2019 Constructive Conflict Initiative Feedback Summary

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Prepared by
​Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess
Co-Directors, Beyond Intractability Project, Conflict Information Consortium
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As of the end of August, we have received about 115 responses to our CC Initiative.  We have summarized them below, according to the question they were addressing.  When we were given permission to do so, we have attributed some answers to particular people.  But we didn't think ahead (until the end of August) to ask for such permission on a routine basis, so many comments are lacking attribution.  If you see your idea here and would like "credit," please let us know--we'll be happy to give it to you.

We are not posting long answers here, because my personal document that has compiled all the answers we have received is now over 100 pages long! But we are including links to the long answers that we have been given explicit permission to share publically--those appear on the discussion board. If you have already shared ideas with us through email and would be willing for your answers to "go public,"   please let us know!  Thanks!

First Question: What do you think of this effort? (In principle, does this seem like an effort worth pursuing?)

With a few exceptions, the comments have been extremely positive.  While most of the respondents live in the U.S.(which makes sense since most of the people we wrote to are in the U.S.), we were pleased to learn that this also resonated with people in Africa (South Africa and DRC), Brazil, Great Britain, and Canada.

Several people noted that this is an extremely difficult task.  It is, But, as I replied to those comments directly (and Guy is creating a post in response as well), we believe this is doable if we get lots and lots of people involved.  It is not doable if it is just a two-person activity.  So our main goal at this time is to spread the word and get as many people as possible involved in a variety of ways. We discuss that more in our mid-summer update and our new Initiative Homepage.

Typical overall comments were as follows:

  • A monumental task, but needed. (Mark Oelze, marriage and family counselor and former paster). Read Mark's full response here. 
  • This project is fabulous!
  • I think this is an important effort.
  • We desperately need creative approaches.
  • This is so needed!
  • A very comprehensive and impressive statement.
  • I’m fully on board.
  • We share the same goals.
  • It is exceedingly worthwhile and very interesting. 
  • I like both the tone and the substance.
  • I love the idea that everyone has a role to play!
  • Scaling up our small-group processes is very important.
  • Very glad to see you are launching this important initiative.  I continue to direct students to your work, as it continues to be relevant, helpful, accessible, practical, thoughtful, and creative. 
  • I'm excited about the idea of scaling alternative approaches to conflict engagement and applaud your commitment to this cause! It has never been so important!
  • I think the initiative is great and much needed, but it is sad that the issues you’ve identified resonate so broadly.  (This was in response to the statement that we’ve gotten letters of interest from quite a few countries outside of the United States.)
  • A wonderful initiative, tuned to our current state of world affairs, timely, perhaps in the nick of time [Leo Symth, Ireland] Leo's full answer is here.
  •  I am very symphatetic and supportive of the initiative -  and a great fan of Beyond Intractability! - Lasse Peltonen, Professor of environmental governance and conflict resolution, University of Eastern Finland.
  • It would be great to create a wider, more accessible community of people and ogranizations doing this work.  It would be a great benefit to the Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation communities to feel connected to others and to have access to collective resources and support.

A few other comments, however, maintained:

  • This is worth pursuing but very difficult.
  • It is hard to argue with any of the points made, but this is not a novel approach.  Others are doing similar things.
  • However, another person observed that they didn’t think others were working to expand peace PROCESSES as we are, and they thought that was beneficial.
  • While this is a worthy initiative in many ways, it is too partisan for me to participate in.  Examples of partisan language, in this person's estimation were: 
    • "We need, and do not now have, a broadly shared image of the kind of society that we would all like to work toward – one that transcends partisan differences, builds on past ideals, and addresses the unrightable wrongs of the past (and prevents their recurrence)​." [Observer felt that the "unrightable wrongs" aligned with certain Democratic candidates' views, and hence would be seen as Democratic.]
    • "We need much better ways of preventing people from using sophisticated propaganda strategies to advance their selfish interests by deepening social divisions in ways that make it impossible for us to work together to pursue the common good." [Observer saw this as a critique of Pres. Trump]
    • "We need an economy that generates meaningful and dignified work for all and then equitably distributes the product of that work. The key to getting ahead can't simply be taking something from somebody else." [The observer saw this as "anti-capitalist" and "pro-liberal."] 

Second Question: How do you think the initiative might be strengthened?

This following is a subset of the ideas received.  All of these bullet points have been shortened and paraphrased to protect respondent anonymity, and to shorten this post.  Other responses, which were either duplicative or harder to shorten and paraphrase have not been included, except in cases where we got specific permission to post them.

