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

Interest-Based Framing

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Rather than describing a conflict in terms of positions (I want one thing, but he wants something else, or we both want something that only one of us can have), it is often helpful to redefine or "reframe" the conflict in terms of interests. Interests are the underlying reasons why people (or governments or groups) hold the positions that they do.  (Some scholars make a further distinction between interests and needs--where needs too are underlying desires, but are more fundamental and less tangible than interests-see needs-based framing.)

As described in the essay on confusing interests and positions, if the children arguing over the orange had reframed the problem from opposing positions to underlying interests, they would have seen that there was no conflict at all. One child could have had the whole orange, while the other could have had the entire rind. In intractable conflicts, situations are seldom that simple. But making an effort to redefine or reframe conflicts in terms of underlying interests often makes some aspects of the conflict simpler to resolve and reveals areas of commonality that can lead to intergroup cooperation and improved relationships.

For example, a minority group might take the position that it wants complete independence from its current home country, while the reason that it wants independence may not actually be independence for its own sake, but rather a desire for increased political control and an improved social and economic status. If those "interests" can be provided without independence, then a mutually agreeable solution might be found. Similarly, a group of neighbors might oppose the construction of a chemical factory near their homes, because they have fears about safety, noise, and traffic. If additional safety measures and careful site design can help minimize those fears, while providing the additional incentive of new jobs, an agreement might be reached.

(Further examples of the benefits of interest-based framing are attached.)

In U.S. best-selling book, Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury assert that almost all conflicts have negotiable interests. By focusing on underlying interests rather than overt positions, apparently resolution-resistant conflicts often become solvable.

Other theorists however, challenge Fisher and Ury's assertion that interest-based bargaining can solve almost any problems. Many problems, critics say, are distributive in nature. There really is one orange, or one piece of land, or a certain amount of money that has to be divided between two or more people or groups. The more one gets, the less the others get--there is no way around it, no way to "enlarge the pie." In this case, interest-based bargaining does not work to generate win-win solutions. Exposing one's true interests may actually be counter productive, as hard bargainers who hold positions in excess of their real needs may end up with more.

Interest-based bargaining also does not work when the issues in contention are non-negotiable--when they involve fundamental values or human needs. In these cases attempts to use interest-based negotiation may fail, and may even make the conflict more entrenched and difficult to resolve than it had been before. Thus, human needs theorists argue, interest-based bargaining is excellent for interest-based disputes, but it should not be applied to disputes involving human needs or deep-rooted value differences.


Links to Examples of Interest-Based Framing:

Roger Fisher and William Ury--Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Getting to Yes is the "bible" of the interest-based approach to negotiation.   This is a summary of its key points.
Roger Fisher, Elizabeth Kopelman, and Andrea Kupfer Schneider, "Look Behind Statements for Underlying Interests"
This is a short summary of the conflict between the Sikhs and the Hindus in the Punjab which Fisher and his co-authors use to illustrate the difference between interests and positions. In addition to showing the shortcomings of positional bargaining, this article amply illustrates the potential benefits of interest-based reframing.
Dave Brubaker, "Northern Ireland: Projects of Hope in the Midst of Violence"
This is a short summary of one attempt at intervention in Northern Ireland which focused on teaching children to reframe conflicts from positions to interests.
Vinco Puljic, "Religion and Reconciliation in Bosnia"
Vinco Puljic, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Sarajevo presented his thoughts on the situation in Bosnia after the Dayton agreement during a discussion organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace. Reframing the conflict on the basis of interests was one of the ideas emphasized by Puljic.

Links to Related Solutions:

Principled Negotiation

Fairness-Based Framing

Needs-Based Framing

Joint Reframing

Integrative (or win-win) Reframing


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