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

Commonality to Balance Diversity

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Finding commonalities or common ground between opponents in intractable conflicts is extremely important for successful transformation of those conflicts. Often, however, the emphasis in identity conflicts is on diversity--how the groups are different, and whether one group or another is superior. Multiracial policies stress the importance of valuing diversity and honoring the differences between people. However, conflicts cannot be transformed, and people united in well-functioning societies, unless they are tied together with some sense of unity and commonality.

Although it often appears that there is no common ground between opposing groups, usually there is. If nothing else, it is their fear and distrust of the other, which, if they talk together, may actually link them together since they can relate to the other's emotions as something they, too, have experienced.

Though most mediators focus on interests and try to find common ground in that area, commonalities can also occur in values or beliefs, associations (that is, knowing the same people, being members of the same or similar organizations), roles (having the same job) or needs.

Although intractable conflicts tend to be characterized by wide and deep-rooted interest and value differences between the opposing groups, usually the groups can find some areas of commonality. Often these revolve around needs. All people have similar fundamental needs: for security, a secure sense of identity, a sense of belonging, and a sense of efficacy. When conflicts are redefined (or reframed) in terms of such needs, the commonalities with the other side often become more apparent. For instance, opposing groups may discover that they both feel that their security is threatened, but if the security of one side is increased, then they will stop threatening the security of the other side in an effort to obtain security for themselves.

Fundamental values also are a frequent source of commonality. If nothing else, both groups usually value human life and family relationships.  If they really believe that a change in their conflict behavior can improve the chances that they and their children will lead a better life if the conflict is ended, they are likely to try hard to do that. By coming together and realizing that the people on the other side really are human--not subhuman animals as enemies are often seen to be--people can quickly find areas of commonality that lead to better relationships, effective persuasion and interaction, and conflict transformation.

Bringing opponents together in dialogues or problem solving workshops is often a very effective way to create a sense of commonality. As people explore their feelings, their fears, their sense of hurt and hopelessness, they usually can find common ground with people on the other side who are usually feeling that way too. They then will develop the incentive to try to remedy those feelings for people on both sides of the conflict.


Links to examples of this approach:

South Africa's Bumpy Road to Democracy
This article describes South Africa's nonracial democracy, which emphasizes unity as much as diversity, contrasting it with a multiracial policy which emphasizes diversity more than unity.
Roger Fischer, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Schneider -- Look Behind Statements for Underlying Interests
This is a standard technique for finding common ground between groups.
Tony Armstrong -- "Introduction" from Principles of Icebreaking
Attempts to find common ground were initial steps taken to "break the ice" in several of these examples.
Silke Hansen - Confronting Group Differences and Commonalities in a Diverse Society
This article points out that commonalities can be negative as well as positive, but that ways can be found to bring diverse groups together if they work on cooperation, rather than competition.

Links to Outside Sources of Information:

Search For Common Ground Online
Information about the activities of an organization that specializes in helping disputants in long-term, intractable conflicts find common ground.
Southern Tobacco Communities Project
This is an effort to find common ground between community leaders in the health field, the tobacco community, and community development leaders from six southern US tobacco-growing states.
Religious Nationalism and Human Rights-U.S. Institute of Peace
This report examines the issue of religions nationalism, concluding that legitimate political or governmental authority properly rests upon what human beings hold in common, not upon what distinguishes them or makes them different.


Links to Related Approaches:



Conflict Transformation



Analytical Problem Solving


Links to Related Problems:

Differences in Values


Out-Group / Enemy Image

Refusal to Negotiate

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