  • Make the introductory materials shorter (we already did that, but they likely could be shortened further).
  • Work to streamline the material -- there is SO MUCH information it is easy to get overwhelmed.   (Mark Oelze, marriage and family counselor and former paster). Read Mark's full response here. 
  • Clarify the audience(s)
  • Interview potential audience members to learn when they have used constructive conflict strategies, when not, and why not.
  • Adopt both a horizontal and a vertical approach—reaching widely among  different grassroots audiences, and also up to leadership levels. (Philippe S. Banzi,  La Sapientia Catholic University in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo) See Philippe's full comments here.
  • Include some examples of success or progress.  Make it more hopeful!
  • Use stories to appeal to hearts and minds.
  • Create downloadable podcasts
  • Add visuals and animations to reach mass audiences.
  • Consider how we get beyond our own cultural, political, gender, and racial limits.
  • Address power differentials.
  • Consider the interests that lead people to handle conflict poorly and address those.
  • Try to work with current peace negotiators and diplomats.
  • Creating online databases of resources and initiatives and linking us all together would be excellent. 
  • Make materials less academic. Make them understandable for everyone. [Tara Smith, Delaware, USA] Read Tara's full response here.
  • Constructive conflict resolution requires a particular set of skills; I would argue a particular set of life skills. This project is about marketing these skills—to some extent—to everyone. But skills training can't be generic, it must be tailored to the audience and immediately applicable to their jobs/lives/situations. (Tara Smith, Delaware USA) Read Tara's full response here.
  • The proposal is so huge and sweeping that it is hard to envision concrete action steps.  It would help to have "checkpoint goals" and action steps that let people know whether they are heading in the right direction. The current "action list" reads more like a mission and vision statement.  More clearly delineating concrete actions people can take would be a big step forward! 
  • Make it clearer what "get involved" concretely means.
  • Do a national mapping exercise which goes beyond those who already understand the prinicples of peacebuilding  to those "on the ground" in the depths of society to better understand not only what they believe are the impediments to peace (or in this case to depolarization and peaceful conflict management), but also why aren’t things worse. We need to get a better understanding of the resiliency mechanisms that are potentially transformational in leading society towards greater positive peace. (The premise of my orientation towards peacebuilding is that we focus too much on the drivers of conflict and not enough on the pockets of peace… those places in the middle of the conflict that have been able to not only effectively cope with the problem but actually turn the tide to reduce/eliminate it. These pockets reside in every conflict and most often are overlooked.  Without a serious mapping of the pockets of peace (we call it peace mapping rather than conflict mapping), I feel the orientation of such an effort as yours will over-emphasize the conflict-drivers and root causes, without paying enough attention to those in the trenches that are already demonstrating positive peaceful change (often times with less explicit strategic intent, but with great intuitive intent). (Jerry McCann, Peace Engineer with Build Up). Read Jerry's full response here. 
  • My answer is coloured by my years in education, so I think of pedagogical interventions. How about the University of Colorado developing a free online course in argument?  It might start with logic and logical fallacies, going on to cover distinctions between rhetoric, persuasion and polemic, arriving at the value of adversarial cross-examination as well as the value of problem-solving dialogue. The object would be to ‘norm in’ identification of these topics, with students encouraged to call out what they see as unfair presentations and offer alternatives. [ I am guessing such courses already exist and could be built upon.]  Once the basics have been covered, debates could be organised on serious issues by committed people of opposing views; moderators could summarise the key arguments made and respondents could scrutinise the evidence. Perhaps develop a ‘truth-quotient’".(Leo Smythe, Ireland) Read Leo's full reponse here.

  • The ‘fairness-delivering’ institutions of society need to be respected – and also be the subject of critique. The crucial separation of judicial powers is under attack. We need to be reminded of what happens when it is eroded. Re-telling of history is a way of raising awareness of current dangers. (Leo Smythe, Ireland) Read Leo's full reponse here.

  • It would help to pay more attention to the causes of the conflict behaviors and dynamics that you wish to see improved.  Understanding the causes of the problems is always helpful in addressing them. 

Third Question: Who else is doing related work and should be invited to participate?

We got LOTS of feedback here.  We are reaching out to all the groups and individuals we have been referred to and will be posting information about their activities and their publications on the Colleague Activities Blog. Look for the first few posts in early September and we'll be continuing them throughout the fall at the rate of about five per week. 

Fourth Question: Do you have thoughts or suggestions about next steps that should be taken to pursue these ideas further?

Many of the ideas listed as “strengthening ideas” could be next steps.  The following were other ideas suggested—interestingly, there wasn’t as much overlap here.

  • Cross link with other related sites and get them to cross link with us, forming a network of sites with similar goals.
  • Share the initiative as widely as possible!
  • Share with politicians, business people, scholars, church leaders, women's fora, organizations of marginalized groups. (Philippe S. Banzi,  La Sapientia Catholic University in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo) See Philippe's full comments here. 
  • Try to improve online dialogues.
  • Have a meeting with marketing experts, social media experts, social movement experts, etc., to discuss how to gain traction.
  • Select a few intractable problems and create a video to show how we might go about solving them.
  • Create a strategy map.
  • Have an international online discussion about this.
  • Have the documents read by different generations—particularly young people.  Also get them read by politicians and people with marketing and social media expertise.
  • Hold a conference.
  • Create a blog to address this.
  • From a marketing perspective, we need to figure out precisely what we’re selling, to whom we’re selling it, and how we’re going to sell it to them. Thinking about it in those terms might make figuring out next steps here easier. Are we selling a curriculum? Are we shopping around a research proposal? We're selling a paradigm shift. So what does phase one of this shift look like and who is going to buy it? Phase two? Etc. (Tara Smith, Delaware, USA) See Tara's full comment here.