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


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Mediation is one of several approaches to conflict resolution that uses a "third party" intermediary to help the disputing parties resolve their conflict. Unlike arbitration, where the third party actually makes the decision about how the conflict should be resolved, mediators only assist the parties in their efforts to formulate a solution of their own. Thus, mediators bring the parties together (or sometimes shuttle between them), help them describe the problem in terms of negotiable interests and needs rather than non-negotiable positions, and develop a set of ideas for how the interests and needs of both sides can be met simultaneously. The mediator will then help the parties assess the relative merits of the different options and draft an agreement that works best to satisfy everyone’s interests. It is up to the parties, however, to decide whether to accept the final agreement or not. While there may be considerable social pressure to agree to the settlement, if it does not meet the needs of a party as well as an alternative approach might, that party is still free to reject the settlement and try an alternative conflict resolution technique, be it litigation, direct action, an election, or war.

Mediation has been used successfully in many different kinds of conflicts. It is widely utilized (and very successful) in the United States and elsewhere for handling divorce and child custody cases. It is also commonly used for other kinds of interpersonal disputes (such as disputes between neighbors, roommates, or co-workers) labor-management disputes, community disputes, environmental disputes, and international disputes.

Although it is common in international conflicts, mediation has been less successful in that context than in most of the others. In a study of 78 international conflicts which occurred between 1945 and 1986, Jacob Bercovitch (1991) found that 56 were mediated, but that most of those efforts were unsuccessful. He attributed this lack of success to a number of factors. One, international conflicts tend to be very complex and highly escalated, and involving high stakes. This makes negotiation (or by extension, mediation) very difficult. In addition, mediation tends to work best before conflicts become very heated. At the same time, however, they have to become heated enough for the parties to feel a need to resolve them. Thus, there is a very small space of time in which the conflict is ready or "ripe" for negotiation or mediation. If mediation is tried either before this time, or afterwards, it is unlikely to succeed.

Other factors that determine the success of international mediation are the nature of the parties, the issues, and the mediator. The mediator must be highly skilled and respected. It often also helps if the mediator represents a powerful party who can reward cooperation and punish obstinance. When he mediated the Camp David Accords, Jimmy Carter was able to promise U.S. assistance as a reward for cooperation, while he could threaten a reduction of U.S. support if Egypt or Israel remained resistant to settlement.

Mediation styles vary greatly according to the needs of the parties and the mediator. In North America, the tendency is for the mediator to be neutral and impartial. That means he or she is not connected to the disputing parties in any way and does not stand to benefit by any particular outcome. Therefore, typical mediators supposedly have no bias toward one party or one solution over another. Other cultures, however, use mediators who are insiders. They are people who are connected to one side or the other, but who are highly respected by both sides, nevertheless. They also might have an interest in the final agreement as they tend to be members of the negotiating communities. Thus, it is in their personal interest that the conflict be decided in a way that is lasting and fair to all sides. (Oscar Arias Sanchez’s negotiation of the Esquipulas agreement ending the Nicaraguan war is an excellent example of "insider-partial" mediation.)

Another difference in style relates to the role of the mediators and the relative importance placed on settlement as opposed to the importance placed on the relationship. In the United States, the most common approach to mediation is what is called "problem solving" or "settlement oriented" mediation. Here the mediator’s primary goal is obtaining a settlement, and he or she may be highly directive and manipulative in an effort to bring the parties to a resolution. A less common approach which is growing in popularity is transformative or relationship-centered mediation. Here the mediator’s primary goals are empowering both parties to act effectively on their own behalf, while recognizing the legitimate interests and needs of the other side. Often, by fostering such empowerment and recognition, the parties are able to develop a mutually-acceptable solution on their own. However, they are not pushed in the direction nearly as much as they might be in settlement-oriented mediation.


