gesture, which they hope is matched by a conciliatory response. If it is not, a second or third small gesture can be made to indicate one's interest and willingness to de-escalate the conflict. Once the opponent reciprocates, another slightly more important conciliatory step can be taken, and if that is matched, the pattern can be continued, resulting in a cycle of conciliation in place of the former cycle of escalation.
Controlled Confrontation
Conflict groups can develop ways of doing conflict that permit escalation while controlling runaway processes.
Dealing with Extremists
An interest group can often limit the distorting effects of extremists by publicly and forcefully condemning their actions. In extreme cases involving criminal behavior, this may even require the parties to cooperate with law enforcement officers. Excluding extremists from meetings and negotiations can also be helpful at times, although it can cause problems later if the extremists try to block an agreement because they were not involved and/or it does not protect their interests.
Changing Leaders
The personalization of a conflict can often lead a group's leaders to view the conflict as a personal issue, rather than an effort to advance the group's interests. In this situation they are likely to let their personal feelings interfere with their ability to pursue the group's goals. More progress toward group goals can often be made by appointing new leaders who are willing to take a fresh look at the situation.
Making Escalation the Enemy
In many conflicts, the most horrible and destructive actions taken result from escalation dynamics, rather that the inherent evilness of the parties. If the parties can recognize the destructive effects of escalation, they may be able to redirect some of their hostility away from each other and toward efforts to limit the escalation process.
Ground Rules
The constructiveness of interactions between conflicting parties can often be increased if the parties can identify and agree to comply with a series of ground rules governing their relationship. These rules limit escalation pressures by emphasizing respectful discussion of the core issues.
Crisis Management
Crisis management mechanisms  are designed help the parties deal with conflict situations which are developing very rapidly and are pressuring the parties to act before they have had a chance to fully consider their options.
Managing Strong Emotions
Interactions involving parties who are extremely angry with each other often degenerate into emotional confrontations which increase, rather than decrease, hostilities. Effective anger management strategies are needed to help people deal with their anger without further escalating the conflict.  Other strong emotions such as distrust, fear, and suspicion must be dealt with as well if escalation is to be avoided or diminished. 
In situations involving the risk of direct physical confrontation, it can be very useful to place peacekeepers between the parties so that violent confrontations are impossible without placing the peacekeepers at risk. To be effective, peacekeepers need to represent groups which neither side is willing to endanger. Since peacekeepers are usually unarmed or only lightly armed, they are only effective when the disputants support their presence and want to stop fighting.
Observers (Protective Accompaniment)
In hostile confrontations, disputants are often tempted to do things to harm or terrorize an opponent that would be widely condemned by the larger society or the world as a whole. In these situations, violence can often be limited when observers, who are trusted by the larger community, constantly accompany vulnerable individuals. The purpose of such "protective accompaniment" is to report aggressive behavior and human rights violations to the larger community and the world as a whole, where condemnation would be assured.
Conciliatory Victory
The victorious party can reduce the intensity and likelihood of future disputes by responding with conciliatory gestures rather than gloating behavior.
"I" Statements not "You" Statements
Simply changing the way in which complaints are phrased can limit escalation pressures. For example accusatory phrases, "you did this," are often more likely to contribute to escalation than less accusatory phrases such as "I am having trouble because of this."
Future Focus
Escalation can be limited by helping the parties focus on the future relationship that they would like to build between each other, and not the assignment of blame and punishment for past misdeeds.
Develop Personal Relationships
A key to blocking the de-humanization effect are programs which systematically establish positive personal relationships between contending parties
Click here to go to Treatment List 2:  Treating Core Conflict Problems

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