The Conflict Information Consortium (CIC) directed by Guy and Heidi Burgess, was founded in 1988 at the University of Colorado. It was--and still is--a multi-disciplinary center for research and teaching about conflict and its transformation. Almost since the beginning, CIC turned to the Internet to expand the scope of our teaching. After a number of small projects, in the mid to late 1990s, CIC created CRInfo--the Conflict Resolution Information Source, which at the time tried to index most or close to all of the conflict resolution information available on the web! (This was before there got to be too much, and Google took over that job.)
Starting in the late 1990s, we began to focus particularly on large-scale protracted and difficult conflicts—we call them "intractable," which does not mean impossible to solve, but very difficult. We started a second large knowledge base called Beyond Intractability to focus on those very difficult conflicts, first recuriting about 75 scholars and practitioners to write articles about the nature of these conflicts and how best to deal with them. BI continues to exist and grow. By now it has over 1000 articles, written by over 500 authors, along with over 100 interviews of leading scholars and pracitioners who are focused on addressing intractable conflict. Around 2010, CRInfo and BI were combined into one even larger knowledge base that retained the BI name.
In the spring of 2016, the Burgesses started a new project entitled "Moving Beyond Intractability" because it was being built on top of the long-standing Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base with the goal of moving beyond the limits of current knowledge, and helping as many people as possible "move beyond" intractability in the conflicts they are involved in and care deeply about.
MBI's development was spurred by the Burgess's concern about the increasing number and intensity of intractable conflicts around the world. When we started developing BI, intractable conflicts were seen as an important challenge, but they were being surmounted. Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Cold War, for example, were all intractable conflicts that had certainly been transformed, if not resolved. By 2016, all three of these conflicts seemed to be re-emerging (albeit in different form), as we were also witnessing the almost total meltdown of the Middle East, the continuing intractability of many wars in Africa, a heightening of tensions in several parts of Asia, and an ever-deepening division within the United States that was threatening (even then) the very basis and stability of our own democracy.
As all Americans, as well as most other people know, 2016 was also the year Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S. and the political divisions within the United States continued to deepen. Guy and Heidi Burgess had also at that point significantly reduced their teaching loads, so they had the time to create a large number of videos addressing various aspects of these deepening problems which they put together into something they called the Conflict Frontiers Seminar. Heidi Burgess also began updating many of the original Beyond Intractability "Essays" and putting them together in another new seminar called the Conflict Fundamentals Seminar. We also created a "Things YOU Can Do to Help" blog to help answer the question we were getting from so many friends who were getting distressed about the conflicts they saw roiling around them, and asked "what can I do?"
This effort was supplemented, starting in 2019 with another related venture: the Constructive Conflict Initiative. This initiative has nine goals, which are consistent with what BI and MBI were doing before, but were made more explicit.
- Promote awareness of the many ways in which our future is threatened by the destructive ways in which we commonly handle conflict,
- Clarify the challenges (see list) that will have to be overcome as part of any effort to limit the destructive conflict threat,
- Promote collaborative problem-solving based on mutual understanding, respect, and the collaborative search for wise and equitable solutions to common problems,
- Promote constructive advocacy strategies that use a more sophisticated understanding of conflict dynamics to help the parties better protect their legitimate interests,
- Scale-up constructive conflict strategies to work at the full scale of modern society with its mass media, social network-dominated communication environment.
- Resist "divide and conquer" politics in which Machiavellian actors try to advance their selfish objectives by driving society apart and attacking the institutions of collaborative governance.
- Accelerate conflict research and development focused on addressing the legitimate concerns of the field's skeptics and promoting efforts to tackle the tough problems at the frontier of the conflict field,
- Persuade large numbers of people to promote more constructive approaches to conflict and give them the training they need to be effective, and
- Build the funding base needed to support such work.
When we started the Initiative, COVID hadn't happened yet, and we were planning a series of face-to-face meetings to frame the Initiative's agenda and to recruit participants. COVID changed those plans substantially, as did the Burgesses retirement from the University of Colorado. As a result of both of these events, the Initiative has remained virtual. For the last several years it has mostly been focused on us strengthening the MBI knowledge base about the characteristics of the hyper-polarization problem, as well as what has and what can be done to address it. (The Burgesses were able to keep on working on BI and MBI as the University of Colorado didn't want to maintain it, and told us that we were free to "take it with us" when we retired.)
In the fall of 2021 Guy and Heidi Burgess were invited to write a "feature article" with Sanda Kaufman for the Conflict Resolution Quarterly. We chose to focus our article on the things that those of us in the conflict resolution field can do to better address hyper-polarization. CRQ (and we) are hoping that these new feature articles will generate lively discussions about that and about other critical issues in the field. To facilitate that, we have set up a discussion page on BI to host this discussion and invite all BI readers to contribute their thoughts.
We are also in the process of significantly re-organizating all of the information on BI, so it will no longer be primarily organized by type of information (such as Knowledge Base essays, interviews, book summaries, etc, and Frontier Seminar videos, etc., but rather according to topic, more like a library's organization. We hope this will make the site more easily navigable and understandable.