Links to More Information about and Examples of Mediation

Christopher Moore - The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict
This is a summary of one of the leading mediation texts currently available.
Thomas Princen--Quaker Mediation in Sri Lanka
This is a summary of the Quaker's unobtrusive approach to mediation.
Mediating the Oslo Accords on the Middle East
This article discusses the observations of one of the Norwegian mediators regarding Norway's role in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.
Jacob Bercovitch -- Understanding Mediation's Role in Preventive Diplomacy
This article examines how mediation can be used to prevent serious conflicts as well (or even better than) ending them.
William Zartman and Saadia Touval -- International Mediation in the Post- Cold War Era
This article examines the use of international mediation in the post-Cold War era, examining what factors contribute to and detract from success.
Mohamed Sahnoun -- Managing Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era
This article examines a variety of ways of managing conflicts.  The author argues that mediation and conciliation should be broadened to include spiritual, economic, traditional, and social elements, and should be undertaken as a longer-term process.
A Conversation On Peacemaking With Jimmy Carter  
This article reviews a talk given by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter who reflects on his many mediation efforts.
Ron Kraybill -- Directors' Circle
Kraybill identifies four characteristics that make international mediation by a religious person often preferable to peacemaking undertaken by political representatives.
Dave Brubaker -- Northern Ireland: Projects of Hope in the Midst of Violence
This article discusses how teaching mediation has been used successfully as a conflict management technique in Northern Ireland
Robert Baruch Bush -- Expectations for International Mediation
This short commentary observes that most international mediation takes a directive, problem-solving approach.  Bush argues that a transformative approach, which seeks empowerment and recognition of the parties would likely be superior in many cases.
Joseph Folger and Robert Baruch Bush -- Alternate Views of Conflict and Mediation
This article supplements the earlier one, further explaining the transformative approach to mediation.
Moorad Mooradian -- Mediation Efforts in the Karabakh Conflict
This article examines efforts to mediate conflict in Karabakh between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis. The author concluded in this case that the third parties were more interested in pursuing their self-interests than in resolving the conflict.
Tom Sebok - Lessons from Mediation: An Examination of disputant Behaviors During Mediation and Their Possible Application to Seemingly Intractable Conflicts
In this paper Sebok reflects on years of mediating interpersonal disputes. He lists a variety of things disputants do and say that tend to block agreement, and things that they do or say that contributes to an agreement. While he acknowledges that intractable conflicts are more challenging that the typical kinds of disputes he deals with in the ombuds office, he suggests that similar kinds of problems can make intractable conflicts worse, and similar solutions might make them more constructive.
Ved Nanda - Dealing with the Shift from Interstate to Intrastate Confrontation -
This paper illustrates how mediation can be used to negotiate deep-rooted, value-based intrastate conflicts.
Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy--Guidelines for Making the Program Work
These authors, longtime mediators, give guidelines for making public policy mediation work effectively.

Links to Outside Sources of Information

Victim Offender Mediation Association - Articles and Publications 
This site has several very useful full text articles on victim-offender mediation and an alternative--family group conferences--that has been widely used in New Zealand and Australia.
ADR and Mediation Resources- Essays and Mediation Guidelines
The ADR & Mediation Resources site contains substantial on-line materials for alternative dispute resolution and mediation including an extensive set of essays on mediation.
Multi-Party Public Policy Mediation A Separate Breed - Lawrence Susskind Fall 1997 - Dispute Resolution Magazine - Section of Dispute Resolution - American Bar Association
This article is written by one of the leading public policy mediators in the U.S. It gives a good overview of the "do's" and "don'ts" of public policy dispute resolution processes.
The ABCs of ADR A Dispute Resolution Glossary
This has a good comparison of a variety of ADR techniques including mediation, arbitration, and all varieties of each.

U.S. Institute of Peace -- "Negotiation and International Mediation" in Sudan: Ending the War, Moving Talks Forward

Tom Milburn--What Can We Learn From Comparing Mediation Across Levels


American Arbitration Association Home Page 
This page has considerable full-text information about mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution processes in the U.S.


Links to Related Approaches

Third Party Intervention

Insider-partial mediation

Transformative Mediation

Common Ground Projects

Dialogue Projects


Links to Related Problems

Mediation is potentially useful for most of the problems covered in this program.  

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