Interview Commissioner, International ADR, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Also a founder of ACRON (the Applied Conflict Resolution Organizations Network)
Topics: dialogue, ADR, mediation
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
- Alliance for International Conflict Resolution
- Working in Indonesia
- A Story from Indonesia
- Opportunity for Deeper Dialogue
- Teaching in South Africa
- Ideal Traits
- Challenges of Funding
- Local Partners
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: Andrea Strimling, can you give me a brief overview of your work?
A: Sure, well I work for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which is a federal agency, a very small and unusual federal agency, that traditionally has specialized in mediating domestic labor management disputes, and we have been doing that work for over fifty years. But as you may imagine, over the course of our evolution, Congress and other federal agencies began to recognize that there was value in the mediation services that we provide beyond the labor arena and so we began to get involved in other work. Do you want any of the background on the evolution of that work Julian or do you want me to just jump into the present?
Q: Towards how you got to be where you are in your corner of the organization?
Q: Yes, if it's brief.
A: Brief? OK, so basically what happened is in the 1970's we received a request, I believe from Congress to help to facilitate on negotiations involving the Hopi and Navajo on a major land dispute and that was very successful. Over time this other work increased and we began to receive a variety of requests to help other federal agencies to deal constructively both with the internal agency conflict and with conflicts involving the private sector, civil society. And so in the eighties and nineties, our what we call domestic ADR work, increased very dramatically and the passage of the administrative dispute resolution acts also increased this process. So we've worked a lot with federal agencies consulting on ADR systems, training their mediators, working with them in a number of ways to help them deal with conflict. Back in the eighties we began to build an international program in response to increasing requests to provide training and consultation overseas related to industrial relations. So we offered a lot of programs over seas, training labor mediators, working with other countries to build institutions and now I guess to FMCS, but appropriate for those cultures and their legal systems. Then in the mid-nineties there was some interest in expanding our international program to offer services even beyond industrial relations and that is the work that I have focused on.
I came to the agency in 96, seven years ago as a labor commissioner and I mediated labor disputes for two years. I did a lot of joint training for labor and management, to build constructive working relationships, to help them learn how to resolve their problems without mediation, this kind of thing. After two years, I was asked to move over with Pete Swanson and help to lead the effort to expand our international program. And so, I spent about three years trotting all over the globe doing training and consultation related to all aspects of conflict resolution. It was a very, very wide ranging mandate we were given. So I was doing a lot of training, a lot of consultation with senior government leaders, but also with NGOs. I was doing a lot of what I would almost call community organizing or network development, helping NGOs and government communicate and work more effectively together.
I was also doing an increasing amount of work in partnership with NGOs and Universities. This is one of the things that I am most excited about here is that we have really pushed the boundaries in terms public/private partnership to do this work. We bring certain expertise, but there are limits. There are very clear, substantive limits in terms of our knowledge of certain regions, our language knowledge, and etcetera. So we have been cooperating pretty actively with other providers, including many you'd be aware of. My international work included both industrial relations and broader sort of, community and societal conflict issues. Then the background, I guess three years ago I began to get very concerned about issues of impact, really questioning whether this flurry of activity was yielding the results that we care about as a field.
About, three years ago I began to really question whether we really having the impacts overseas that we both claim as a field and that we claim as an agency and that are the purpose of investing all these resources, and I really questioned our approach in particular. It wasn't specific to this agency. It was the fly in fly out approach, as well as some of the strategy behind some of the training that we were doing. So I pulled back and I decided that my intuition was that there were enormous missed opportunities for impact because so many organizations on the ground in these conflict situations are not in communication with one another let alone cooperating, and that we were missing major opportunities for synergy. And so I decided to sort of retrench and step back and really focus what I would call in some respects, systems designed for the field or how we work as a field. In other words, what the assumptions are that underlie our work and how we can increase the collective, the combined effect in ??? in list our projects and our interventions. One of the efforts that I am most excited about of course is the Alliance for International Conflict Resolution.
I became involved with what was then called ACRON Applied Conflict Resolution Organizations Network, and has since become the Alliance for International Conflict Resolution. (AICR) So I've been working very actively with a team of people on this project for several years. I've also been doing some work with an effort called the Intra-field Roundtable, to try to convene representatives of different fields to promote effective cooperation and coordination across disciplinary lines. I'm also doing a bit of work related to impact evaluation. So we've been referring to my work recently as sort of R&D for the agency. And actually next year things have changed a little bit; I'm going back into program work. So that's the overview. That's sort of to situate you where I am.
