Conflict Transformation Training as Intervention

Ramesh Prakashvelu

April 2006

Acknowledgement: This essay is written based on my experiences in India with the Conflict Resolution team of Henry Martyn Institute: International Center for Research, Interfaith Relations and Reconciliation (HMI) and Peace Core Team Manipur (PCTM) which came about as a result of the shift in perceiving and practicing training as intervention by HMI and its local partners in Manipur.

Editor's note: This is, in part, a case study, as it is based on the authors experiences with two particular organizations in India. However the lessons learned are extremely valuable in many contexts and are presented as general as well as specific observations, so we are posting this article in the core essay section.


This essay outlines three areas that relate to training as intervention. These are:

1) Using mapping and tracking to assess the facilitation skill level of emerging peace facilitators;

2) Being aware of possibilities that peace-based workshops offer; and

3) Strengthening peacebuilding capacities through Peace Core Teams.

Let me begin with stating a few working assumptions.

Training is traditionally defined as the process, or art, of imparting knowledge and skills. In this essay I will use the word "training" to mean pedagogy that helps people learn in a group setting both the knowledge and skills related to conflict resolution and transformation, as well as giving them the ability to apply the knowledge, skills and experience with common sense and insight.

Many conflicts are resolved within the conflict setting on a routine basis. Conflict and conflict resolution or transformation is an organic part of life and various processes, actors and institutions exist to address the conflicts without making a big deal about it — for instance, it is not something that is commonly written about. However, such routine processes are better at dealing with some conflicts than others. The conflicts that are more widely known outside the immediate conflict setting are commonly ones that seem to be more challenging and often fit the description of being intractable.

It would be naïve to assume that mediation intervention by outside agents or agencies or capacity building workshops focused on mediation or negotiation skills alone will contribute greatly to resolution of such conflicts and help bring about sustainable peace. Communities, especially in post-colonial countries, find themselves in changed/changing social, economic, legal and political structures where dispute resolution mechanisms have gone through or are going through enormous changes. Whether the change happened through internal motivation or external imposition, it has often resulted in undermining and/or replacing the traditional systems and ways of doing things. Such changes surface dormant or latent conflicts, create new conflicts, and cause further conflict by trying to use new conflict resolution mechanisms to address long-standing conflicts. Quite often the principles, values and biases inherent in traditional and/or new mechanisms come in the way of dealing with conflicts that belonged to the other domain. So what can people or agencies that are called to facilitate training do in such situations?

Training as Intervention

How we see our presence and role is key to intervention. One of the key questions that we could ask ourselves is - Do we limit ourselves in teaching others or training others to what we know and are familiar with, or are we willing to explore all of what is needed to help bring about resolution or transformation of the conflicts? At HMI, we chose to explore the second option of striving, along with local partners, to engage in purposeful processes and do our bit in creating conditions for sustained peace efforts.

We discovered that participatory workshops on conflict resolution do create opportunities for people to identify skilled facilitators from their own communities, as well as from other communities and in situations of tension between communities. When participants are asked to identify people in whom they have confidence as potential intervenors, it is most often people who have demonstrated their ability to handle tough situations in peace-based events that are identified.

At HMI, we tried not to come into a situation as outside intervenors who would be seen as the "star facilitators," descending into a conflict with missionary zeal to help transform conflicts. This approach often creates dependency on a few people who continue to grow in their capacities, while indigenous capacities are less valued and nourished. So, we created a chart that identifies what abilities and skills help someone to be effective in a particular training or intervention setting, and began to tailor our training to help people strengthen their own skill level, as well as move across the spectrum by investing in them through other events.

Using Mapping and Tracking to Assess the Skill Level of Facilitators

In 2003, my colleague Diane D'Souza and I created an "FSL chart," where FSL refers to Facilitation Skills Level, an indicator that reflects HMI's own assessment of people's capability to facilitate workshops. Although the scale is devised with six levels, facilitators (potential and fully trained) fall within levels 3 to 6. We envisioned people advancing up the scale as their capacities and experiences grow. Our goal is to get a significant core group at levels 5 and 6. This chart functions both as a map that outlines the terrain in which training might be needed, as well as a tool to track an individual's knowledge and skills.

