The Scale-Up Problem

Michelle Maiese

April 2005

What is the Scale-Up Problem?

Additional insights into the scale-up problem are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

  • How can the results of negotiation and consensus processes among a small group of people be transferred to their constituents or the community/society as a whole?
  • How can the transformative impact of dialogue processes be extended to the rest of the population?

The scale-up problem poses difficulties both for negotiated agreements and for conflict transformation. It is a problem about how to take the progress made among a small group of people sitting at a table and transfer it to the larger populace.

Most dialogue, negotiation, and consensus processes involve a relatively small number of people, who may be acting on behalf of a much larger constituency. As the small group works together over time, they often develop a level of understanding and trust that allows them to reframe the conflict in more productive ways. Their work together may also allow them to establish personal relationships that allows them to overcome feelings of prejudice, anger, and fear. They may also develop a deeper understanding of the other side's perceptions, interests, and underlying needs, which allows them to recognize the legitimacy of their opponent's position. This causes negotiators to make concessions that they would not have thought possible prior to conversing with the other side.

However, this development of trust and respect has not yet taken place among their constituents, who have not been involved in the small-group process. As a result, when the representatives come back to their constituents with a proposal that seems reasonable to them, the constituents may not approve or agree to the solution. This is because these parties don't have the understanding of the process or the substance of the ongoing discussions and have not experienced the transformative effects of deep communication.

In most instances of inter-organizational, inter-group, or international negotiations, the negotiators do not have final authority to accept an agreement, but instead negotiate on behalf of other people. Thus, any lack of support may lead to a last minute breakdown of negotiated settlements if the negotiators are unable to "scale up" the progress they have made to their constituents. In short, they will be unable to get the constituents to agree that the final settlement is a good one. Unless the wider population is persuaded, co-opted or coerced into supporting the settlement, they may actively undermine it. [1]

Causes of the Scale-Up Problem

One of the causes of this problem is inadequate communication with the constituent groups over the course of the small group process. Constituents are the people a decision maker or a negotiator represents. Union negotiators represent union members; local political officials represent the people of the city or town; and negotiators at an international negotiation represent the citizens of their country. In many instances, representatives do not provide their constituents with very much information about the negotiation process. As a result, constituents may be unable to understand why the agreement was designed as it was, why certain compromises were necessary, and why the settlement reached is the best one available. If the negotiators agree to a settlement that they have not communicated about with their constituencies, implementation of that settlement can be made much more difficult. The settlement may not be ratified (if ratification is called for), or extremists and spoilers may undertake actions to try to derail the agreement.

Complexity is another cause of the scale-up problem. Negotiation strategies that help small numbers of people find win-win solutions to small-scale problems are likely to be inadequate in situations involving large numbers of parties and issues. Public-policy conflicts, for example, may have hundreds or even thousands of actors taking an active role in the dispute process. These actors are likely to be organized into many different interest groups, creating multi-party conflicts that cannot be approached effectively simply by having two parties sit down at the negotiation table. What is needed is a way to scale up the conflict resolution process so that the interests being pursued by many different groups can be addressed.

Both of these problems have to do with the nature of intractable conflict and the fact that such conflicts often occur on a large scale and involve a multitude of different actors. It is difficult to get all of the different aspects of the peace process moving in the right direction. Thus, there is a sense in which the scale-up problem is a natural result of intractability, as well as a contributor to it.

Improving Scale-Up by Improving Constituent Communication

Many theorists point out that the chances of implementing a settlement are always improved if mediators are able to reach out to other involved parties who see themselves as having a stake in the outcome. [2] There are various strategies that can help to involve constituents in the process and give them a better understanding of the agreements and compromises made.

The best way to do this usually, is for negotiators to have frequent meetings with their constituents to bring them up to speed with the negotiation process. Although confidentiality agreements must be honored (and most mediations and consensus building ground rules call for confidential proceedings) to the extent they can, negotiators should explain what is going on, and listen to their constituencies' input about what needs to be accomplished. At the same time, constituents need to have an understanding about the compromises that are needed and how the negotiated agreement is superior to their expected alternative.

Talking to constituents also gives negotiators an opportunity to learn how the process is being received on the outside, so that they can figure out what needs to be done to improve the public attitude toward the peace process. However, the success of such efforts to get approval depends on there being a well-organized decision-making structure among constituents that negotiators can look to as they work toward solutions. Typically there is a diverse set of interest groups who would like to see negotiations proceed in a variety of different ways.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that peace accords will be more durable if they are viewed as a first step in a broader process of societal transformation. The local populace should be empowered so that elites are accountable to their constituents. Links between civil society and state institutions should be strengthened and new strategies to increase public participation should be fostered. For example, national dialogue processes might be organized to give people a chance to provide input about the peace process. Policy makers might help to establish media outlets that make it possible to debate issues and criticize the government. The key is to find ways to give the different constituency groups as much of a sense of control and involvement as possible.

Parties whom mediators and negotiators should reach out to include domestic interest groups, nongovernmental coalitions, Diaspora communities, and other mobilized domestic constituencies. [3] In order to generate the necessary resources for addressing society's needs and implementing settlements, interveners also will also have to reach out to allies in the donor community. All of these parties can play a crucial supporting role if they are involved in the peace process.

Gaining Public Support

However, it is important to note that addressing the scale-up problem goes beyond simply getting the populace to approve a settlement. It is also a matter of getting widespread, grassroots support for proposed solutions. If leaders move toward peace too quickly, before their constituents are ready to play a key role, peacebuilding efforts are likely to fail. [4]

Something beyond a negotiated settlement is typically required for the wider population to support the settlement that has been reached at the negotiation table. What is needed is a holistic approach that takes into account a variety of interests at multiple levels. Interveners need to devise social, economic, and political mechanisms that will nurture and sustain the settlement from below. If a peace process is to gain momentum, the local populace must believe that there are real, tangible gains that will result from it. [5] Otherwise, they may have an incentive to return to fighting and warfare.