Q: Sure, so you said you pulled back and you wanted to review how effective things were?
Q: What you found was that more coordination was needed. It doesn't sound like you had focused too much on changing the actual approach or technique other than to maybe facilitate communication between people on the ground.
A: Well, I didn't actually have an opportunity to do any rigorous evaluation. I did a little bit of research in South Africa for a few months, but it was very limited trying to get at sort of, edge-up to impacts and test out some methodology, which was very promising, but I don't have real results. But my intuition, as I said, which coincides with the interests of many, many other thoughtful people in this field was that we were missing major opportunities to really do good in the world because we are not working together. And so I've been focusing a lot of my effort on creating what I would call the infrastructure, to support the relationships that can yield effective cooperation on the ground. So the Alliance for International Conflict Resolution is that kind of infrastructure, it's a network of organizations that have to a very large extent, conceived of themselves as competitors for many, many years.
Yet they are headed by colleagues and even in many cases friends. So its this interesting mix of competition and cooperation, but the truth is that all of us are struggling, or many of us are struggling with the same sets of organizational challenges, as well as the same sets of challenges on the ground. I would say that we all have complimentary approaches to the purpose of this network and that is to facilitate the development of not just individual, but institutional relationships of trust and mutual understanding. Including to actively promote and support, including providing financial support, initiatives on the ground that test various models of collaboration, study them, learn from them and feed them back into the field.
The network actually has three standing committees. We have a collaboration committee that is specifically charged with developing mechanisms for on the ground collaboration among ??? but also more broadly with other institutions, organizations, and networks around the world. We have an education outreach committee, which is intended, which is focusing on building awareness of and support for the field in key constituencies that we haven't tapped adequately. We are building support on Capitol Hill, building support and appreciation for "Track II Diplomacy" within the state department, within sort of old school Track I circles or even not old school, its just within first track diplomatic circles. We are also building support within the defense department and building new bridges between our field and the security community. The bridges really haven't been built yet, but we are reaching out to non-traditional funders of the field, like the corporate community and engaging them not just their dollars but actually as partners and looking at approaches to building sustainable peace around the world. So this is education and outreach. And the third committee is Theory Practice, and its bringing scholars and practitioners together to try to bridge that divide.
Q: Great, so those three committees sort of address most of the problems that people talk about in these interviews?
A: Hopefully, I mean they're, they emerged naturally as a reflection of the interests of the members, so that's not surprising. Many of the members are people who you're interviewing.
Q: ??? I know for a fact. Let me ask a quick question just for personal interest and then we can move on. Is Ahad Dejee a part of that?
Q: Yea? I was talking to Zartman, and he talked a lot about the need to build bridges between the realists and the peace studies folks, because.
A: Well that implies that peace studies folks aren't realists so I will have to talk to him about that, unless it is highly confidential that he told you that.
Q: Oh no, no, no that is part of his spiel.
A: There is a need to bridge the peace studies -conflict resolution divide and also non-violence and conflict resolution have been really divided. There are real opportunities for bridging that. Our Theory Practice Committee is more focused on the sort of scholar-practitioner, or theory practice connections, making sure that theory building reflects both what actually has happened in applied conflict resolution, but also the needs on the ground and that practitioners can really draw on useful theory in their work.
Q: I was thinking more in terms of building bridges with the Pentagon and with the state department, sort of hard-line theorists.
A: Oh, yeah, Absolutely, yeah and I think that actually to a large extent people in our field are. What did I use to call us? Realistic optimists or something like that. When I teach people about mediation I tell them you know you need to be both realistic and idealistic at the same time, so it's interesting.
Q: OK, what experience in your work has especially touched and inspired you?
A: Lets see, ???
Q: You told me when I was in Colorado that ???
A: There were several stories from Indonesia, Chile and there's one from South Africa, the stories from Indonesia are real quick so I tell you ???, One was when I was working in Indonesia helping senior governmental and non governmental leaders to build local capacity to prevent and resolve the violence that was sweeping the country along ethnic and religious lines. I was traveling with a man who is the former minister of environment. He's a Berkeley trained economist, very, very smart man, extremely well respected around the country and he had become a sponge for these ideas. So everything we brought, you know, he would be quoting the next day all of the literature from the field just sort of internalizing it and then feeding it back in his speeches. It was an incredible opportunity to really feel like there was a vehicle for bringing some of these ideas into high-level discussions and also for having them sort of adapted appropriately.
