Urban Rural Action Frameworks

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Newsletter 87 — February 23, 2023


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From the BI/CRQ Hyper-Polarization Discussion

New Commentary!

CRQ Editor Helena Desivilya Syna has written a new commentary on CRQ as part of the joint BI/CRQ Hyper-Polarization Discussion. . We will be summarizing this in an upcoming newsletter, but it is already posted full text and is free to read at The Paradox of Tolerance? 'In Situ' Alerts from Israel on Hyper-polarization and Threatened Democracy

Urban Rural Action Frameworks

by Heidi Burgess

Guy and I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Joe Bubman, who is the founder and Executive Director of Urban Rural Action, a peacebuilding organization that "brings Americans together across divides to tackle our nation's most urgent challenges." I asked Joe if he'd like to write an article for our blog about their work, but he suggested we wait on that a bit because their most recent initiative working to prevent targeted violence is just now getting started.

I asked him, however, if I could write a post based on some of the slides in the presentation he gave and he said "yes, we aim to spread our tools and concepts as widely as possible, so you're very welcome to use them."  We appreciate Joe and UR Action's attitude about this. The peacebuilding field preaches collaboration to others, but doesn't always take that approach themselves. Bravo to Joe and UR Action for doing so! -- Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess


Joe Bubman: The ABCs for Constructive Dialogue

The ABCs for Constructive Dialogue

In his presentation, Joe started out with a slide comparing competition to collaboration.  This one was pretty familiar to anyone who works in the peacebuilding/conflict resolution area. But he then transitioned into a slide that showed the "ABCs for Constructive Dialogue."  While this, too, was familiar in content, I thought the presentation was particularly good, because it got the key ideas across very simply in a way pretty much anyone could understand and remember


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In order to engage in a constructive dialogue with someone who may (or most certainly does) disagree with you, UR Action suggests first you:

  • Ask to understand their perspective. By this Joe explained that they urge people to ask open-ended questions that give the listener a better sense of where the other person is coming from, rather than asking leading questions to trap or exploit them. He also suggests that listeners ask for specific examples to help them better understand what the other person thinks and why. 
  • Check your understanding of their perspective by reciting back to them what you understand about their view in a neutral way (basic active listening). This doesn't mean you need to express your agreement or disagreement with what they said—you just need to make sure you understand their views properly.  To do this, it helps to ask them to point out what you are missing or misinterpreting, and ask them to help you understand their view better.  Only once you are both sure that you understand the other person should you then...
  • Break down your own view so they understand your reasoning. As you do this, frame your ideas as an additional view which adds to the first speaker's narrative, rather than debating or negating it.  It helps to share the data on which you are basing your views along with an explanation of how you interpret the data, asking for their questions and reactions.

Now, of course, this is totally familiar to conflict resolution practitioners who know about "active" (or as we call it on BI "empathic") listening. What I liked about Joe's presentation is the simplicity of ABC memory aid (although, of course, it is really ACB).  But ABC is so easy to remember, and the explanations he gave were so easy for pretty much anyone to understand, that I thought it was worth sharing so others could consider using this approach in their trainings or dialogues. 


Problem Tree Analysis

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The other two slides that I really liked were his "Problem Tree" and "Problem Tree Mapping."  Guy and I have long taught what we call "graphical conflict mapping" to distinguish it from the prose-based mapping that our colleague Paul Wehr used to teach (and some faculty, I gather still use his approach). Guy and I prefer graphical conflict mapping (drawing pictures) because it is much easier to see how different conflict elements relate to and drive one and other, and it is easy to see the ubiquitous positive and negative feedback loops that Guy talked about in Newsletter 86 on "Massively Circular Hyper-Polarization." But the way we have taught it, the conflict maps get complicated very quickly—I am frequently warning my students about "spaghetti diagrams." This is useful if you want students (or disputants) to get a good, gut-level understanding of the complexity of a conflict—seeing that it is far more complex than the simple us-versus-them, good-guys-versus-bad-guys images that people often start out with.  But our maps and our students' maps quickly have so many elements and so many arrows going every which way that they look like a bowl of spaghetti and they are very hard to read or interpret. Joe's map is much simpler, and easier to understand.  And I appreciate that.


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His map is based on his "Problem Tree." The trunk is the problem, which he tells his audience needs to be defined in one core statement. The branches are the effects of the problem—why is it a concern?  And the roots are the causes of the problem.  For both the effects and the causes, he advises considering economic, political, social, and environmental causes and effects.  On his map, just like the tree, the effects go on top of the problem, and the causes go on the bottom. Clean and simple. Easy to draw. Easy to read.

Now I will admit—I would tend to take this process one step further by asking if any of the effects become causes?  Usually they do: people are hurt, they lash out, hurting someone else or making the initial problem worse, someone responds by lashing back—and off you go! An escalating positive feedback system!  So I do think it helps to go one step further than Joe did in his simple cause and effect map, but his is a great place to start.  Get people feeling comfortable with that—and then throw in the question about feedback loops and start exploring the implications of spaghetti. 

An advantage of keeping the map simple, though, is that it makes it easier to take his next step of "mapping assets and resources." This step is similar to an exercise I heard Peter Woodrow talk about years ago that he did when he was with CDA Associates.  He said that he had workshop participants list on post-it notes all the problems and issues that they saw that were driving the conflict that they were concerned about.  He then had them write on post-it notes all the interventions or actions that people in the workshop were doing (or knew others were doing) to address the problems.  Invariably, he reported, there were lots of post-it notes piled up on just a few aspects of the problem, while many of the other elements were being ignored.  Joe's process essentially is doing the same thing.  So it should work particularly well at illustrating what assets and resources are available to tackle which of the identified problems, AND what assets and resources are absent and need to be developed if a more holistic (dare we say "massively parallel") response is to be mounted.

There was more to his presentation, but we will stop here and eagerly await a further post from UR Action themselves, further describing their work.

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