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

Dialogue Projects

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Conflict managers use the term "dialogue" in a variety of ways. Most dialogue processes, however, involve people who are engaged in a long-lasting, deep-rooted conflict sitting down together with a facilitator who will help them explore their feelings about the conflict and each other, and develop an improved understanding of the concerns, fears, and needs of the other side. Sometimes the goal of such a process is to develop approaches to conflict resolution; sometimes the goal is simply improved interpersonal relationships, understanding, and trust–at least between individuals, if not between the groups as a whole.

Conflict theorist Jay Rothman describes four different kinds of dialogue. One is positional or adversarial dialogue. In this situation, disputants meet with a facilitator to talk, but the conversation continues in the same adversarial (I’m right and you are wrong) mode that conflicts typically take. In adversarial dialogue disputants engage in positional bargaining (that is, they focus on firm, usually mutually-incompatible, positions) and blame each other for the problem.

The second is human relations dialogue. This approach has disputants meeting with a facilitator to explore their feelings about the conflict and each other. They break down negative stereotypes, come to know members of the other side as people, and even, sometimes, as "friends." They develop a sense of trust and understanding with the people involved in the process, though they may still disagree on the fundamental issues in conflict. (For example, they may have a good relationship with a person on the other side, but still believe that Jerusalem should remain under Jewish-Israeli control, while other people in the same Middle East dialogue group may believe that Jerusalem should be under international or Palestinian control.)

Rothman’s third type of dialogue is activist dialogue. This form of dialogue provides a foundation for action. Disputants from opposite sides of a conflict get together to rebuild a war-torn city, form a bi-partisan school, or deliver health care to the sick and injured. The purpose of such dialogue is not just talk and understanding, but mutual cooperation and assistance. (Mutual understanding and trust are often byproducts, nevertheless.)

Rothman’s fourth type of dialogue is problem solving dialogue–referred to elsewhere in these materials as analytical problem solving workshops. Such workshops bring disputants together to explore their feelings about the conflict and each other (as is done in human relations dialogue), but special attention is focused on the parties' fundamental human needs, the absence of which is seen to be a primary cause of most deep-rooted conflicts. An intense effort is made to jointly reframe the conflict in terms of needs, and then engage in joint problem solving to develop ways to meet those needs, and hence resolve the conflict.

Dialogue processes are becoming increasingly widely used. Some (especially human relations dialogues) are typically facilitated by therapists, religious leaders, and mediators. Problem solving workshops are typically facilitated by mediators and/or conflict scholars. As originally conceived, these workshops were to be highly analytical. Thus conflict scholars with an expertise in conflict theory as well as the particular conflict at hand were considered the best facilitators. Many problem solving workshops are still carried out by academicians, but others are facilitated by mediators and other practitioners with less of a scholarly background.

Other differences between processes are length of time and nature of the participants. Some processes are just a few hours long, while others last a week or more. Many continue over a period of time, for example having week-long meetings once or twice a year for several years. Usually, for these long-lasting meetings, an effort is made to have as much continuity in participants as possible, although sometimes considerable turn-over in participation occurs.

The similarities between all of these processes are that they are used to break down stereotypes, and to build up mutual understanding and trust between members of opposing groups. They are commonly used in public policy conflicts in the U.S., as well as in international conflicts and communal or ethnic conflicts around the world. Although they do not often lead directly to resolution, the mutual understanding that develops can pave the way for formal negotiations and eventual conflict resolution, even though that is not their immediate goal.


Links to Examples of Dialogue Processes

Gennady I. Chufrin and Harold H. Saunders -- A Public Peace Process
The authors define a public peace process as one that is focused on systemic dialogue, not negotiation.  This article describes in some detail how that can be accomplished.
Andrea Williams -- Resolving Conflict in a Multicultural Environment
This article describes ways of identifying and surmounting cultural aspects of the conflict.  Although not discussed explicitly, dialogue is implied to be   necessary to come to a level of understanding about another person's culture and the cultural aspects of any particular conflict.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn -- Moral Conflict
This is a summary of a book which examines the problem of moral conflicts and discusses a variety approaches to dialogue which help deal with these conflicts in constructive ways.
Mohamed Sahnoun -- Managing Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era
This article explores issues surrounding military and humanitarian interventions in internal national conflicts. Peacebuilding organizations, he suggests, should foster intercommunity dialogues in potential areas of conflict as a conflict prevention measure.
Religion and Reconciliation in Bosnia
This short article presents the thoughts of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Sarajevo who called for dialogue as an approach for peacebuilding in the former Yugoslavia.
Joseph Phelps -- Some Contemporary Dialogue Models
This is a very short review of a few different models of dialogue implemented in the United States by a variety of organizations.
Joseph Phelps -- When Dialogue is NOT our Hope
This article points out some situations in which dialogue will not work.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn -- Public Dialogue Consortium
This is a description of one organization and its approach to dialogue.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn -- Public Conversations Project
This is another organization and approach to dialogue.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn -- The National Issues Forums
This is another description of a dialogue model.
Chasin, Richard, Margaret Herzig, Sallyann Roth, Laura Chasin, Carol Becker, and Robert Stains, Jr. "From Diatribe to Dialogue on Divisive Public Issues: Approaches Drawn from Family Therapy." 
This is a summary of an article describing the Public Conversation Project's approach to dialogue.

Gerard, Glenna and Linda Teurfs. "Dialogue and Organizational Transformation"
This article describes how dialogue can be used to transform organizational cultures and build community.
Rothman, Jay. "Reflexive Dialogue as Transformation"
Rothman describes his approach to intervention in identity conflicts as facilitating reflexive dialogue. He sees reflexive dialogue as a form
of transformative conflict resolution.
Stewart, John, and Milt Thomas. "Dialogic Listening; Sculpting Mutual Meanings"
This article describes and alternative to active listening that is more interactive.

Links to Outside Information about Dialogue Processes

Creating Systemic Interventions for the Sociopolitical Arena by Richard Chasin, and Margaret Herzig from the Public Conversations Project

Fostering Intergroup Dialogue on Campus Essential Ingredients - by Ximena Ziga


Links to Related Solutions

Analytical Problem Solving

Transformative Mediation


Dialogic Listening


Links to Related Problems

Dialogue is an effective approach for many conflict problems, including most communication problems, problems of escalation, and problems involving ineffective integrative systems. No links are provided here, as there are simply too many.

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