We were in a remote village actually on one of the outer islands and it was a place he was known very well. The community assembled the religious leaders from all of the five official religions for this evening meeting with him. I was sitting by he side sort of, as he needed it, consulting with him in the background. He was dealing with this group whose community had not yet been touched by the violence between religious groups, but it was very concerned that it could be. This was intended as sort of a preventive meeting. And interestingly enough these religious leaders get together once every two months or so, or maybe even once every month to share ideas and information.
??? And they discuss the relationships among the religions. So he asked them how things are between their religious groups in this particular community for about an hour and they kept saying "Oh, it's very good, we really respect one another, we really like one another", and all of that, This went on and he kept asking in different ways, pushing a little bit around the edges and finally about twenty minutes before the program was set to conclude after lots and lots of dialogue about how wonderful everything was, one of them said "Well actually there was a small problem", and this was, I believe it was a Muslim leader. And he said "The Christians have been coming into the traditionally Muslim villages and they've been trying to convert our youth and they've been distributing copies of the Bible in the local language, I mean not the Indonesian language but the local, local language and this has made us very, very upset because of course were concerned about losing our, you know, our followers."
And so, after a little bit more discussion everyone nodded and said this was really serious. The man who I was traveling with and working with on this project, asked me, "What do I do now?" and I said, "Ask them what they did in response." So he said, "What did you do in response," and they said without even thinking twice, without even questioning for one moment the validity of this response, they said, "Well, we called the military." In that moment I realized that this country has been dealing with imposed power for so many decades that there simply is not even the thought of, let alone the capacity to engage in meaningful dialogue around these issues, even though they have this forum that is intended to promote dialogue across these lines. And even though they have these relationships, ongoing relationships among religious leaders the default response was to ask for military assistance in this situation.
What was really telling was the man who I was working with did not even question that answer. It was just an indication of how incredibly valuable and inspiring some of these ideas can be. So we used that to talk with them a little bit about opportunities for dialogue, but unfortunately the project didn't continue, so there wasn't. I wasn't involved further with this group. So that was one, it was just a really telling experience that completely affirmed for me the importance of the basic approaches involving dialogue across differences, that is sort of fundamental to our work. Whether or not the specific techniques are applicable in a certain context, the basic, and the fundamental intention is very valid.
Q: Which can probably be looked over fairly easily since we talk about it so much it's almost an assumption that doesn't get questioned. So in a context like that it just comes flying back at you.
A: Yeah, it was just an incredible experience.
A: So that was inspiring in a strange way. It wasn't inspiring because it was such a positive story. It was inspiring because sometimes its easy to question, you know, how helpful some of these approaches can be and that was such evidence of the importance of these kinds of programs, to me. How one uses those opportunities is still, you know, there's still a lot to discuss there. So that's one story there.
Q: That makes me think of post-war Iraq when you say ??? and the years and years of dictatorship and what's going to happen now.
A: Yeah, exactly.
Q: What sort of assumptions people are making about how things should be resolved.
A: So, ok, another inspiring story?
Q: That's a great one, sure.
A: We were also in Indonesia working in West Kalimantan ??? where there had been enormous violence. Including sort of a reversion to traditional approaches or old approaches to warfare. And there were just gruesome, gruesome stories and photos in the papers. Including a beheading, people carrying heads around. I remember going in and sitting with some of the warriors actually, who had been involved in this fighting, very recently and talking with them about what the opportunities might be to contain the violence. What was pointed out and somebody in the process of one of these meetings pulled out a photo and showed me a photo of a human head. The picture was of somebody holding a human head, that had just been freshly cut off the body and talking about how heavy it was with such detachment.
We sort of backed up and talked with them about what approaches had been used to contain the violence in the past because this had been going on for more than a decade, and it turned out that there had been over a dozen negotiated peace settlements made between the leadership of these communities and one after another they fell apart. This is over about the same number of years, probably averaging more than one a year or something like that. And they just kept falling a part because at the grassroots there was no support. So that was another. It wasn't a happy story, but it was a story that really completely affirmed for me the importance of working at the grassroots level to really build the foundations for lasting peace, and recognize the importance of negotiating settlements, but also understanding and appreciating their very significant limitations. So, that's another story.
Q: Where is the inspiration in that one?
