Multi-Track Diplomacy

John W. McDonald

September 2003

Additional insights into multi-track diplomacy are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

Multi-track diplomacy is a concept developed and put into practice by Louise Diamond and myself, co-founders of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy. The concept is an expansion of the original distinction made by Joseph Montville in 1982, between track one (official, governmental action) and track two (unofficial, nongovernmental action) approaches to conflict resolution.

After writing the first book on track-two diplomacy in 1985 while at the State Department, I expanded the two tracks to five tracks in 1989. These new tracks included government, conflict-resolution professionals, business, private citizens, and the media. In 1991, I worked with Louise Diamond to expand the five tracks into nine, and we coined the term, "multi-track diplomacy." We founded the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) in 1992.

The nine tracks are:

  1. government,
  2. professional conflict resolution,
  3. business,
  4. private citizens,
  5. research, training and education,
  6. activism,
  7. religious,
  8. funding, and
  9. public opinion/communication

The Nine Tracks of Multi-Track Diplomacy

Source: Diamond and McDonald, The Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD)

With this expanded model, we sought to redesign our original diagram. The new diagram eliminated the hierarchical approach to understanding conflict resolution, replacing it with a compass design. The compass diagram demonstrates the correlation of all tracks in an equal setting. Each of the tracks has its own "resources, values, and approaches"; however, the tracks, when functioning together, produce a synergy to approaching conflict. This compass approach is what Diamond has called a "systems approach to peace." No one track, by itself, can build a peace process that will last.

Application of the Systems Approach to Peace

In order to understand the systems approach to peace, one must understand the concepts of peace building and standard procedures. Within peace building, there exist three main categories of activities. These distinct approaches include:

  1. Political peace building, which is accomplished through track-one diplomacy and may consist of political rebuilding.
  2. Economic and institutional peace building, which is also a function of track-one diplomacy. It involves the rebuilding of infrastructure and international institutions.
  3. Social peace building, a component often unacknowledged by traditional peace building actors. Social peace building is approaching peace through a human element. This means dealing with the emotions of conflict and preparing a framework for de-escalation and violence prevention. This framework for prevention is established by supporting community leaders with skills and tools by which prevention of violence and prevention of escalation are possible. Social peace building also means working with the heart, which is fundamental to the work that we do at the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy.

"Standard procedure" concerns the manner or model that is exercised when approaching a particular conflict. Fundamental to IMTD's approach is that one model cannot be applied to every conflict situation. Each conflict remains individualized in its own right. However, there are certain "standard procedures" that we observe fairly consistently. (See Table 1):

Standards Description
Invitation Involvement only through invitation
Long-Term Commitment Personal, professional, and institutional commitment of five years
Relationship Build with track one, transparent
Trust No hidden agenda, continued involvement
Engagement Active and caring partners, leave out money and advertising
Partnership Consortium of conflict professionals, local partners, and women
Synthesis of Wisdom Importance of indigenous wisdom
Multiple Technologies Different methodologies, trainers
Action Research Continued evaluation and application of lessons learned
Responsibility Help participants utilize learned skills
Empowerment Goal of local empowerment
Transformation Evolution in approaching situation

Among our standard procedures are:

  1. We only engage in conflict situations if a party to the conflict invites us to help. We then evaluate the invitation and make a decision about whether to accept it or not.
  2. If we do accept the invitation, we will go to the conflict site and listen to all sides or parties to the conflict to determine, as much as possible, what is going on, and what the parties' needs are. We consider direct involvement a high priority and stress a long-term commitment. We generally commit ourselves for no fewer than five years, or as long as participants desire our involvement.
  3. We try to make clear from the onset that we are not a threat to track-one efforts, but rather desire a strong relationship with all people and institutions within the conflict setting, track-one included. We see ourselves as transparent; we are there to offer services, such as community leadership training.
  4. We build on this idea of relationship with a fundamental commitment to trust. We build up this trust by solely focusing on the idea of peace building.
  5. Our commitment to a situation is evidenced by our high level of engagement, whereby money from the participants and advertising are left out of the picture. We do not charge participants for our services, nor do we advertise our efforts to them or others.
  6. Partnership is vital to the advancement of peace building. This partnership should include local peace builders and conflict professionals, often emphasizing the inclusion of women in the peace building efforts.
  7. We stress the synthesis of wisdom. Although we bring knowledge with us to every site, we believe that Western approaches may not always be as effective as local means. It is crucial to share methods and formulate an approach appropriate for each particular situation. The result is often a blend of Western and indigenous approaches to conflict resolution and peace building.
  8. We try to adapt to the level of each situation by using multiple trainers, technologies, and methods. Our work is improved by learning from fieldwork and applying lessons to future situations.
  9. We also rely heavily on evaluations. We consider our efforts to be those of action research.
  10. When involved in a particular situation, we stress the importance of responsibility. We believe the intervener's responsibility is to provide the means to acquire and hone skills to deal with the conflict. Participants are then expected to take the responsibility to utilize the skills.
  11. By teaching the local community to use the skills and methods to approach conflict, our goal is empowerment of the people involved in the situation. Empowerment is a projected goal for all participants.
  12. Finally, transformation is key to Mitt's objectives. Here, transformation is the evolution of thoughts and mindsets toward a greater understanding and acceptance of others traditionally seen as "the enemy." Transformation is "the eventual ability to learn how to work and live together in the same community without violence, fear, and strife."

Use the following to cite this article:
McDonald, John W.. "Multi-Track Diplomacy." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

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