While working towards strengthening the regional capacities by investing in training trainers and facilitators, we also kept our eyes open to people who might function more effectively as leaders and/or peacebuilders who intervene in local conflict settings to bring about positive change, conflict transformation, or resolution. These people might not possess the strengths, capacities, or interest needed for conducting participatory peace-based workshops, which focuses on training many others in peace skills, but they do possess other skills of value. We see investments in this category of people as helping in building capacities and skills to contribute to broader peace in the society. FSL 1 and FSL 2 are currently being used to place participants in this category. The skills and qualities associated with each level are: as follows:

1 — Good communication and problem-solving skills in intra-group and inter-group settings; ability to strategize intervention to move things in a positive direction; ability to identify allies and work with them; ability to understand the local culture and norms and use them effectively in resolving disputes. People in FSL 1 operate primarily in intra-community settings as leaders and/or peacebuilders, but not as facilitators or trainers.

2 — FSL 1 skills sufficient to operate across communities as well. The skills associated with other (training and facilitation) levels are as follows:

3 — Good communication skills in in-group settings; confidence, creativity and poise in leading activities; ability to facilitate learning within a group (in peace-based workshops) with help from a co-facilitator.

4 — FSL skills plus the ability to independently facilitate group learning for certain workshop activities, to create and adapt familiar activities to suit the needs and contexts of individual groups, and to conceptualize workshops based on needs of participants.

5 — FSL 3 and 4 plus comfort and familiarity with participatory learning processes, ability to function as lead facilitator for peace-based workshops in familiar (re. community, language, regional) settings, ability to co-facilitate group learning in "advanced level" and "training of trainers" workshops, confidence and adaptability in unfamiliar cultures and settings.

6 — FSL 3, 4, and 5 plus the ability to be a lead facilitator in "advanced level" and "training of trainers" workshops, ability to customize workshops across cultures and to unique settings, ability to effectively plan and strategize peace interventions and nurture regional peace core teams.

During or soon after workshops and meetings with PCTM, HMI facilitators would fill out the FSL chart categories using data such as skill level, age, sex, language proficiency, tribe, community, number of workshops co-facilitated, number of workshops facilitated as lead facilitator, type of workshops facilitated, etc. This gave us a ready and updated reference, which enabled us to recommend facilitators from the different regions to people and organizations that were organizing workshops and other peace-based initiatives. After 2003 more than 85% of the workshops conducted by HMI in the regions included at least one regional facilitator as part of the facilitating team, which created an opportunity to mentor people and assist in moving up in the skill level.

Being Aware of Possibilities that Peace-Based Workshops Offer

We found that workshops also functioned as a meeting point for leaders to look at strengths and limitations of certain approaches, a "slowing-down space" for people who are involved in attempts to bring about positive change through revisiting and analyzing past efforts. It could be a place where people look at strategies that have worked in bringing about resolution to other long-standing conflicts which can then serve as a springboard for creating new strategies. Workshops can also be a space where new leadership emerges, new visions unfold, and new approaches are developed. It can be a setting where people come with diverse and often high expectations, which then stimulates us to turn it into a learning experience on how and what type of events/processes we can create to meet the different expectations.

When workshops are held in regions that are experiencing violence (for instance, kidnapping, killing, rape, torture, death and injury from crossfire, and/or human rights violations by state forces or armed organizations), one gets a sense of what people feel and what initiatives they have already taken to address these issues. Horrific events are remembered and dates in which they happened are observed. In such a setting, mass mobilizations by community-based organizations are sometimes undertaken--by staging general strikes and shutdowns, for example. Government responses such as curfews and enacting emergency powers then heightens tensions and can make the situation worse.

When these happen regularly, the people are in a heightened level of anxiety. They are also more likely to perceive what is happening within workshop settings with a greater degree of skepticism. As Lederach (1996) observes, settings where multicultural and cross-ethnic conflict is divisive and violent, people are often operating from a stance of preservation and defensiveness. Each group experiences a deep-rooted and deep-felt threat to its identity and well-being, often creating a sense of prevailing insecurity, a feeling that "we are not safe." Paradoxically, insecurity protects itself by lashing out at others who are the perceived threat but who, more often than not, are equally insecure, thus creating a cycle a mutually reinforcing and destructive cycle.