A: Well the inspiration again is, sometimes for me, I see the enormity of these challenges and I question how much we as outsiders have to bring in to these situations. When I see a situation like this where they're getting negotiated settlement after negotiated settlement and they're simply not able to have it hold because there hasn't been the relationship building at the grassroots level due to some of the structural inequities that are still in place, which therefore are fueling the conflict and because there's just underlying causes that have to be addressed, it's, it actually is inspiring for me because it is very affirming of the basic approaches that we take to this work.
It also emphasizes the importance of building, of helping local people to build the capacity to work at these levels when it isn't already happening. And in this situation it wasn't happening, you know it's a vast country and there a lot of incredibly talented people doing activist work and doing grassroots work, but this hadn't been touched. So for me it was inspiring because it was affirming of this, the real opportunity to offer something useful. I mean the part of this that has not been inspiring is that we had been working with Indonesian partners on a project that had so much promise and are US aide funding was interrupted, after we had built a lot of support and laid a lot of ground work. That is the uninspiring part of it. Both of these experiences to me, I draw on them when I think about how valuable this work can be, and also the legitimacy of having outsiders come and do it if it isn't happening locally.
Q: So, sort of validating the, maybe not the parachute model exactly, but ???
A: Not the parachute model at all, but the need for local capacity to do this work. If it isn't being built already, then it really validates the importance of outside funding and also outside partners to help to identify these opportunities and to capitalize on them.
Q: So the inspiration that if I understand you correctly was that what you saw as missing from those negotiated settlements was exactly what you're bringing to the table.
A: Not I per say, but I think what the field offers. And of course the field also works at the higher levels in terms of negotiated settlement, but as a field we also emphasize the importance of the grassroots and mid-level foundations to support negotiated settlements. So, I've given you two, I mean, I also have two very happy, you know very positive stories to share with you, but it's interesting that these are the two that really come to mind.
Q: Yeah, it's great in terms of highlighting the cap that were supposedly filling or that people in the field are seeking to fill anyway.
A: I think it's more; it talks to the promise of the work. But what it doesn't talk to is the impact of the work. So maybe I can touch on those separately. It definitely affirms why this work is important and what the opportunities are and whether we achieve those results is the next question.
Q: Do you have thoughts on that?
A: Well the two other stories I have share with you, it's very interesting to me actually just reflecting on why these, why I am choosing these stories right now because they are not necessarily exactly the set that I had in mind when we were speaking. The next one that comes to mind is a training that I did with the US Special Forces at Fort Brag that was one of the most interested training programs that I ever put on. And I did this in cooperation with Pete Swanson from FMCS, with Louis Rasmussen who was then at US Institute of Peace, and a man who was with the FBI, who specialized in hostage negotiation. We did two days of training for US Special Forces. You know, all men and most of them from US Special Forces, but they also had about, I would guess a dozen visitors from around the world who represented foreign militaries and they were there learning and studying with them. All of them were incredibly bright, incredibly talented, incredibly type A, you know just soaking up all the information that they could get.
We decided to set aside any value judgments about war and peace because we felt that wasn't our place. However, we really did focus on giving them additional, as we put it, tools for their tool kit, alternatives to drawing their weapon, especially if they are in another country and there is some kind of dispute that emerges between warring factions or between people of the same community. Focusing on how they might handle it without having to rely on force. So we gave them several days of training and at the end two or three of these men came up to me and asked, "How do we get into your field?" Now, I don't actually believe or think that they were going to give up their career in the military, but it wasn't totally a joke either. There was some degree of seriousness. There was something that had really pulled them from this work, and to me that was so incredibly inspiring. But it was also that the whole experience highlighted for me what I think the limitations of this work are in this kind of setting because this was a two-day program in the midst of years of training on how to kill and in the heat of the moment.
Realistically, if emotions are really surging and there's real stakes involved maybe the best and the most able would be able to draw on some of these techniques, but it would be a stretch. Part of what this really highlighted for me was the fact that it takes a while to really internalize and be able to draw on these skills. I would love to do a follow up evaluation and find out to what extent, if any, they actually have used these when it really comes down to it on the ground. This experience also forced me to look at some of the emotional aspects of conflict and conflict resolution work. I think so often in our work we focus on the analysis and we focus on the linear processes for resolution and this isn't across the board. I mean there are people who focus explicitly on the emotional and psychological aspects of conflict and I think their work is important, but in a lot of this training we assume that people will be able to draw on these skills in a heated moment.
