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

Utilize a Skilled, Credible Third Party

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Many mediation processes break down because the mediator is either not skilled or not credible, or both. Good mediation is a very difficult task, requiring a great deal of experience, sensitivity, and skill. Yet it appears to be simple enough that many people who have never been trained in mediation, or who have never practiced it, will volunteer to mediate a conflict or otherwise find themselves performing a mediation role.

When the conflict is a relatively simply one, between two individuals over one issue, for example, inexperienced mediators may be able to do a fine job. All that is usually needed in that case is a knowledge of social norms, a willingness to listen, and some common sense. But as conflicts get more complex--involving more issues, more parties, more time--the importance of having a experienced and skilled mediator increases.

In addition to having skill, the mediator must have credibility. In North America (and other countries that utilize the North American model of mediation), the mediator is usually expected to be both neutral and impartial. That means that the mediator has no connections to any of the parties, and does not overtly favor one side over the other. (Mediators often cannot avoid liking one side more than another or feeling more sympathetic to one side over another, but their rules of ethics require them to keep such feelings to themselves and make a strong effort to treat each side equally.)

Other societies, however, have different expectations for mediators. In Central America, for example, people prefer mediators who are involved in the community--and hence in the conflict itself. They may even be partial to one side or another, but are people of such high stature that they have credibility with people on all sides of the conflict. John Paul Lederach and Paul Wehr refer to this as "insider-partial mediation." One well-known example of such a mediator was Oscar Arias who mediated the Central American Esquipulas agreement.

Regardless of the mediation model that is followed, the mediator must have the skills to do the job well, and must be trusted by people on all sides. If either of these characteristics is absent, the mediation is likely to fail.


Links to Further Information and Examples of Mediator Credibility:

Norway's Back-channel Success Story
This article summarizes a talk by one of the Norwegian mediators of the Palestinian-Israeli accords. He discusses what made Norway an especially effective mediator of this conflict.
William Zartman and Saadia Touval -- International Mediation in the Post- Cold War Era
This article discusses many aspects of international mediation, including mediator skill, credibility, and effectiveness.
Thomas Princen -- Quaker Mediation in Sri Lanka
This article discusses the special credibility that Quaker mediators have that political mediators lack.
John Paul Lederach -- From War to Peace
This is an article about the Persian Gulf War. This war might have been avoided, Lederach asserts, if the U.S. would have recognized the legitimacy of the "insider-partial" approach to mediation.
Moorad Mooradian -- Mediation Efforts in the Karabakh Conflict
This is an article which describes several attempts to mediate the Karabakh conflict.
James Notter -- Theory, Practice, Success, and Failure: A Journey of Learning in Cyprus
        This article describes insider-partial mediation.
Clem McCarthy -- Conflict Resolution In Northern Ireland: Reconciling Form and Substance
This is an article about two mediation efforts in Northern Ireland. One difference between the two efforts was the credibility of the mediator.
A Conversation On Peacemaking With Jimmy Carter  
This is a rather lengthy write-up of an interview with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter about his mediation experiences.
Ron Kraybill -- Directors' Circle
Director of the Mennonite Conciliation Service, Kraybill explains why religious people often have more credibility acting as mediators than do political leaders.
Jane Madden -- Namibia: A Lesson for Success
This article examines UN involvement in Namibia. One of the factors examined was the UN's credibility in the country which led to its successful intervention.

Links to Related Approaches:


Consensus Building

Getting People to the Table


Links to Related Problems:

Third Party Not Effective or Credible

Failed Mediation

Refusal to Negotiate

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