The Incremental Approach

The Incremental Approach

We believe that an incremental approach offers the best way to reduce the destructiveness of confrontations over intractable issues. This approach begins by helping parties (both adversaries and intermediaries) identify conflict problems which increase the conflict's overall destructiveness or threaten the parties' ability to make wise decisions or advance their interests. We then provide parties with information about options for dealing with each problem and their advantages and disadvantages. While it is usually impossible to correct all such problems, our goal is to help people fix as many of the problems as possible, and reduce the magnitude of problems that cannot be eliminated .

Although many of our "treatments" require the cooperative efforts of contending parties (often with the assistance of intermediaries), others can be implemented unilaterally. Similarly, some treatments are relatively easy to implement, while others require that the parties develop new dispute-handling skills or secure the assistance of outside professionals. Unlike other forms of dispute resolution, this incremental approach can work in situations where resolution-based approaches are unworkable. It also makes sense in cases where it is unrealistic to expect major changes in dispute-handling process or decision-making institutions.

Accumulating Knowledge Base

While there are no proven and reliable strategies for resolving intractable conflicts, the field's accumulating knowledge base does offer a rich array of ideas for making inevitable confrontations far more constructive. Some of these ideas have a long history as essential elements of every dispute resolution practitioner's toolbox. Also of great value are many of the dispute handling techniques used by the many more traditional conflict professionals (e.g. politicians, lawyers, soldiers, and judges). Other useful ideas arise from basic research and theory building in the social sciences where all that is needed is to present the ideas in widely understandable terms, rather than inscrutable academic lingo. Finally, there are the creative ideas of citizens who are struggling to find better ways of dealing with the difficult conflicts that they confront in their daily lives.

At this point the Consortium has identified more than 125 common problems which undermine the constructiveness with which intractable conflicts are addressed. More encouraging is the fact that we have also identified 150 realistic steps which can be taken to limit these problems. We have arranged these problems and treatments into nine categories found in Figure 1.

A principal advantage of this problem/treatment approach is that it is highly adaptable to the special circumstances of particular conflicts. There is no single approach which can be expected to work in all situations. Each conflict creates different combinations of problems which require different combinations of treatments.

Links to Examples of the Incremental Approach:

Larry MacDonnell - The Evolution of Property Rights: Incremental Change, and the Progressive Resolution of Intractable Conflict -
This paper traces the evolution of the concept of property rights in the U.S. legal system, and uses this evolution to illustrate how intractable conflicts can be successfully addressed incrementally

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