Summary of "A Public Peace Process"

Summary of

A Public Peace Process

By Gennady I. Chufrin and Harold H. Saunders

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Chufrin, Gennady I. and Harold H. Saunders. "A Public Peace Process." Negotiation Journal 9.3 (1993): 155-177.


Post-Cold War intra-state conflicts have been characteristically difficult to deal with, and often new political approaches are required in order to resolve them. This article outlines one of these new political approaches. Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has identified "post-conflict peace-building" as crucial new work for the political arena. Because the root causes of many conflicts are outside the reach of government-based diplomacy, citizens and public organizations need to be recognized and aided in their crucial role in changing and building positive political relationships between people via public peace processes in tandem with official peace processes.

The authors define a public peace process as a process that is centered on bringing together in systematic dialogue--not negotiation--individuals from conflicting groups to probe the dynamics of their conflictual relationship, to think together about obstacles to changing it, and to design a sequence of interactive steps that might remove those obstacles. Although this process focuses on citizens outside government, it assumes that public and government can work in complementary ways.

A peace process conducted by the public is political work. It takes place in the political arena, where publics as well as governments engage. The political resolution of conflict--in contrast to resolution only through mediation and negotiation--is a process that transforms conflictual relationships so that parties can both end violence and build the peaceful relationships necessary for tackling post-conflict problems. It is a process for changing and building relationships--not just negotiating technical solutions to technically defined problems. This is work that publics often do better than governments.

The authors outline a process by which citizen groups can create relationships within and between political bodies and thus deal with problems which single parties are often unable to handle successfully over long periods of time. The framework for this process arose from lessons learned by the authors from their decade-long chairmanship of the Dartmouth Conference Regional Conflicts Task Force. Their hope is that not only will this framework be useful to nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) but that it will aid governments in recognizing that (1) government negotiations often succeed only when embedded in a larger political process; (2) strong civil societies can make governments more effective; (3) sound processes for citizens working together across boundaries can open doors to new partnerships between governments; and (4) adding new political instruments for the resolution of conflict expands the capacity of governments themselves.

Converging Experiences

In the past 30 years there has been a huge increase in the number and variety of NGO's that have committed themselves to the resolution of international and intra-state conflicts. Most often their involvement has been the result of perceptions that governments are simply unable to solve complex social and environmental problems that crosscut state and national boundaries. At the same time, conflict resolution theorists began to understand and advocate for the inclusion of broader human and political interactions in conflict resolution efforts--efforts extending well beyond traditional negotiation strategies. The shift in focus was due in part to a recognition that in many ethnic and national conflicts some issues are non-negotiable. They recognized that work in the public political arena aimed at reframing issues, allaying fears, changing perceptions, and recognizing comparable interests can bring about fundamental changes in relationships between groups in conflict.

The authors say that the goal of this process is to focus on relationship issues such as dehumanization, fear, identity, and historical roots that are beyond the scope of mediation and negotiation by "reaching toward the heart of the relationship where enemies are made, where reconciliation takes place, and where fundamental change can produce working relationships capable of post-conflict peace-building." They use their ten-year experience with the Dartmouth Conference Regional Conflict Task Force (DCRCTF) as an example of this process. They offer the following conceptual outline of how the DCRCTF works.

A Conceptual Picture of the Process

The authors say that it is important for both parties to create a "safe political space" for dialog. This is critical to the success of public dialogs because unless both parties can feel free to speak openly, it will be impossible to thoroughly examine difficult issues underlying conflicts and their solutions. In the case of the Dartmouth Conferences, a safe political space was created because the U.S. and Soviet participants regarded the conferences as a joint venture without third party convenors or intermediaries, and the locations alternated between the U.S. and Russia.

Another prerequisite for successful public dialog is a focus, by both parties, on the dynamics underlying the relationship between them. In fact, this focus on the overall U.S.-Soviet relationship became the most important aspect of the Dartmouth Conferences. The U.S. and Soviet participants in the Dartmouth Conferences began their dialogs with an examination of (1) both sides underlying interests and fears, and (2) reasons why these interests and fears were important to each county's political bodies. They concluded after a year of discussion that in any body politic, individual interest, group interests, objectively defined interests, and politically defined interests would exist. The important point was to recognize what set of interests was at work at any given time. We learned to use in-depth discussion of interests to organize our talks, to probe motivations behind each side's actions, and to understand our views of each other.

For example, in the late 1980's Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced a unilateral Soviet troop withdrawal from Europe. This decision was based on an understanding, gleaned from veterans of the Dartmouth Conferences, that U.S.-Soviet relations would remain deadlocked until the American people became convinced of a fundamental shift in Soviet policy as reflected in Soviet actions.

Much of the success of the Dartmouth Conferences was due to increased understanding of (1) the political processes and political constraints in both countries, (2) psychological factors affecting both Soviet and U.S. approaches, and (3) the creation of a reservoir of "shared thinking" via dialog.