Thus, in order to build support for a peace process within a society, negotiators need to help ensure that mechanisms are in place to address the needs of local communities. This includes making sure that needs for security are addressed; that local police and military commanders are upholding human rights; that measures are in place to prevent human rights violations; that steps are being taken to keep potential spoilers in check during the period of political transition; and that efforts are being made to strengthen rule of law and judicial systems and make them more transparent and more accountable. [6] Even rebuilt homes and roads can help to send a strong message that the war is over and that there are tangible benefits to peace. [7]

It is also important to build a culture of peace. Radio programming and other forms of mass media can play an important role in education about nonviolence and help to build support for peace and reconciliation. Local theater and street plays can help to demonstrate the harmful effects of violence and contribute to transformation. Likewise, peace committees involving traditional authorities, women's organizations, local institutions, and professional associations aid in generating support for peace processes. The development of a strong peace constituency thus makes the successful implementation of any settlement much more likely. [8]

Bottom-Up Approaches

Linked to the problem of involving constituency groups in the negotiation or peacemaking process is the importance of developing a peacebuilding process to re-establish normal relationships between different constituency groups which have been a odds with each other for a long period of time. In addition to keeping constituency groups informed about the reasons behind any peace negotiations, they must also be involved in their own peacebuilding process in order to move toward forgiveness and reconciliation. This is most important in communal or ethnic conflicts in which entire populations perceive the other group as "the enemy."

Remember that top-level approaches to peace building aim to achieve a negotiated settlement between the principal high-level leaders of the parties involved in conflict. Elite leaders are brought to the bargaining table to participate in high-level negotiations, which typically focus on reaching a ceasefire and ending hostilities. However, as already noted, reaching an accord is hardly sufficient to build peace. Scaling up the peace process to the broader population will require moving beyond top-level negotiations and adopting a more comprehensive framework that relies on multiple tiers of leadership and widespread participation throughout the affected population. [9] In other words, peace-building efforts among the elite must be accompanied by efforts of mid-level and grassroots leaders if the scale-up problem is to be addressed.

According to John Paul Ledearch (1997), middle-range leaders are the key to achieving and sustaining peace because they are often connected to extensive networks that not only cut across the lines of conflict, but also go up and down. They have connections to top-level elite negotiators, and to people at the grassroots. So they play a crucial role in establishing productive relationships both horizontally (from one side to the other) and vertically (from the leaders to the constituents and back). His integrated framework for peacebuilding suggests that establishing these vertical connections is crucial if populations hope to sustain a process of desired change.

Such observations point to a meta-conflict approach, which views the role of the conflict resolution expert partly in terms of facilitating dialogue with a wide range of actors so that all of their efforts can help to bring about a peaceful society. This approach suggests that working with high-level leaders will often be insufficient, and that these efforts need to be complemented by a wide variety of social and economic development processes.

This sort of integrated framework no doubt requires a great deal of intervention coordination. This is a matter of organizing a broad array of intervention activities among multiple actors to achieve maximum joint impact. In the present context, this means that once official mediators or negotiatiors have helped the parties to reach a formal agreement, they should then turn to non-governmental and civil society organizations to assist with grassroots implementation of the agreement. Alongside the top-down implementation of a peace agreement, there need to be bottom-up processes aimed at rebuilding and transforming society. [10] Grassroots process design and peacebuilding activities are an important part of building a stable peace.

One example of intervention coordination is when mediators or negotiators turn to non-governmental organizations to assist withgrassroots implementation of the agreement. The official mediators and the non-governmental organizations then coordinate with each other to orchestrate an effective hand off of some of the support appropriate for agreement implementation.

John Prendergast and Emily Plumb (2002) argue that civil society organizations can help to create or support these bottom-up processes and engender societal ownership of the peace agreement. By building intercommunal links, initiating dialogue, and engaging people traditionally left out of the peace process, civil society organizations (CSOs) can help to promote "societal buy-in" for peacebuilding. In fact, grassroots pressure to reach an agreement can sometimes even compel leaders to return to the negotiating table after having failed to reach a settlement. These theorists point out that civil society organizations played an important role in mobilizing support for peacebuilding in post-apartheid South Africa.

As a two counter examples, the lack of such efforts is leaving Tajikistan vulnerable to a failure of its unstable peace and a resumption of violence [11]. The same is true in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where the 2000 peace agreement is threatening to give way to renewed bloodshed because the Ethiopian populace rejects the agreement made by the negotiating team and nothing has been done to win their approval or to improve their everyday life after the end of the war. [12]


[1] Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall, Taming Intractable Conflicts: Mediation in the Hardest Cases, (Washington, D.C.: USIP Press, 2004), 178.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid., 181.


[5] Crocker, Hampson, and Aall, 181.

[6] ibid., 182.

[7] John Prendergast and Emily Plumb, "Building Local Capacity: From Implementation to Peacebuilding," in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, eds. Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth Cousens, (Boulder, CO: Lynn Rienner Publishers, 2002), 345.


[9] John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, (Washington, D.C.: USIP Press, 1997), 46.

[10] Prendergast and Plumb, 327.

[11] Zamira Yusufjonova, "Peacebuilding in Tajikistan." In Beyond Intractability: Cases and Stories.

[12] Sammy Mwiti, "Ethiopia-Eritrea Peace Process: Teetering on the Brink" in Beyond Intractability: Cases and Stories


Use the following to cite this article:
Maiese, Michelle. "The Scale-Up Problem." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: April 2005 <>.

Additional Resources