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

Opening Lines of Communication

Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

In conflict situations, lines of communication between people and groups often break down. People stop talking to each other, they withdraw representatives (such as ambassadors or observers) that they have in the other's countries, regions, or groups, and they are much less open about the information they release to the other side. The result is often frequent misunderstandings, exaggerated and overly hostile stereotypes, distrust and fear. Opening lines of communication is one very important step to take if one wants to de-escalate a conflict. Just by re-establishing communication, misunderstandings can be corrected and avoided, stereotypes can be broken down, and trust can be built over time.

However, communication is often difficult to start. When a conflict is very escalated, it is often not possible to simply call up a representative of the other side on the phone and have a "normal" conversation. Usually some kind of structured framework for initial communication must be developed.

This is often done by a third party intermediary, who often will initiate communication by carrying messages or ideas back and forth between two sides. Eventually, when certain agreements about process can be met, then the intermediary may actually get the parties together for face-to-face communication. This may be very carefully structured and confined at first. Then, as a certain level of interpersonal trust is developed, the communication process can be opened up to be freer, and even made routine, so that communication between parties becomes common, and the assistance of a third party is no longer needed.


Links to Examples of This Approach

John Paul Lederach -- Central American Conflict Resolution
This article describes the Central American approach to conflict resolution.   Utilizing an insider-partial third party to open up communication between the disputing parties is one key element of this approach.
Craig Kauffman -- Reflecting on Nicaragua
This article describes the Nueva Guinea Peace Commissions in Nicaragua which worked to provide a communication channel between the Contras and the Sandinsta government.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn -- Moral Conflict
This book summary explains the typical problems involved in communications about moral conflicts and gives a variety of approaches for dealing effectively with these problems.
Thomas Princen--Quaker Mediation in Sri Lanka
This is a story about a Quaker mediator in Sri Lanka who worked to open lines of communication between the warring factions when no other forum for communication was available.
Bruce Hemmer -- Bottom-up Peace Building in Bosnia
This is a story about a grassroots cultural change project in Bosnia, which tried to establish communication between returning Muslin refugees and resident Serbs.
Norway's Back-channel Success Story
This article describes Norway's role in facilitating the Oslo agreement between the PLO and Israel.  Norway is especially well suited for facilitating such negotiations, the author says, in part because it has technology which allows to to establish communication between people in regions of the world where direct communication between opponents is either technically or politically impossible.
Managing Communications
This is a very short excerpt which explains the findings of a panel held at the U.S. Institute of Peace.  The panel agreed that opening lines of communication between humanitarian relief organizations, governments, and the military would enhance the effectiveness of all the parties' work.  This idea is reiterated in several other articles as well, including:Pamela Aall -- Nongovernmental Organizations and Peacemaking and Mary Anderson -- Humanitarian NGOs in Conflict Intervention.
Tony Armstrong -- "Introduction" from Principles of Icebreaking
This book examines how the rapprochement between long-time disputants, such as the U.S. and China or East and West Germany occurred.  Opening lines of communication between the disputants was a critical first step in every case.
Robert Karl Manoff--The Media's Role in Preventing and Moderating Conflict
This article (and the following one) illustrate how the media can help open channels of communication in escalated conflicts.
Christopher Young--The Role of Media in International Conflict
This article (and the previous one) illustrate how the media can help open channels of communication in escalated conflicts.


Links to Outside Sources of Information

USIP-Managing Communications:   Lessons from Interventions in Africa

Managing Communications


Links to Related Approaches

Active Listening

Shuttle Diplomacy /Mediated Communication

Crisis Communication Mechanisms

Establish Personal Relationships


Links to Related Problems

Lack of Communication Channels/Avoided Communication

Misinterpretation of Communication

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