Intervention Methods


Paul Wehr

Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Colorado

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Every intervention should be a multi-module one. You have to have a bag of tricks, or methods, and you mix and match depending on the situation. There is no single magic bullet, no single magic method. That's one of the things that is being suggested by this Columbia experience. Importing 'Getting to Yes,' importing the BATNA, as the way to resolve Columbian violence has led to a backlash. They call it a "blow back" now, of negative consequences simply because you were relying on a method that is being sort of transplanted from one culture to another as kind of an easy fix and that's just not possible, I think.


But I haven't taken it further to say what kind of a multi-model package of techniques should I look for, would this suggest, what kind of specialist would you involve. And of course my inclination more and more is to move away from bringing in outside experts. I call it the tyranny of the experts. The idea that these people know and you don't. This is where John Paul's work is so good in that it looks for the answer within the community itself. Not bringing in someone from the outside, even though he comes in from the outside. But helping the communities to see that they have the answer within them. Within national society it's much more a question of establishing communication links between levels in societies and so forth.


It's probably a mix of indigenous peacemaking and some external intervention. That is the lesson that came out of this research in Nicaragua, and mediation in Nicaragua. Is this concept of the insider partial, and the outsider neutral mediation, or intermediation - the idea that when you combine these, you get a much richer mixture of possibilities. The outsider is always very important - the observer - the mediator coming from outside the conflict, is very important because those in conflict are always looking, knowing they're being watched, by someone else. That tends to put them on their best behavior. Of course, everyone wants to settle a dispute, and yet we need the internal, indigenous resources to make it a good agreement to make sure that it actually persists, that it survives, that it continues. So this mix of outside and inside is very important.


Well in the knowledge business, which is very structured, very territorial. Academic disciplines have their territories that they've carved out, and they protect those very fiercely. And that's at universities, for example, departments, schools, law, engineering, arts and sciences and within each of those departments you have more specialization, with a particular expert, who are often very specialized in that segment of that discipline. So this is again, another illustration of the tyranny of experts, of specialists. That's why trans-disciplinary approaches have such a difficult time.