This seminar looks at frontier-of-the-field issues involving the nature of intractable conflicts and more effective ways of addressing them. We are particularly interested in applying a complexity and systems approach to intractable conflicts, and examining ways to scale up responses to be effective in large scale, complex conflicts. The seminar is based on ideas and materials that we (Guy and Heidi Burgess) have developed and have taught over the last 30 years.However, these ideas and materials are based on our collaboration with over 400 people who have contributed to the development of Beyond Intractability and related projects. Thus it includes the work and ideas of many people, not just us.
The Conflict Frontiers Seminar is being created by Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess--the Co-Directors of the Conflict Information Consortium, Beyond Intractability, and CRInfo. As a team, they have been doing research, writing, and teaching on intractable conflicts for about thirty-five years, with an emphasis on international, inter-group, value-based, and environmental conflicts. They have also been leaders in the field of Internet dissemination of conflict resolution information, having designed and co-directed not only CRInfo and Beyond Intractability, but also the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts and the Civil Rights Mediation Oral History Project before starting the Conflict Frontiers MOOS.
This seminar is primarily designed for people know know the "basics" and are interested in a cutting edge discussion of what makes intractable conflicts particularly difficult, and what can be done about that. We are thinking this is likely to be of particular interest to advanced (MA and PhD) students and professionals (scholars and practitioners) in peace, conflict, and related fields. However, the seminar is open to all participants. (We also are offering a "basics seminar" called "Conflict Fundamentals.")
Ways to Participate
There are three ways to participate in the Frontiers MOOS. We refer to them as "visiting," "following," and "joining."
- Visiting means just reading an individual post now and again when you see one that looks interesting. Unlike traditional seminars or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), we welcome people to come in and out--you don't need to commit to watching or reading all the material and there are no tests or grades.
- Following implies a bit higher level of engagement, but how much higher is still entirely up to you. You can sign up to "follow" the MOOS on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, thereby seeing each post when they are released. We hope a number of people will be sufficiently interested to watch them all--but that is not required. Alternatively, you can sign up to get our newsletter which comes out once every several weeks via email, and this will include all the posts since the last newsletter. Details about all these options are found on our Participate Page.
- Joining means signing up to get a user name and password which allows you to participate in the Fontiers Discussions. Many of the posts have discussion questions, and we invite people who have some background in the field, or a real interest in it, to discuss the ideas we raise in the Frontiers posts. We are trying, at least initially, to limit the topics discussed and keep a fairly close watch on the people and comments that are made, in an effort to prevent trolling and other destructive responses.
We started developing this project and website in the Spring of 2016. We named it ""Moving Beyond Intractability" because this is a new project built on top of the long-standing Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base with the goal of moving beyond the limits of current knowledge, and helping as many people as possible "move beyond" intractability in the conflicts they are involved in and care deeply about. It is also called a "MOOS," which stands for "Massive Open Online Seminar" because it is sort of like the more common MOOCs (massive open online courses), but it focuses on frontier-of-the-field issues (as university seminars often do), rather than "settled knowledge," which is what is usually covered in MOOCs. (For more information about the MOOS concept, see our text-based "Quick Introduction", or the video "What's a MOOS?")
Our development of this seminar was spurred by four factors. First was our concern about the increasing number and intensity of intractable conflicts around the world. When we started developing BI, intractable conflicts were seen as an important challenge, but they were being surmounted. Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Cold War, for example, were all intractable conflicts that had certainly been transformed, if not resolved. Now in 2016, all three of these conflicts seem to be re-emerging (albeit in different form). At the same time, we have seen the almost total meltdown of the Middle East, the continuing intractability of many wars in Africa, a hightening of tensions in several parts of Asia, and now, an ever-deepening division within the United States that is threatening the very basis and stability of our own democracy.
A second driving factor was Bill Ury's suggestion, many years ago, that we turn Beyond Intractability from simply an online "knowledge base" to a virtual "place" 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.
A third factor was that the Burgesses retired from teaching at the University of Colorado in the spring of 2016, which freed up a lot of our time. We began to think about writing the book that we'd been wanting to write for years, but never had time to do so. But books aren't really "our style"--we've been committed to the notion of sharing ideas online for free for a very long time. So it wasn't a hard sell when our friend and colleague Mari Fitzduff suggested that we'd be better off writing "our book" online. Doing so would also allow us to try, once again, to implement Bill Ury's notion of creating "a place" on BI, which is how we switched from the idea of an online book to an online seminar that was open to anyone who was interested.
But the fourth factor was that we got cold feet. We have been watching the vitriol and worse that seems to accomany most (if not all) online political discussions, and were cognizant that we did not have the staff or funding to monitor all the discussions we had originally envisioned encouraging in response to our posts. So we're going to start the discussion part of the seminar fairly slowly. People will have to register to contribute to the discussions, and in most cases we ask that they use their real names. Our hope is that this will keep the dialgouge constructive. If they aren't we will try something else, or if we have to, turn them off entirely. But if these discussions "catch on" and are useful, then we will slowly increase their scope.
We have been posting parts of the MOOS for over a year now, changing strategies and look-and-feel issues several times in the process. This is still a work in progress--probably it always will be--that's the blessing and the curse of the web. But we hope you will find what we have useful, and we welcome suggestions on how to make it better.