When you look at the Special Forces for example and you think about the stakes that are involved and what might be going on in the moment for them internally, it really caused me to wonder. Even these men who were totally captivated by these ideas, who asked about getting into the field, whether they would have the presence of mind, enough knowledge, enough skill to really draw on that. So again I sort of emphasize the emotional or psychological dimensions of the work, but also the importance of follow-up and evaluation. That was a very, very, just incredibly inspiring experience for me because of how receptive they were and also because of the limitations I saw inherent in this program and a very thought, a sort of inspiring in terms of thinking about this work as well.
Q: So the two examples that you have given that have been sort of frightening have been positively inspiring ??? and the example that you pose as sort of a positive frame and you wanted to learn more, it was the limitations of the field??.
A: Well now I have got a really positive one, that doesn't have anything to do with limitations.
A: But they are positive within an interesting context. I think part of that is I am really excited about these connections too. The connections that exemplify the usefulness of this field to people who have not decided to become full time conflict resolution professionals or peace builders. I am really excited about the possibilities of sort of infiltrating the security community, but I say that sort of tongue in cheek. Bringing these skills and these approaches into the security community from a standpoint of mutual learning. Bringing some humility because there is a lot that we have to offer but there is also a lot that we do not understand about the realities that they face. I'm very excited about the possibilities for meaningful dialogue in cooperation between the conflict resolution and security fields. I think that's part of what's inspiring for me to pull out these stories out of the story hat.
The really glowingly positive story is from South Africa and that is the picture of the students that I taught in South Africa. I was there on a three and half month Full-Bright senior fellowship and it was a joint teaching research position at a University called ???, which is an old world, formerly Afrikaner University that has since diversified. However the administration and the senior faculty are still very much from that old world. Yet they have a very racially diverse student body. I was teaching this class of absolutely wonderful, wonderful students and this is just such a long story so I really have to think about what aspects of it to really emphasize for you.
These students had never had structured opportunities; in fact they never had opportunities to really talk across the black white divide about apartheid and their experiences. Now they were about eighteen or nineteen when I was teaching them, so they had been young adolescents when apartheid ended. They had therefore lived through apartheid and lived into the new democracy. And they were so good hearted and they really were eager to learn about international conflict resolution and peace building. I told them that we couldn't engage in this learning process without looking at their experiences and they were incredibly frightened because they had really never talked about racism or apartheid with members outside their racial groups. So, it was a very slow process of trying to create situations in which they could feel comfortable to have these discussions.
Over the course of the semester they managed to, very, very cautiously and I had to be very, very careful, but they built this incredible group, sort of a spirit. They really came together as a group and for the last class I decided that I wanted to give them an opportunity to express artistically what they had learned and what it meant for them and also to really kind of affirm this. To celebrate as a group what they had done together. The assignment was to find some creative means whether it was writing a story, or writing a poem, or a song, or painting a picture, or creating a collage. Something artistic to express what they had learned during the course about the material or about themselves or about their classmates and how they would use it or incorporate it into their life in the future. Then my husband and I invited them to come to our tiny campus apartment for a big feast. He cooked a traditional Himalayan feast for them and we had a class and then we had this feast. And so, for the class they were to bring their creative projects, and come prepared to share them. So everybody arrived and we sat in this tiny living room, with everybody just sort of scrunched together in a circle.
I had invited one other person, this was a young man, who was about, I don't, nineteen or twenty, who had been taken in by this program to identify promising artists in the community and get them off the street and give them a means of using their art to create a living for them and their families. He was this remarkable musician, he is this remarkable musician and had started studying, I don't know if he calls it, I guess he called it music therapy, using music and especially percussion, but all music to, for healing purposes and he was studying this. So I had met him in the course of my research, and I invited him to come and to lead us in this process.
What he did was he brought all of these instruments and he handed them out to the group and he opened by, and he had never had an opportunity like this, to lead anything I mean it was you know, it was quite, it was placing a lot of trust in him. It was very important for him to, but I just had this feeling that he would connect so strongly with the students and what they had done. So he brought all these instruments and I opened by framing it a little bit and introducing him, but then I handed this process over to him and he opened with a piece he had written about healing on the finger harp to set the stage. Then he took out a drum and he created a drumbeat and he asked people to sort of, to use their instruments with ??? to support what he was doing. Then he asked, he kept playing this drum and asked each person to either read their poem or introduce what they had done and he was going to back them up very quietly in the background with rhythm.