One then begins to wonder: How many such crisis days have people seen in their lifetime? How many deaths and injuries come to their mind as they engage in discussions about the costs of war? What processes exist in dealing with a past that is dotted with disappeared people and burnt villages? How can healing take place, when things that happen within workshops or outside bring to the surface grief, pain, sense of loss, anger, and utter despair?

It is important to be sensitive to situations such as these, and to develop the ability within the facilitating team to handle the workshops with great empathy and sensitivity. It is also important to help people reflect on what processes were helpful in dealing with grief, pain, anger, and despair in the workshop setting and to be able to integrate them as part of the knowledge-skill-wisdom base of facilitating conflict transformation or resolution. People are often trained more in mind-centered problem solving approaches to conflict resolution and less exposed to heart-centered healing aspects. Workshops are a sacred space in some aspects, as they deal with memories of people who are no more with us as a result of violent nature of some conflicts. It is also a place where wounds are opened, examined and sometimes healed. The awareness of these and other possibilities help in broadening the scope and nature of intervention and helps the interventions to move things in a positive direction. This is one of the shifts that came about when we began to train in areas that were helpful at all levels, instead of merely training others in what we know best.

Strengthening Capacities Through Peace Core Teams

HMI's engagement in Manipur began with facilitating training programs on mediation in the year 2000. These training programs were done in English and in the initial workshops we were following North American model of mediation training. After a few workshops in Manipur, as well as in a few other states in India, the facilitating team began to feel the approach we were having in prescribing/using a single model of mediation process with focus on particular skills to participants who came from very diverse backgrounds, cultures, power structures, institutions, age groups, interest groups, and organizations to be highly inappropriate and inadequate in most settings.

Experiences of team members through involvement in community development, rural development, and women's interfaith journeys had already convinced us that positive change happens in many ways:

  • creating opportunities for empowerment;
  • creating space for the marginalized voices;
  • continued engagement;
  • relationship building among divided communities;
  • discussing issues in a safe and facilitated environment;
  • seeking ways to address the issues;
  • reflecting on what worked, what did not, and why;
  • creating strategies to overcome obstacles;
  • figuring out who could be most helpful in a given situation and how to bring them in;
  • planning and carrying out the plan;
  • celebrating successes;
  • learning from failures; and
  • remembering and sharing experiences.

The team had to grapple with what experiences had taught us, and how those experiences related to the new mediation model that was widely being prescribed and taught. We decided to experiment with what we knew was most appropriate. This led us to not just make the workshops more participatory and elicitive but also catalyzed the shift from being a center that taught mediation and offered third-party mediation services, to an institution that began intervening in situations and regions affected by violent struggles and conflicts and working in ways that empower a significant number of people in various conflict settings to play a role in bringing about positive change. It also helped us to understand the power of local knowledge and language in efforts to bring about such change. When this shift happened, people were able to bring more knowledge and resources into workshops and other peace-based events.

In the context of working in a highly political and violence-torn region like Northeast India and especially in Manipur, the HMI team had to think of how to make our efforts meaningful and useful. Instead of visiting these regions to merely facilitate programs on request, we began to discuss in small groups after the conflict resolution workshops what sort of programs would be more useful and effective. It was in these meetings that people began to make suggestions, voice concerns, name the obstacles that they face in bringing key people and organizations into peace-based events. Some meetings were held just to strategize on what sort of invitations would bring representatives from diverse groups to a peace based event, how the inviting organizations are perceived, and how the organization of events can be as participatory and inclusive as the program itself. These discussions resulted in the emergence of Peace Core Team Manipur (PCTM) with eleven members from different communities and tribes.

