CRInfo and Beyond Intractability - History

CRInfo

CRInfo was created in the late 1990s, when the Conflict Resolution Program's Project Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Steve Tobin, called Guy and Heidi Burgess and asked if we would be interested in creating a comprehensive conflict resolution website.  The Hewlett Foundation was already giving CIC (then called the Conflict Resolution Consortium) a core support grant, and Tobin knew of our interest in using the Internet for conflict resolution education.  He had been getting "lots of proposals for little websites," Tobin told us, but instead of funding lots of little, disparate websites, he thought it would be better to create one, large, comprehensive website.  He gave us the names of the people who had sent him the "little proposals," and working with all of them--and others with similar expertise and interests--we created CRInfo in 1998.  People who were particularly instrumental to the development of CRInfo included:

  • Julianna Birkhoff
  • John Helie 
  • Christopher Honeyman
  • Jim Melamed
  • Paul Wahrhaftig
  • Bill Warters

At the time it was created, we really believed (and we might have been close to right) that it contained links to all of the existing online information on conflict resolution--in one place.  That quickly became impossible to maintain, of course, but we spent many years, when we had Hewlett funding, scouring the web in search of the best conflict resolution information, and keeping a large list of annotated links to those resources. 

After Hewlett ended their conflict resolution funding program, we stopped hiring students to scour the web, and started to rely much more on Google's special search capability to help us find the best conflict resolution material available (by now we'd be doing that, even if we still had Hewlett funding!)  A sizable grant from the JAMS Foundation also helped us upgrade significant portions of the CRInfo materials.

After we started our second major website, Beyond Intractability, we realized that there was considerable overlap in materials on the two sites.  Consequently, we have been slowly merging the two sites together.  That means that all the materials produced for BI--many of which cover or are relevant to small scale, tractable conflicts as well as large scale intractable conflict--are available on the CRInfo site as well as BI.  (This includes, for instance, many articles on the causes and dynamics of conflict, conflict negotiation, facilitation, mediation, arbitration, conflict communication, etc.) Similarly, all the CRInfo "Core Knowledge Essays" are available on BI as well as CRInfo.

When we deploy the new platform for BI, CRInfo, and our new Moving Beyond Intractability Massive Open Online Seminar in early 2017, the integration of the three sites will be complete, allowing users to seamlessly navigate from one to the other.  This, we believe, will make all three sites more useful and easier to use.

Beyond Intractability:

In about 2000, several years after we created CRInfo, and at the encouragement of the Hewlett Foundation to "think big," Guy and Heidi Burgess submitted a proposal for a second website--which came to be called Beyond Intractability (BI). Hewlett very generously funded it, and continued to do so for a number of years until they ended their Conflict Resolution Funding Program entirely.

It was Guy who came up with the initial idea to compile as much of the then-available knowledge about dealing effectively with the most difficult conflicts. Then he and Heidi, along with about 50 other people to start with, helped carry that idea out. All of the early participants were concerned about the destructiveness of both domestic US and international conflict problems.  We didn’t think that the traditional conflict resolution approaches (such as mediation and arbitration) were working as well as they needed to on these very difficult conflicts.  Our initial goal was to combine our knowledge and to perhaps produce a “state-of-the-art” book on the topic.  But the content quickly out-stripped a book, and we agreed that we wanted to reach many more people than those who would buy and read a thick, expensive, and jargon-laden book.  So the online BI knowledge base was born. 

The knowledge base has grown greatly over the years, as has its usage.  It now has written materials contribued by several hundred scholars and practitioners and another 100 or so scholars and practitioners who have contributed audio interviews.  BI and CRinfo together have between 200-250,000 unique users from all over the world every month.

The editors of BI (Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess) have, over the last few years, been going through the essays and trying to update them as needed, as many are now 15 years old.  Some are showing their age pretty badly, but many really are still pretty up to date.  For better or worse, not all that much has changed when it comes to understanding the nature of these conflicts, or changing them in constructive ways. The new MBI-MOOS, which builds on the BI knowledge base, is intended to examine the frontier-of-the-field issues that were missed (or developed after) the bulk of the BI material was written.  

Quite a few years ago, Bill Ury (co-author of Getting-to-Yes and many other notable conflict resolution books) urged us to change BI into a "place,"(instead of just a knowledge base) where users could "get together," talk, and brainstorm new ways of dealing with their myriad conflict challenges.  We tried to implement this a few years ago by developing the idea of a "Collaborative Learning Community" on BI.  We reformated the BI homepage trying to stress that idea, and hoped that users would begin to contribute their own ideas to BI, as well as learning from it and engage in conversations with each other about the material. 

A small group of users did contribute papers--particularly John Paul Lederach's graduate students at Notre Dame University, the Burgesses' graduate students at George Mason University, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado.  (A few other people who weren't students of ours or John Paul's contributed too.)  But not very many other people did and the discussions didn't take off--so the idea didn't really catch on.

But the development and popularity of social media makes this idea increasingly doable.  So the new add-on to BI, the MBI-MOOS is once again going to be trying to make BI into a "place" to discuss the cutting- edge issues in the field.

Another recent change is the almost complete integration of Beyond Intractability and CRInfo.  Both homepages still exist (as they both have a lot of users), but they now both draw on the same underlying materials, which focus both on "tractable" and "intractable" conflict.