So people just, I don't think we went in order, just as people were ready to share they did, and all the, meanwhile, in the background he's playing the drum to the rhythm of their voice and the story that their sharing or whatever their sharing. It meant that sort of each of these individual works of art became a collective work of art because he was creating a theme that brought it all together. And I will never forget. You could even see it in this photo, the students' eyes and faces were so lit up with joy as they shared what they had done. It was nothing to do with the material that I was teaching; it was what they had done. One of my students who could barely write, he couldn't write a grammatically correct sentence, he was difficult to understand in class, I considered him just incredibly inarticulate and it wasn't that English was he's second language, it was just how he used language. He read the most beautiful poem and spoke afterwards about it with such eloquence. I mean I have never heard anything like it. So these students, it was like they just came to life and they were at their best. You know their most intelligent, their most articulate, their most creative, their most caring and their most loving. That is an experience that I will hold with me for the rest of my life. I will just never forget that evening with them, it was just beautiful. That's the purely, purely inspiring story.
Q: Yeah, that's beautiful. Thank-you.
Q: What qualities that people who do this kind of work generally need to have? How we doing on time by the way?
A: Well, were okay because I think we started at quarter past, can we finish up in about fifteen, twenty minutes?
Q: I think so.
A: Ok, what individual qualities do I think would be what?
Q: Most Useful.
A: In ???
Q: Accomplishing the goals of this kind of work?
A: Well, I actually think, getting back to our earlier discussion that it's probably realistic-optimism or grounded idealism, something like that. I mean I think that one of the real values or sources of value that we bring to this work, which is often understated, is idealism. I actually think there is an incredible value of bringing grounded hope. Not naive hope, but grounded hope to situations of protracted conflict. You can see the change in individuals and groups when you have confidence that their current horrible situation can change, that they have the capabilities to change their situation for the better and you have stories and examples to back that up, so its really grounded. So, I think that's one quality. But there is also the related quality of rigor. We in this field are more effected to the extent that our work is grounded, that it's strategic and it's based on careful analysis and in-depth understanding of knowledge of the situations in the regions in which were working. Careful strategic planning, you know, implementation that is informed by other experiences and careful follow up. Sometimes we do better than the other times, its not just idealism obviously; it really has to be backed up.
Q: You are the first person to have said that.
A: And let me add another word that isn't used very often, discipline. I don't mean disciplining children. I mean discipline that you know, this work really requires disciplined analysis, disciplined design, disciplined involvement, disciplined follow-up, to be at it's most effective. It's a very interesting combination and I think the people that are the most successful and the organizations that are most effective are those that combine these two aspects.
Q: Are there techniques that you have found useful in accomplishing the goals of your work?
Q: Any ???
A: I come back to this networking idea, Elise Boulding, whom you've spoken with and who has inspired many of us in this work, and not just those of us in the States, but people all over the world, once told me that networking is a form of peace-building. That has stayed with me and I actually believe that networking is not just an aspect of our work; it is a key strategy for our work. I am increasingly thinking, especially in parts of the world that are dealing with, either on-going violent conflict or the consequences of long term violence, that one of the most significant services we can offer, or types of assistance that we can offer is helping to build effective networks of individuals and organizations. This includes within civil society, within government, and also crosscutting across public private divides. But are you thinking about individual techniques?
Q: I mean it's a pretty open question; whatever you think is most useful.
A: One technique or approach that I think is very promising, which I have had very limited opportunities to use, but increasingly people are talking about and writing about, is joint analysis. I think the promise of this involves getting people who have a stake in a peace-building process together, and this might include interveners, such as the state department, the defense department, US Aide, etcetera, NGO's. It also must include people from the communities that are dealing with this conflict and actually engaging in joint analysis of both the goals and objectives for a peace-building process. The resources that can be drawn on in achieving those goals and the challenges or obstacles that are being faced or will be faced or have been faced in the past and then engaging in sort of a joint strategic planning process around this.
I am increasingly focused on the need for strategic planning. I don't mean outsiders doing the strategic planning for insiders, but I mean some outsiders perhaps if necessary and if useful, helping to convene the appropriate parties and helping to facilitate, or to raise the useful questions and to facilitate a strategic analysis and a strategic planning process. I think far too often in our field there's sort of an ad hocness to it, we see an opportunity, we have a certain style, a certain set of methodologies, a certain set of tools, some have many, many, many tools, but it's still a tool box, and often rather than looking very rigorously, and analytically at the situation, at the goals and objectives, at the resources, and at the challenges and then jointly planning a strategy that involves different insider and outsider interveners and looking at complementarities and engaging jointly in that, that we just fall back on our normal ways of operating. We sort of do really good work but in isolation from one another. This is something that really has to be tested. This isn't something that there's a lot of data to support. I think it's a technique that's really worth investing in.
