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


(Defining what the conflict is about)

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Conflict scholars use the term "framing" to mean the process of describing and interpreting an event. According to conflict theorist Jay Rothman, "framing focuses attention. When a frame is put around a painting, it gives the viewer a focus." (Rothman, 1997, page 21) Conflict framing does the same thing. It helps the parties understand and interpret what the conflict is about--what is going on and what they should do about it.

The way one frames a conflict is based on many factors beyond what "actually" happened. The way one interprets or frames a conflict is based on what has happened to that person (or group of people) in the past, what values are important to them, and whether they see the situation as a threat or a potential benefit. All of one's knowledge and life experiences serve as a background--a view of the world and one's own place in it-- upon which any new event is interpreted. Hence, these accumulated experiences shape how any particular event is interpreted or "framed."

The way one frames a conflict is important for many reasons. For one, it determines whether a situation is seen as a conflict at all. If one person makes a rude comment to another person, the recipient of the comment may take offense (thus framing the situation as a conflict) while another might just ignore it, or laugh about it.

Secondly, one's frame determines what one will do about a situation. If a situation is considered unimportant, it will probably be ignored. If the conflict is considered important, however, the people involved need to decide how they are going to handle it. If they think it is a resolvable problem, they may try to talk about it informally or try to negotiate a solution. If they think it is only resolvable by force, then they are likely to use that approach.

Often disputants frame conflicts in adversarial or win-lose terms. They assume that they have a conflict of interests and that the only way to get what they want is if the other party does not get what he or she wants. Rather than seeking a win-win solution, they therefore seek ways to build their power so that they can force the other side to give in. When both sides do this, the inevitable result is escalation, a hardening of positions, an increased danger of destructive confrontation (perhaps even violence) and a much diminished possibility of solving the problem. By reframing the conflict in a win-win (or integrative way), the conflict can often be handled much more constructively.   Other constructive forms of framing are needs-based framing, fairness-based framing, and interest-based framing.  (There is considerable overlap in these approaches, however).  Joint reframing--an exercise in which the disputants work together to define the nature of the problems is also often very effective in getting the conflict defined in a more constructive way. When problems are incompatible, it is easy to see how it would be extremely difficult to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

Click here to read about particular framing solutions .


Links to Examples of Framing:

Stephen Ryan--Peace-Building and Conflict Transformation

Paul Wehr--Social Reality Construction

Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy--Adopting Procedures, Educating Parties, and Developing Options

Gail Bingham, Aaron Wolf, and Tom Wohlgenant--Resolving Water Disputes: Conflict and Cooperation

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