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

Identifying and Involving all Potential Disputants

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Failing to identify and involve all actual or potential disputants in a conflict resolution process is one reason why such processes fail. Generally, it is desirable to make sure that all the parties who are likely to be affected by a decision are aware of the decision making process and are given the opportunity to participate in that process in some way.

This does not mean that all parties must be directly involved in the negotiations–it is impossible to have hundreds or thousands or more people sit down together at a negotiating table. However, all the affected groups must feel that they are being adequately represented in the negotiating process. This requires that the people at the negotiating table be accepted by their constituencies as legitimate spokespersons, and that these representatives keep their constituencies well informed about the progress of the negotiations, collect dissenting views, and feeding these views back into the negotiating process in a way that allows them to be dealt with adequately. If this is done carefully, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people can feel that they were actually "involved" in the decision and are likely to support the results of the decision making process.

If people do not feel they were adequately listened to or represented, however, they are likely to try to block the negotiations or the implementation of any decision that comes out of them. This might be done legally by challenging a decision in court, it might be done by noncooperation–by people simply refusing to do what they are asked to do, or it might be met by violence, such as that seen in the Middle East in response to the Oslo accords.

There is an exception, however, to the rule that all potential disputants should be involved in the negotiating process. If some disputants are so extreme in their views that they are completely unwilling to compromise, and hence completely unwilling to negotiate in good faith, then including them in the negotiations may do more harm than good. Sometimes, they can be included and turned around. Sometimes if they are simply given a stage to stand on to make their case, they will be satisfied, and then will be willing to participate in the process in a more constructive way. In other cases, however, they will try to disrupt the negotiations or take immutable hard-line stances that will prevent any of the parties from making progress. In such cases, it is usually better to leave these parties out of the process and instead try to so weaken their public credibility that they are unable to do much harm, even if they try.


Links to Examples of this Approach:

Barbara Gray -- Urban Heights Collaboration
This is a story about a consensus-building process that succeeded, in part, because of a conscious effort to involve all the parties to the conflict in the discussions.
Joan Broder -- Mediation in Ireland: The Impact of Small Beginnings.
Although this was written some time ago, it illustrates the change in dynamics that can occur when excluded groups are recognized as parties to a conflict.
Clem McCarthy -- Conflict Resolution In Northern Ireland: Reconciling Form and Substance
This article on Ireland also stresses the importance of including all of the parties involved in the conflict in talks about resolution options.

Links to Outside Sources of Information:

Preventing and Resolving Public Controversy by Desmond M. Connor
This paper includes suggestions for how to identify and involve potential disputants in order to prevent and/or resolve public conflicts.


Links to Related Treatments:

Conflict Mapping

Assisted Scoping

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