Q: Okay, what are the most common obstacles that you find to the success of your work?
A: This won't be a surprise that one of the real serious obstacles is funding. Not just the lack of funding, but the nature of funding, the requirements of getting funding and sustaining funding. I have actually at this point advised two funding organizations on how to allocate resources and it just reinforced, the way it's structured, just reinforces the ad hocness of the field. Here's a good project, this looks promising, good people, let's invest in this, here's another good project somewhere else, this looks promising, let's invest in this; without creating mechanisms to ensure that these things feed into one another. I think that one next stage in the evolution of this field is actually for funders to get together and figure out how they can promote and support synergistic positive impacts and promote and support serious rigorous evaluation. The funders generally do not fund long-term follow-up and evaluation that is focused on learning. They fund some degree of evaluation and that needs to be used by the grantees to get to secure more funds. It seriously distorts or undermines the learning possibilities of evaluation. I think one of the most common obstacles is how funding is structured right now.
It is very often the case that wonderful projects get started, energy and momentum get built, expectations get raised, the project is very, very promising, the need is clearly established, and then the funder pulls out the funding. This happened to us in Indonesia with the US Aide mission. It was because there was a conflict within the US Aide mission between two of their different offices and we fell between the cracks and our project was you know, lost as one of the consequences of this conflict. This is one story among thousands of stories of really promising projects that have not yet been completed and the funding is withdrawn. I can't think of a more significant obstacle actually, and it's something that funders have to really get serious about addressing. I think one way that we, in the field, people that are not funders, can help to do this, is by creating opportunities for funders to get together and talk with us in settings that are not about fundraising. Actually the Alliance for International Conflict Resolution intends to do this exact kind of thing. Another obstacle is in the way the field itself is structured that works against cooperation.
Q: By that you mean competition for funding?
A: Part of it is competition for funding. So there's the financial structure from the field. (Here's another idea that relates to the structure in a sense. We have never articulated as a field, norms that we will adhere to, related to how we interface with one another. To some extent there are some practices that are acceptable because of the micro-level, in terms of individual projects, we may be having a very good impact. But we haven't clearly established or articulated a shared norm of insuring that the positive impact of individual projects yields synergistic, positive impacts across organizations and projects. There are other structural things that could be changed.
A: Yeah. I sort of see our field as poised to jump to the next level of effectiveness and some of these issues of cooperation related to funding, related to norms, related to organizational cooperation, joint analysis, impact evaluation, I see as very important in this jump.
Q: We've talked about quite a few, are there any other important lessons that you think that I should ??? that other people should hear about?
A: Yes, of course. One of the greatest gifts of being in this work, or I mean I feel just so incredibly fortunate to do this work. Maybe this is a little anecdote that gets at the lessons, but very abstractly. One of my colleagues who is here at FMCS, who does our computer systems, came down to help me with my computer. I was back from weeks and weeks of being on the road and I was leaving on another, you know, endless journey, and totally exhausted, I was completely and totally exhausted. Just like so many people in this field are sometimes, and he said " Why on Earth would you volunteer to do this work, to go to places that are somewhat dangerous, often dangerous, or insecure, where there is such suffering, the strain of the travel, being away from your family for such long stretches of time," and what I said because I was just coming off of a very intensive training program in Indonesia was "Because it is simultaneously an opportunity to share so much, you know that I think is important and to learn so much and I am so enriched by this process that I feel that there are real things that I and the colleagues that I work with in this institution can bring that are helpful and important, but simultaneously every single hour of these projects I am learning so much and it 's an accelerated learning project, a process and it's more than I would get just staying here." So that's sort of the learning. It's hard for me to actually distill out any more lessons than the ones, just on the spot right now, I am sure they will come to me, it's just, there's just, there are so many it's sort of endless, you know.
Q: It's fine. Right.
