Informal Intermediaries

Heidi Burgess

July 2003

Who They Are

Informal intermediaries are people who are not professionally trained and are not acting officially as go-betweens, helping to cool down or resolve a conflict. Rather, they are people who somehow become caught in the middle or otherwise are concerned about the conflict, and act in an informal way to try to make things better.

For example, friends can act as informal intermediaries between other friends who are fighting or couples who are having marriage difficulties. Co-workers can do the same for conflicts around the office; and community members can call meetings between disputing neighbors over community issues.

Jannie Botes, of the University of Baltimore, talks about the important and often-ignored role of informal third parties in conflicts of all types, tractable and intractable.

Even at the international level, informal intermediaries have a major role to play. At that level, this activity is commonly called "citizen" or "track two" diplomacy. It consists of meetings, dialogues, and other joint activities between "regular" citizens who may just be trying to learn more about people on the other side (as might occur in a dialogue), or they might actually be trying to develop a new formula for resolving, or de-escalating the conflict that the official parties have been unable to achieve. The Dartmouth Conferences were an early example of dialogues that were held for years between Soviet and American citizens, long before detente became the official policy of the Soviet Union. [1] The 2003 "Geneva Accord" for the resolution of the Isareli-Palestinian conflict is another example of an effort by informal parties to resolve their vexing conflict. [2]

Most of William Ury's "third siders" are informal intermediaries. These people, described in his essay in this knowledge base, include:

While some of these roles (for example, mediators, arbitrators, and peacekeepers) are commonly played by official parties, all can be played by informal parties who take on that role on an unofficial basis. Essays describing some of these activities in more detail are provided both in Bill's essay on Third Siders in this knowledge base, at, and in his book The Third Side. [2]

[1] Gennady I. Chufrin & Harold H. Saunders, "A Public Peace Process," Negotiation Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3, April 1993, pp. 155-177. An online summary of this article, written by Tanya Glaser for the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, can be found at

[2] William Ury, The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop. New York: Penguin Books. 2000.

Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Informal Intermediaries." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 <>.

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