Handbook of Conflict Resolution: The Analytical Problem-Solving Approach
By Christopher Mitchell and Michael Banks
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Mitchell, Christopher and Banks, Michael. Handbook of Conflict Resolution: The Analytical Problem-Solving Approach.New York: Pinter, 1996, 187 pp.
The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: The Analytical Problem-Solving Approach is the result of approximately thirty years of academic research, which over time has sought to bridge the gap between the theory and the practice of intervening in deep-seeded conflict. The ideas presented in this book were spawned out of the collaborative work of a discussion group at University College, London, known as The Centre for the Analysis of Conflict (CAC). The goal of this work is to present their theoretical perspectives and practical strategies on conflict analysis and resolution in a concise, straightforward manner. Although the authors of this work are aware of multiple objections/criticisms of their approach, they are confident in the analytical problem solving approach and this handbook is intended as a procedural guide for those who want to test it out.
Chapter One, "Violent Conflict as a Problem," outlines the assumptions and theoretical foundations of the approach to conflict offered in the book. The most basic assertion of the problem-solving approach is that violent conflict must be thought of a problem, as opposed to the people or group committing the violence. The violence itself is the problem, not the aspects of life that contribute to it. This book is focused on getting away from the fatalistic mentality that violence is an inevitable part of life. Instead, this approach considers conflict the result of contradictory interests and goals of various parties. Therefore, if certain parties can make a problem, they can surely unmake it. This chapter introduces the aforementioned notions, as well as a brief explanation of the role of the third party in collaborative problem-solving.
Chapter Two discusses the initial judgment any third party must make before stepping in to try and facilitate the resolution of a conflict. Here, the concept of "ripeness" is introduced. "The ripe moment" is when all parties seem to be ready to discuss matters and work toward a reasonable solution. However, assessing when this moment is occurring is a difficult task. This chapter offers some strategies and in-depth advice on how to go about determining when a conflict situation is ripe for a peacemaking effort.
The third chapter, "Contacts: Access to Parties", discusses how to decide whom to approach as representatives of each party, how to make contact, and how to gain credibility in those people's eyes. Most of this chapter offers general advice on establishing oneself as a respectable, trustworthy third party. Once access is gained, the next critical step is promoting the problem-solving approach and obtaining an agreement to participate from the conflicting parties.
Chapter Four discusses how to go about setting up a problem-solving workshop, which in this context, refers to a triangular-structured, face-to-face meeting between the conflicting parties and the third party facilitators. This situation is arranged so that the facilitators may apply the problem-solving approach, hopefully catalyzing intensive discussion and a mutual search for resolution options. This chapter addresses all matter of details that facilitators must consider when arranging a workshop.
Chapter Five explains that the process of a problem-solving workshop simultaneously involves both the analysis of a conflict and its resolution. Fostering effective communication is the primary goal of the workshop and if this is achieved, the way toward resolution should reveal itself through this process. Thus, Chapter Five outlines how the workshop session should proceed, including advice on how to address the participants and to reassure them about the problem-solving process they have agreed to take part in.
In Chapter Six, the authors consider the repercussions of the problem-solving approach, discussing how participants may handle re-entering their home organizations and how to convey the results of the workshop without alienating or disheartening anyone on "their side". Some advice includes having workshop participants discuss what they will report back about the session and having the facilitators set the stage for their re-entry by noting some of the successes of the workshop prior to their return. Moreover, workshop consultants should be prepared and willing to continue serving as a liaison between the workshop participants.
The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: The Analytical Problem-Solving Approach clearly presents the procedure for application of the analytical problem-solving approach. The introduction presents a useful list of key terms used in the work and how they are defined in the context of this book. Also incorporated throughout the handbook are practical exercises for readers to try out as they study and prepare to employ the analytical problem-solving approach. An extensive bibliography for both scholars and practitioners rounds out this volume, making it a highly succinct and useful summary of this key approach to deeply-rooted, protracted conflicts.