The Trust Network: An Example of Massively Parallel Peacebuilding in Action

Hyperpolarization Graphic

Newsletter 81 — February 10, 2023


Newsletter News: We will be reducing the frequency of newsletters for the coming month, as we take some time off to go visit our children and grandchildren.  During this time we will, however, be able to post new submissions to the hyper-polarization discussion. So, if you have thoughts to add, please send them along and we can get them posted quickly. 



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From the BI/CRQ Hyper-Polarization Discussion

Along those lines, we'd like to share a comment we got from Caleb Christian about Carol Pauli's article we highlighted in Newsletter 80.  Caleb said "While I don't disagree with the quote from Harold Lasswell (in fact, the theological perspective that I operate from very much supports the dignity of each human being), I would argue that what it omits is the fundamental value of the dignity of the collective we, the community, and not just of the individual."

This is a great observation. In our individualistically-focused society, we often fail to recognize and celebrate the value of the communities to which we belong. -- Guy and Heidi Burgess




From Beyond Intractability's Co-Directors

Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess

February 10, 2023

After we wrote about Massively Parallel Peacebuilding, and developed the "Hyper-Polarization Matrix" (which we are now repurposing as the Constructive Confrontation Matrix), we started to look for examples of people and organizations that exhibited "good practices" in each of the cells of the matrix. (We prefer the term "good practices" to "best practices," because as peace scholar Kenneth Boulding used to say "the best is the enemy of the good," and there are often many good ways to deal with issues, some of which will work in one context, and while something else is better in a different context.) We were delighted to recently learn about the TRUST Network (TN), which is an existing organization that is actually carrying out a number of the ideas of MPP and illustrates excellently one way in which it can be done. 

The TRUST Network (TN) was founded in October 2020 as a collaborative effort of Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) (the organizational host) along with the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM), the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD), and 25-30 additional "stakeholders." Their purpose was and still is to address the growing rifts in the United States. TN seeks to "prevent violence, reduce division, strengthen democracy, and address legacies of injustice by establishing and enlarging a network of people and organizations doing peacebuilding, social justice, and democracy work." Put another way, they are a network trying to implement an idea very much like what we call Massively Parallel Peacebuilding, although they are doing more coordination of the participants' work (with monthly phone calls and other networking activities) than we had in mind when we laid out the MPP idea. But they are another in our string of "if it exists, it must be possible," examples.  

TN is bringing together democracy reformers (focusing on structural reforms), peacebuilders (including conflict analysts and bridge builders), lawyers, and social/racial justice organizations to develop a collaborative platform to help increase social cohesion and security in the United States.  When we talked with Prabha Sankaranarayan, CEO of MBBI, about TN, she observed that "peace" and "peacebuilding" are not words that resonate across communities—they are seen by some as too left-leaning and/or too soft and conciliatory.  So, while TN embraces peacebuilders and their work, they focus more directly on the goals of "cohesion and security," which are, indeed, goals of most peacebuilders, but are much more widely-held goals by others as well. 

In response to a shared concern about increased risks of violence, the Network first focused on developing an Early Warning, Early Response platform for tor the U.S., organized by civil society organizations. "This effort builds on the work of organizations doing media monitoring and mapping, and after two years, recognizes the need for this growing field to share knowledge, information and impact; to learn from each other and to build efficiencies and complementarities, and to hold ourselves accountable to developing sound practices."1

In December 2022, TN held a National Symposium on Social Cohesion and Security.  The Symposium had two sessions. First was a panel presentation from six data analysts from these different sectors who described their methods of addressing political violence, extremism, social cohesion, security and/or bystander intervention, what the data told them, and how the data was being used to assist response. The second session was more interactive, focusing on the application of the data presented in the morning, collaboration across sectors, building trust, and exploring expansion. A number of key ideas and recommendations emerged from these two sessions.  They included:

1. The Importance of Trust

Trust, they found, is an important element which impacts the acceptance or rejection of data and information, especially when it comes from outsiders.  "While critical thinking skills, data and research are all important to the work of building social cohesion, trust building is key and must be established intentionally and skillfully.Trust building, they agreed, was best done at the local level with efforts led by local organizations; national organizations should play only a supporting role. They also concluded that trust should be built by focusing on interpersonal civilian violence. There is a need to better understand how people across the political spectrum define violence prevention and security and work with them to attain those goals, as they define them.

2. Engaging Communities Better

More needs to be done, the Symposium participants concluded, to involve communities in violence prevention.  "The resounding first step is to know the audience and work with, and within, the community."  Transparency about research, data, and analysis is key to effective engagement, as are the tools of mediators and other conflict transformation professionals for engaging hard-to-reach communities. Recommendations included increasing the availability of training on violence interruption at the community level--in churches, law enforcement, and other civil society organizations, setting up fora for constructive dialogues and problem solving efforts around difficult or "taboo" topics, such as democracy reform or climate change.

3. Understanding the Impact of Cognitive and Political Bias and Practical Application of Research and Data

The participants in the Symposium noted a huge gap between intent and impact because data collection and analysis approaches are often not seen as open and valid to all community members, especially members of a different political orientation from the data analysts.  They concluded that focusing on common or shared challenges helps, as does integrating the data collection and analysis process into the "fabric of the community."

Transparency in the collection of data and inclusion of community members, with the interpretation of the data and implications on current and future efforts, are key strategies for ensuring the practical use of the data for violence prevention and social cohesion. ...People’s day to day lived experience and shared knowledge are critical for impactful, sustainable reduction in political violence and increase in social cohesion. Participants expressed caution about the ‘savior mentality’ and the value of working “with” the community, not working “to” do something for them. Also raised was the issue of community ownership of and engagement in generating, and using the data, all of which helps build credibility and acceptance of the data when there is shared ownership.4

The Symposium concluded with a discussion of next steps which included dissemination of the report, fundraising, and convening future meetings to further the cross-sector collaboration started here.

Resources on the TRUST Network Webpage

The TRUST Network has a substantial Resource Library. The library contains materials on:

These materials (both written and video) were either generated by or recommended by TRUST Network Partner organizations and members. Their goal is to be "trans-partisan," so these materials reflect a variety of views.  There's a lot of very useful stuff there, so we encourage our readers to check it out!



1 TRUST Network National Symposium on Social Cohesion and Security Report, p. 4.

TRUST Network National Symposium on Social Cohesion and Security Report, p. 8.

3TRUST Network National Symposium on Social Cohesion and Security Report, p. 9.

4TRUST Network National Symposium on Social Cohesion and Security Report, p. 10-11.