A: Oh, wait, no, I do have one! This has to do with working with local partners and sensitivity to relationship and dynamics. Again drawing on Indonesia because that's where I spent the most time, and had very intensive partnerships with local people, local colleagues. We made two mistakes, one bigger than the other. One was as simple as the following. We were in a meeting and we had some information that we had to share with one of our Indonesian colleagues and we passed her very visibly a note to share this information. She was sitting at the head of the table and we just wrote a little note, "Oh, I think it would be important to ask this question," or "Oh, I hope we can get this information," because we were partners in this process, and that kind of request or input was completely appropriate. We knew her very well at this point, and it's the kind of thing that we would do in the states without thinking. And afterwards she came up to us, and incredibly graciously, because she's worked and studied in the west, she understands, she said," Please be careful never to do that again because to all of the Indonesians in the room it looked as if the U.S. partners were giving us our instructions, our marching orders, it just looked really bad and undermined their credibility." So that was one lesson and thank goodness we had such an open and good relationship with her and she was willing to bring that up or we would never have known.
Another, which was a little bit more serious for us, but I think it's okay, it's smoothed over at this point. It was another woman, an Indonesian woman, with whom we had been working, who had been trained in conflict resolution in the States but didn't have nearly as much applied experiences as the Americans partners. We all, the Indonesians and Americans, agreed that we would jointly put on a training for about fifty representatives of NGO's and government from all over the country. Our working assumption was that we would probably have to do the bulk of the training because we had much more experience. We didn't check out this assumption. Consequently, this woman, who is a highly recognized activist and highly recognized scholar, you know, speaks, is well known because of the media coverage of her across the country, felt that she was put in a subservient position. We had no anticipation of this. We thought we working on the same base of assumptions and she was terribly offended. So there have been a number of really important lessons about working with partners and being sensitive and making sure we check out our assumptions that we have to be very careful about, especially as outsiders. And happily, just one concluding thought. These are people whom I respect enormously and one of the things I respect about them is the fact that over time we've been able to sort these things out, but they're good lessons.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is starting to do this kind of work?
A: I think a few things. One is getting back to this point about networks. I think building really strong networks of people doing related work is absolutely critical. So when people come and ask for advice about getting into the field, I say, you know, talk with everyone you can, learn what's going on, build these relationships because you can come back to them later. When I was getting in to the field, somebody recommended that I do some sort of informational interviewing. I took it probably much further than he probably intended. I did about a year and a half of this, probably several times a week, I mean I had coffees, and lunch meetings and talked with people in organizations I had no intention of working with, but just to get a feeling for the lay of the land, what was being done, who was in the field, what their ideas and sources of inspirations were. Many of these people have become very good friends; others are colleagues that I work regularly with. I think networking is very valuable and it's not just valuable just in terms of professional development, it's also very valuable in terms of delivering services because there are always limitations.
You know each of us develops areas of expertise and there are lots of areas we don't have expertise in. If we know whose doing good work and we can call on them as colleagues and work with them or pass them work, then it just really supports the effectiveness and the usefulness of our work.. Another piece of advice is to work off some base of strength, so not just to try to get into this field or to try to build a current field as a process expert, but to pick some area where there is a very strong, you know, base of talent or experience or expertise. It might be in the arts, it might be in education, it might be in community work, it might be a strong connection to faith, whatever it is, and to, or language skills or having come from a you know, a multi-cultural family, you name it, but some real base and something that's unique, that other people may not have and to work off that base and look for opportunities that really sort of connect with driving passions, but also something unique you can bring to the work. There are only so many jobs and so many opportunities as sort of pure, full time mediators. Quite frankly that's not where all the action is by any means anyhow.
There are so many different avenues for peace building; I mean it's almost infinite. People can come at this through law, through business, I don't just mean through legal education and business education, but really being in the corporate world. You know, being an attorney, being an educator at different levels, being a community activist, being religious leaders, so, and being an artist. Whatever it is, there are so many opportunities to feed that work into peace building. I think it's through the networks that some of the creative ideas can emerge. And I guess the final piece of advice is that I usually give is that, people often say "Oh, don't quit your day job", because it's hard to get into this field, it's hard to make a living. I don't say that, I actually don't think that's true. What I do think is true is that the way to create a career in this field is to be very entrepreneurial. You can't just look for a ready-made job and a ready-made organization and think that you have a very good chance of getting it. Yes, there are a few of those but there is also a lot of competition and they may not be the best for any given person, the best fit. So, it's looking for the creative opportunities to really build off this base of expertise and interests and creating a niche rather than trying to find a niche.
Q: Well, thank you so much Andrea.