About the Moving Beyond Intractability (MBI) Massive Open Online Seminar (MOOS)

by Heidi and Guy Burgess

The Moving Beyond Intractability Massive Open Online Seminar (MBI-MOOS)

We started developing a new 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?")

MBI-MOOS's development 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.

Although the nature of the MOOS is changing often, right now we are planning on having two "big seminars," together with some shorter "brown bag" seminars and a number of associated blogs.  The big seminars include the one we started in the spring of 2016, which we will be starting over in early 2017.  This one has come to be called the Conflict Frontiers Seminar and it looks at isses of how to deal with intractable conflict that remain problematic--at the very frontier of our field.  The format is one short (5-10 minute) video per day, along with associated materials (transcript, references, etc.) These videos will be posted on BI and the MBI-MOOS as well as distributed over Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The second one, called Conflict Fundamentals, actually, is a bit more like a MOOC, as it covers "settled knowledge" within the conflict resolution field and as such provides something of a "backdrop" or pre-requisite knowledge for the Conflict Frontiers Seminar.  We will likely start this with selected BI and CRInfo essays, but eventually hope to supplement those with videos as well.

We will also be continuing an Additional Resources Blog which we started in 2016 which references articles, videos, and other materials drawn off news and opinion sites that we think illustrate the points we are trying to make particularly effectively.  

Another blog will highlight efforts of colleages that are on related topics and are helpful to those interested in this general problem.  

Lastly, we will have several shorter "brown-bag seminars," that take segments of the other materials on particular specific topics (such as U.S. political polarization, complexity, or the conflict between fighters and compromisers) and put them together in one place. 

We hope to slowly morph from having all the core content in the seminars be ours to including materials produced by others (not only in the Additional Resources and Colleague Activities blogs which come from others now). But for the time being, the core seminars will be the Burgess's book-by-short installments and in video as well as text format.  

Bottom line, this is a work in progress.  I hope you will find it interesting, but be patient with us as we experiment with different approaches and ideas.