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


Core Conflict and Complicating Factors

We find it useful to distinguish between two parts of a conflict: the core conflict and the complicating factors. The core conflict involves the basic things that the conflict is about --the incompatible interests, the unmet needs, the fundamental value differences, or the struggle for justice. The complicating factors are the extra issues and problems that occur as the conflict goes on that makes dealing with the core conflict more difficult. These include problems with conflict definition (disagreements about what the conflict is really about); misunderstandings, fact-finding problems, decision making procedural problems, and escalation. Each of these complicating factors tends to intensify or obscure the core conflict, making it harder to deal with effectively. Even when the core conflict is highly resistant to resolution, by limiting (or even eliminating) most of the complicating factors it is possible to deal with the remaining conflict in a much more constructive way. For this reason, our approach focuses on defining the conflict in terms of core and complicating factors, and then considering what incremental changes can be made in each to make the conflict more constructive.

Click here to see a diagram which further illustrates the relationship between the core conflict and complicating factors.


Figure 2 illustrates the relationship between the core conflict and the complicating factors. The core conflict is shown in the center. Over that lie two layers of complicating factors. The first is conflict definition problems. (This is sometimes referred to as "framing" problems as people define a conflict by putting a "frame" around a particular part of it, thereby focusing on that part.) The way the disputants define it as a relatively simple difference of interests or a misunderstanding, they will probably be able to deal with it relatively easily. If they define it as a fundamental moral disagreement, or an issue of justice, or personal identity or pride, it is likely to be more difficult to resolve. Similarly, conflicts that are defined as negotiable probably will be, while conflicts that are seen to involve non-negotiable needs or values may be considerably more difficult to resolve.

The outer layer then contains four other complicating factors. These are the ones listed above: misunderstandings, fact-finding problems, procedural problems, and escalation. On the top circle, these complicating factors are unlimited--in other words, they are not being controlled. When complicating factors are allowed to build up, they can become so "thick" that they completely obscure the core conflict. In the lower circle, the complicating factors have been controlled, though they have not been eliminated. Nevertheless, the complicating factors are much less overwhelming, and it is much easier to see through them down to the core. A significant part of constructive confrontation involves methods of identifying complicating factors, and implementing techniques to limit these factors, so that attention can be better focused on the core issues.

For more information on the distinction between core and complicating, or "overlay" factors, see Constructive Confrontation Theoretical Framework.

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