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


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The term "empowerment" is used to refer to a number of processes, but all involve giving one or more parties to a conflict more power. This may be in relation to another party, or it may involve increasing the power (and hence efficacy) of all of the parties at the same time.

The most common use of the term "empowerment" refers to increasing the power of the low-power group, so that it more nearly equals the power of the high power group. From the perspective of intermediaries, this is often done because negotiation tends to be more successful when the parties negotiating have relatively equal levels of power. When they do not, the lower power party tends to get co-opted, or otherwise treated unfairly in the negotiation or mediation process. To prevent this from happening, the mediator can take a number of steps to "empower" the lower power group. The mediator can provide access to outside resources, give advice, give negotiation or communication skills training, or structure the process in a way that somewhat favors the low-power group, thus in a sense balancing out the power differences. (This approach calls into question the notion of impartiality, as do many of the other methods of empowering one group more than another, however.)

This problem is avoided by the use of transformative mediation, which is an approach to mediation which has as its goals the empowerment (and recognition) of all of the parties to the mediation. Empowerment in this sense does not mean leveling the playing field as it does in the earlier sense, but rather increasing the ability of all parties to successfully deal with their situation on their own.

Empowerment can also refer to a larger, group-level, or societal level process, such as that which occurs with peacebuilding or the re-establishment of a civil society and traditional conflict management institutions. Many third party intervenors have come to realize that the disputants themselves have very useful conflict-resolution skills, which have simply been discarded or forgotten in the height of the conflict. If they can be resurrected, or new approaches established, people can usually do a great deal to improve their own conflict situations. This, too, is a form of empowerment.

From the perspective up members of the low-power group, empowerment refers to efforts to expand their power base.  While intermediaries may contribute to some of these efforts, much more is done by the parties themselves.  Of special importance are unconventional power strategies which allow disempowered members of unjustly treated groups to defend their interests against more powerful parties.  This is likely to involve increased reliance on the integrative system and coalition building with outside sympathizers.   Also useful are strategies which employ a power strategy mix or combine force and persuasion such as non-violent protests.

Such efforts to develop sound strategies which disempowered parties can use to advance their interests can do much to limit destructive conflicts which arise when desperate people pursue hopeless and destructive strategies.

Links to Examples of Empowerment

Patrick Coy -- Going Where We Otherwise Would Not Have Gone: Accompaniment and Election Monitoring in Sri Lanka
This article illustrates how protective accompaniment and election monitoring can empower local people involved in escalated intractable conflicts.
John Lampen -- Prejudice Reduction Workshops in Ireland
This article describes, among other things, activities used in workshops in Ireland to reduce personal feelings of powerlessness, which are linked to prejudice.
Bringing Croats and Muslims Together
This short article discusses two reconciliation centers in Bosnia.  In order for these centers to be effective, it is observed, the civic infrastructure must be re-established.   
Elise Boulding -- The Challenge of Imaging Peace in Wartime
This short essay discusses the importance of cross cultural imaging to empower warring groups to work more effectively together.
Bruce Hemmer -- Bottom-up Peace Building in Bosnia
This article describes a peace building effort in Bosnia that was intended to open up lines of communication between returning Muslim refugees and resident Serbs and to empower both groups to build peace together.  
Mohamed Sahnoun -- Managing Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era
This article explores issues surrounding military and humanitarian interventions in civil and ethnic conflicts.    Effective intervention, Sahnoun observers, requires significant grassroots empowerment activities (among other factors).
Divna Persic-Todorovic -- Conflict Resolution: Working with Refugees
This is a short story about a third party working in refugee camps in Serbia.  A variety of activities empowered refugees to move beyond a sense of hopelessness and to develop a more positive view of life and their relationships to others.
Pamela Aall -- Nongovernmental Organizations and Peacemaking
This article examines nongovernmental organizations' (NGO) peacemaking activities, examining, among other things, their efforts to develop local resources, thereby empowering people to help themselves deal more effectively with their own situations.
Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler -- The Principles of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict
The authors give twelve principles that are key factors in determining the success of strategic nonviolent action. The second principle is that groups must develop organizational strength at each level of the organization.
Rebuilding Communities Devastated by War
This article describes several peace-building projects underway in Bosnia.  Like so many other such efforts, empowerment of the local people is a key goal.
John Paul Lederach -- Building Peace, Introduction and Framework
In this summary, Lederach explains  the relationship between empowerment and recognition of interdependence.
This is a description of the concept of "empowerment" as it is used in the context of transformative mediation.
Cobb, Sara. "Empowerment and Mediation: A Narrative Perspective"
Cobb investigates and critiques current concepts of empowerment, and current mediation practices designed to empower parties. She then suggests a narrative understanding of empowerment, and describes several mediation practices which follow from the narrative approach.
Pope, Sally Ganong. "Inviting Fortuitous Events in Mediation: The Role of Empowerment and Recognition"
Pope has come to realize that the sorts of "fortuitous events" that she seeks in her own mediation practice are just what Folger and Bush have described as transformative events. This insight has led her to redescribe the "fortuitous events" from her earlier cases in terms of empowerment and recognition. She has also revised a number of her mediation practices, so as to better facilitate empowerment.  
Adam Curle --Treatment for Alienation
   This article focuses on approaches to empowerment and psychological healing used in Croatia in the aftermath of the war.
Penelope Canan - When Are Not-in-My-Backyard-Conflicts the Desirable Result of Community Empowerment
This paper looks at the positive aspects of conflicts over the appropriate siting of undesirable facilities-often called NIMBY conflicts for "not in my backyard!"
Estevan Flores - Leadership Training As a Tool For Confronting Racial and Ethnic Conflicts -
In this article, Flores discusses the importance of leadership training to improve skills in multicultural discourse and problem solving.
Donald Bossart - Rhodesia to Zimbabwe: Lessons for Mediators
This article illustrates that equal power is critical for successful negotiation and mediation. It examines the empowerment process that allowed the successful transition from white to black rule in Zimbabwe.
Silke Hansen - Confronting Group Differences and Commonalities in a Diverse Society
This article highlights the importance of empowerment to successful conflict resolution.
Jack Mento - Constructive Confrontation Strategies: thoughts of a Greenpeace Activist
This article describes how one peace and environmental activist in the U.S. increased his own power and utilized that to successfully confront the justice system.
Edelle Corrine - Collaborative Activism: a Means to Build Power and Overcome Fear -
This talk, given by a long-time peace and human rights activist in the U.S. explains how coalition building can help build power.


Links to Outside Sources of Information on Empowerment

Links to Related Sections

Integrative Approaches
Coalition Building
External intervention
Power Strategy Mix
Non-Violent Struggle
Civilian Defense
Transformative Mediation
Peacebuilding - Official Efforts of UN and Regional Organizations
NGO Peacebuilding
NGO Humanitarian Aid
Power Sharing and Autonomy Strategies

Links to Related Problems

Power Imbalances
Inexperienced Parties
Erosion of Traditional Conflict Management Institutions
Integrative System Does Not Exist or Is Very Weak

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