The workshops that were organized by this core team in collaboration with HMI became forums for leaders of NGOs, social movement leaders, student union leaders, tribal leaders, church leaders, and women's association leaders to come together in a workshop setting. In such events the issues raised, role plays enacted and processed, challenges faced in addressing issues they face, skills they felt they needed to be more effective, initiatives that have failed to achieve the desired results began to form the core of the workshop. Based on his experiences with elicitive trainings in multi-cultural settings, Lederach (1996) argues for methodologies that create an encounter between people in a training setting. Lederach focuses the workshop on the participants own rich, but often implicit, understandings about conflict and how to handle it. He also advocates for a proactive shift that suggests people's accumulated and implicit knowledge is an extraordinary resource for developing appropriate conflict strategies within their setting. This, he suggests, not only promotes creativity, but empowers participants as well.

In such workshops organized by HMI-PCTM, the traditional approaches of some of the tribes came to be discussed as well as the role of elders, village councils, churches, women's movements, socio-political movements. Inquiry into what they appreciate about the traditional justice delivery systems and what the challenges of addressing contemporary conflicts also helped the younger generation, along with members of other communities to have a more in-depth understanding of cultural resources for conflict resolution and transformation present in different communities. It also became one more place where people could network, form new relationships and assist each other on particular issues as well as work on issues of common concern.

As a result of not prescribing what ought to happen in the forum, and focusing on what is possible and realistic given the complex nature of conflicts in Manipur, PCTM began to discuss possibilities. Shared leadership on a rotational basis also provided a chance for different team members to gain skills in handling coordination of events, planning programs, facilitating team meetings, working on norms and standards that will guide the core team's functioning. Two of HMI facilitators were part of the PCTM and at least one person would be present in the PCTM meetings organized during our visits to the region. Members of PCTM are also conscious of their visibility of working together on common concerns and its impact. As one PCTM member commented, "We need to function in a way that serves as a model to our respective communities, what we want to happen in between our communities, we have to see that happen amongst ourselves." There is an awareness and understanding that the PCTM is primarily responsible for leading the peace efforts in Manipur in collaboration with HMI. More and more people and organizations get involved as a result of continuous efforts made by PCTM members whose skills and understanding of strategies for building peace gets strengthened.

The number of programs organized for each HMI visit to Manipur has increased based on the expansion of the peace constituencies, as well as the number of requests for interventions in conflict settings. This is a result of initiatives taken by Peace Core Team members as well as past participants who work through PCTM. Teams composed of HMI staff and local trainers facilitate these programs. Greater interaction in times of trouble also happens between some members of the PCTM and the community of past workshop participants. Interaction during troubled times is possible as a result of community representatives personally knowing people from other communities, and having established some rapport through workshops attended together.

Some Key Learnings

When we think of training, as intervention continuous engagement on the field is key as is building capacities to deal with the complex nature of intervention. Continued presence and deeper understanding of the complex nature of histories and of the conflicts assists in developing trust and relationships as well as an opportunity for some to observe us and see for themselves how we behave, relate, deal with issues, whom we are in touch with, how we handle challenging moments, diversity of ideologies, expectations and aspirations. It can also be an opportunity for informal meetings with those who want to discuss particular issues that they are working with. It also puts us in touch with people who, by virtue of their positions in communities and organizations are busy dealing with a number of conflicts and are unable to extract themselves to travel to places outside of their region to attend conflict resolution/transformation workshops. If we are to be effective in peacebuilding work, it is crucial to work with not just people who can come to conflict resolution trainings, but to also work with people who are already doing this work and are unable to get out by creating events that they are in a position to attend.

When workshops begin to meet some of the needs of such people, and key people begin the process of inquiring about the possibility of facilitating disputes and conflicts that have seemed to be un-resolvable in the past, the conflict resolution facilitators have a choice to accept the invitation and begin planning their mediation intervention. Another possibility, however, is to consider whether they are the right people to play the mediation role, whether this is the right time, whether there are enough support structures and local capacity for creating conditions for sustained intervention, who could be most effective on the mediating team, and if who has leverage and necessary acceptance. By working in conjunction with local people when the time is ripe and the support structures are present, success is much more likely than it is when such conditions are not met.

Use the following to cite this article:
Prakashvelu, Ramesh. "Conflict Transformation Training as Intervention." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: April 2006 <>.

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