Both citizen groups and governments have roles in changing conflictual international relationships. However, systematic dialog processes between citizen groups have greater potential for significant substantive communication that can lead to change. This is because although members of citizen groups are outside of governments and can speak for themselves without committing governments, they understand governments and can communicate with them.

For example, the authors say that "it became a normal pattern for our task force after meetings to sit with government officials and members of the Communist Party's International Department or of Congress. Citizens recognize that governments alone have authority to commit bodies politic. Governments have slowly come to recognize that the insights of citizens in responsible but free-ranging dialogue can reach beyond official exchanges."

They say that because it takes time to probe and learn how to change a relationship, the dialogue is sustained over time, and meetings take place at regular intervals. The agenda is not a list of topics defined by experts but how a range of problems reveals and affects the relationship. Focusing on understanding fundamental relationships requires a process that deepens over time rather than one-shot meetings. This continuity makes possible not only significant stability of participation but, even more important, a cumulative agenda.

The Process

The authors offer a five-stage process of dialog--based upon their own experiences and the experiences of others--which they feel can be useful in helping others to decide how such a process may fit their own needs. However, they warn the stages are not rigidly defined, nor does the process move smoothly or fast. Groups move back and forth between stages, sometimes moving ahead fast, sometimes going slow, sometimes apparently moving backwards. Repetition is common and often essential. Each group will be different. However, in general, the stages will proceed in the following way:

Stage One - Deciding to Engage

The party that is the first to take the initiative to engage in dialog will need to keep in mind the following tasks:

1)Identifying participants - The first approach is to identify people who are already convinced of a need for dialog. The second is to precipitate a sense of urgency around the need for dialog amongst those who do not yet see a need for it. The authors point out that it is also important to identify comparable partners as well as willing partners who have political permission to engage in dialog.

2)Creating public space/safe space - There are three considerations involved in accomplishing a safe space: (1) establishing the trustworthiness of the convenor, (2) ensuring the appropriateness of physical choice of a meeting place itself in terms of neutrality and distance, and (3) ensuring the existence of ground rules for discussion that ensure safety for both parties.

3)Defining the problem/agenda setting - The primary tasks here are to (1) identify substantive starting points, (2) create an awareness of the other party, and (3) offer a broad, informal set of reference points for discussion out of which a more detailed agenda can evolve from the dialog as it progresses.

4)Group formation - Convenors need to be aware of how group membership and group dynamics affect the direction and quality of the dialog over time.

5)Transition - Making a meeting happen - Participants on both sides need sufficient incentive to begin meeting. These incentives can include (1) a significant worsening of the conflict, (2) an overture by one of the parties in showing concern for the other's concerns or for their common future, and (3) third party inducements to meet, such as the offer of aid or other involvement that is advantageous to both parties.

Stage Two - Mapping the Relationship Together

The authors say that "dialog begins with a period of exploration and learning about each party, what each party's interests are, and what the scope of the relationship is. The task is to understand how the problems in the relationship and the underlying interests begin to define the relationship--not just the technical issues that affect it. The task, in other words, is mapping the relationship." Over time it is essential that each party develops both respect for the other and some trust that the dialog is sincere, not mere maneuvering. This stage ends when the parties learn to talk about "the relationship" and understand that through it they can identify specific areas to probe in depth and find vehicles for talking about those areas. There are four tasks associated with this stage. These are:

1)Learning to talk analytically, not positionally - This task can be most effectively accomplished by establishing ground rules such as time limits for comments, a commitment from both parties to refrain from speechmaking, and mutual promises of civility. It is also important for both sides to listen to and acknowledge strong feelings that come up in the process of dialog but also to find ways to prevent the expression of strong negative feelings from derailing productive discussion. Finally, it is important for the parties to begin to move away from positions to underlying interests.

2)Learning to talk about the relationship - The authors say that the ultimate purpose of a wide-ranging initial dialogue is to diagnose the state of the relationship, taking stock of its problems, capacities, and potential. Parties "map the field" of problems, irritants, dilemmas, habits, misunderstandings, and practices that reflect sources of difficulty, conflict, or opportunity in the relationship. Each party shares its views of a problem, and both try to understand the differences. The underlying questions are always: What does this subject or problem tell us about our relationship? What subjects are particularly useful in helping us to see what most determines the character of the relationship?

3)Organizing sustained dialog - In order for this process to be successful, parties need to keep a whole range of issues and problems "on the table" and find ways of organizing them so that sustained dialog across a series of meetings will continue to be both possible and productive.

