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

Dispute Systems Design

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Dispute systems design involves the design of systems or mechanisms which are used routinely to handle similar, repeated disputes. It is especially useful for organizations that have similar kinds of problems occurring over and over again--such as disputes between co-workers over work assignments or between workers and management over compensation, working conditions, or work performance. The concept was first developed by William Ury, Jeanne Brett, and Steven Goldberg in their book Getting Disputes Resolved. This book divides conflict resolution processes into three types: those which negotiate interests, those which adjudicate rights, and those which test relative power. Most conflicts, they say, should be negotiated on the basis of interests. In other words, the parties should negotiate directly with each other, or with the help of a third party mediator to try to give each side what they want or need, at least to the extent possible.

Some conflicts, however, involve a question of rights, not interests, which cannot be negotiated. Rather, rights need to be clarified in an adjudicatory (court-like) process.

A few conflicts cannot be resolved either through interest based bargaining, or through adjudication, because they fundamentally involve questions of relative power. Since power struggles tend to be very long-lasting and destructive, Ury, Brett, and Goldberg urge that they be avoided whenever possible, and cut short when they are necessary. This can be done by developing ways to go back to negotiation as soon as the likely outcome is of the power struggle is clear (rather than continuing to the ultimate end). This makes power struggles less damaging and costly that they might otherwise be, and allows the disputants to "loop back" to more constructive dispute resolution mechanisms as soon as possible.

Dispute systems design usually involves creating a hierarchy of dispute resolution mechanisms, starting with relatively informal processes which assist parties to negotiate interest-based solutions, then going to more complex and formal processes to adjudicate rights-based questions. Some systems will end with a mechanism for testing relative power; while others will not, assuming that all disputes can be handled with interest or rights-based approaches.


Links to examples of and more information about dispute system design:

Getting Disputes Resolved, William Ury, Jeanne Brett, and Stephen Goldberg
This is a summary of the pathbreaking book on dispute systems design referred to above.
William L. Ury--Conflict Resolution among the Bushmen: Lessons in Dispute Systems Design
This is an application of dispute systems design in a very different culture than the one it was developed for.  This illustrates the robust nature of this approach.
Nancy J. Manring--Dispute System Design and the U.S. Forest System
This example illustrates a more traditional use of dispute system design.



Links to Related Treatments:




Power Strategy Mix


Links to Related Problems:

Failing to Identify Strategic Options

Assuming Force is the only Possible Response

Pursuing Force to the Bitter End

Limits to Agreement: Better Alternatives

Requests to Abandon Power Options as a Precondition to Negotiation

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