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.

usiplogo.gif (1499 bytes)

International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Ambiguous goals

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

Often people who are confused about what the conflict is really about or what is important to them will have ambiguous (that is, confused) goals. Just as you cannot walk to a destination if you don't know where it is, you cannot achieve your goals if you don't know what they are. Goal ambiguity also results in ineffective actions which can confuse or even enrage the other side, often needlessly. Thus, goal confusion can lead to escalation of a conflict, which makes resolution more difficult.

One of the factors that contributes to such confusion is that goals change over time as the situation changes. Sometimes goals get clearer and more narrowly defined; at other times they get broader. When conflicts escalate, the parties' goals can change from an initial goal to get one's own way to a later goal of depriving the other or hurting the other. When the goal becomes damaging the opponent, rather than helping oneself, conflicts tend to get protracted and destructive.

Goal ambiguity is also a problem for third parties who enter a conflict to "help." If they do not understand what their own goals are for involvement, they can easily do more harm than good. Third party intermediaries must clearly understand what the parties want them to do, what they themselves want to do, and how both of these goals relate to what is actually possible. While the third party's goals also may change over time, if they see that their initial goal to help the parties deal with the conflict more effectively cannot be achieved, they should be sure to withdraw from the conflict before they do more harm than good.

Links to Examples of this Problem:

Saadia Touval - Case Study: Lessons of Preventative Diplomacy in Yugoslavia
This article describes the failure of diplomacy in preventing the war in Yugoslavia. Touval argued that Western preventive diplomacy failed in Yugoslavia for two reasons: one was the West's ambiguity regarding its goals for the region, and the other was that the diplomatic efforts of the West lacked credible leverage.
Mary Anderson -- Humanitarian NGOs in Conflict Intervention
Anderson argues that humanitarian aid provided by NGOs often makes conflicts worse, even as they are trying to help. This is due, in part, to confused NGO goals and mandates, and to the unintended consequences of altruistic plans.


Links to Possible Treatments for this Problem:

Goal Clarification


Links to Related Problems:

Confusing interests (what you really want) with positions (what you say you want)

Confusing material interests with fundamental human needs

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