4)Transition - Readiness to probe the relationship systematically - Once all of both parties' interests and concerns have been identified, it is essential to crystallize, to the extent possible, a picture of the relationship that incorporates the concerns of both parties not an agreed picture, but a picture broad enough to include what is common and what is understood as not common. The group should be in a position to recognize the relationship that exists--what its strengths and deficiencies are, where interests diverge and converge. It is also necessary to articulate a commitment by the partners to continue the dialog for the purpose of understanding the relationship more deeply in order to probe the blockages to an improved relationship and even to identify ways of reducing those blockages. This assumes that they will have seen enough in the relationship that they value as a means for achieving their interests.

Stage Three - Probing the Dynamics of the Relationship Together

In stage two the parties identified the broad outlines of each side's views of the relationship between their respective political bodies. In stage three the goal is to come to a fuller understanding of how the other's mind works. As they begin to understand each others thinking better, they begin to establish the groundwork for a joint problem-solving relationship and capability. This is the stage at which it also becomes necessary and possible to deal with underlying emotional agendas concurrently with the substantive agenda. There are two tasks at this stage.

1) Imagining a constructive relationship - The authors say that "the aim of the dialog is to imagine together a picture of the relationship that would serve both sides interests." Such a picture is more likely to emerge from a dialogue along the following lines than from an explicit effort to draw such a picture. One way to begin is to ask at a certain point in the dialog: What are the most likely ways in which this relationship might unfold? Given the present dynamics within the relationship, how might these interacting elements play themselves out? What changes in the mix of elements might cause different outcomes?

Put in other vocabulary: Given what we now see happening within the relationship, where are we going? How would each of these lines of development in the relationship affect the interests of each party as described so far in the dialogue? And how would they affect the ability of the two parties working together in a relationship to deal with problems that confront them together? What course of development in the relationship seems most fully to serve the interests of both sides?

2) Transition - Shifting to a deeper level of experience - The authors say that one way of shifting the dialog to the next stage is to briefly break the group up into smaller working groups with specific assignments to work through together based upon the ideas that emerged from the overall dialog.

Stage Four - Experiencing the Relationship Together

The next step, according to the authors, is to create a group experience in joint problem solving to demonstrate how a positive waking relationship between disputants can help achieve disputant's interests and needs. There are four tasks at this stage.

1) Scenario-building - One way of doing this is to break the larger group into smaller subgroups and assign each the task of writing a scenario describing the way desired changes in the relationship might unfold in a series of reciprocal interactive steps, based upon their mutual understanding of each other's interests and concerns. Then the larger group can be asked to identify (1) the most positive scenario, and (2) any obstacles they see to its accomplishment.

2) New insights into the relationship - The authors say that the emphasis in this stage is on experiencing the relationship--both limits and opportunities in dealing with a problem together. The act of designing an interaction brings to light the obstacles to change, what could erode them, and how to make steps of change politically possible. The transition to this stage is underway when the participants begin to think in terms of "what we can do" or "what I must do to enable you to do what I want you to do" rather than "What you must do." And vice versa. This is a qualitatively different way of thinking from the norm in governmental exchanges, where each side feels it must present its own position and demands. In essence this task is to reveal and address systemic dysfunctions in the relationship.

3) A scenario to change the relationship - Once systemic dysfunctions in the relationship have been identified, the group can then develop various possible scenarios for changing negative perceptions about the relationship or finding ways around tangible flaws in the relationship. Steps designed to accomplish these relationship-enhancing goals are often called confidence-building measures.

4) Transition - What action flows from this dialog - Once a nonofficial dialog has reached this point, the participants are faced with the question of what action, if any, they should take. When parties begin to discuss what further action they can take together, there is a transition to the next stage of dialog.

Stage Five - Acting Together

Groups who have developed scenarios for positive relationship change through this process of dialog are left with the following options: (1) limit themselves to sharing insights gained with their respective governments, (2) transform themselves into an action group committed to taking responsibility for initiating change, (3) limit themselves to the role of scenario-generating groups, but invite action groups to make use of their insights, or (4) enlarge their scope by inviting the participation of governments and/or conflict groups themselves in order to create opportunities for new partnerships between the public and governments.

Challenge & Recommendation

The authors identify a number of challenges with respect to the use of this model. They say that the most important challenge is to find ways of transferring this model to a range of different conflicts. The problem is that of introducing and utilizing this model as a way of helping groups change fundamental relationships in a way that goes much deeper than what is taught in most kinds of dispute resolution training. It is also critically important to understand how cultural factors will or will not allow for the acceptance, adaptation, and successful use of this model.

They believe that it is important for official and nonofficial groups to work in tandem in new kinds of partnerships. They say that as governments increasingly rely on nongovernmental groups to assist their work, that governments need to make funding available to such groups in order to enhance their effectiveness. They say that when conflicts are ripe for agreement, mediation and negotiation are essential tools for precipitating agreement. However, different tools may be needed at early stages of conflict or after violence has ended in order to bring about fundamental positive changes in relationships so that peace, understanding, and cooperation can be sustained. Public peace processes involving sustained dialog between citizen groups are becoming increasingly important tools for accomplishing this goal.