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

Joint Fact-Finding and Data Mediation

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Often experts analyzing the probable consequences of resolving disputes in different ways reach very different and apparently contradictory conclusions . These contradictions often lead the public to conclude that scientific and technical analysis is really no better than the "common sense" assessments of lay people (i.e. non-experts). In most cases this conclusion is not warranted.   Expert application of the scientific method can yield important information, provided that the experts understand the role of technical facts in the larger dispute resolution process.

Here joint fact-finding and data mediation can make an important contribution. These techniques use consensus building and mediation to help the experts resolve their disagreements over the technical facts. In joint fact-finding, the experts and the constituency groups which they represent develop and implement a joint strategy for answering the key policy questions, based upon generally agreed-upon scientific methods. It is commonly understood that the experts do not have to reach agreement on every issue. Their primary goal is to clearly separate the issues upon which they can agree from those which are still subject to debate and then report their findings to the parties. Here it is important for the experts to explain their findings in ways which non-experts can understand.  Points of agreement can then provide the parties with a more informed basis for resolving the dispute. Points a continuing debate, however, will require the parties to employ strategies for dealing with uncertainty. The goal is to use areas of technical consensus to eliminate options which clearly do not advance the parties interest, and then use strategies for dealing with uncertainty to approach the remaining technical issues.

Data mediation may also identify longer term and more expensive strategies for resolving outstanding uncertainties. While this can often be very useful, there are limitations on how much research is appropriate. In many cases, the benefits of better information are outweighed by costs and delays associated with further fact-finding. There are also cases in which further fact finding is unlikely to be helpful, no matter how much time and money is spent. This is because the technical problem may be so difficult that experts cannot hope to find the answer.

Links to Examples:

Heidi Burgess--Environmental Mediation (The Foothills Case)
In this case study, each of the parties initially collected their own data which led to a credibility problem. The problem was resolved by having a third party--the U.S. Army Corps of  Engineers so a fact-finding study that was jointly designed by the parties and the core, and carefully monitored by the parties to make sure it was accurately done.
Gerald Cormick and Alana Knaster--Oil and Fishing Industries Negotiate: Mediation and Scientific Issues
One aspect of this dispute involved a scientific disagreement over the impact of underwater geologic acoustic testing on fish.  Initially, the oil companies which were doing the testing insisted that their experts found no impact, while the fishermen said they did.  This was resolved with the formation of a joint fact-finding committee.
Developing a Process for Siting Hazardous Waste Facilities in Canada - The Swan Hills Case
In this case the public was involved in a mapping process to determine the best place to site a hazardous waste facility.
Curt Brown - Handling Confrontation: Negotiated Adaptive Management
This paper contracts the legal/regulatory model of environmental management with a more flexible, negotiation-based model for managing resources and making environmental decisions.

Links to Related Approaches


Impact-Study Requirement
Dealing With Uncertainty
Technical Primers

Links to Related Problems

Contradictory Experts

Inability to Deal with Uncertainty
Analysis Paralysis/Delay-Default
Complexity Muddle

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