Constructive Confrontation Initiative -- Public Discussion

Constructive Conflict Statement Graphic

Constructive Conflict Initiative
Public Discussion

A joint call for a dramatic expansion of efforts to improve society's ability to constructively address the full scale and complexity of the challenges posed by destructive conflicts

March 2019 Draft -- v1.1

Constructive Conflict Initiative Homepage | Invitation to Participate | Initiative Summary | Full Initiative Statement | Related MBI Materials | Private Comment Form | Public Discussion | Request for Financial Support

Prepared by
Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess
Co-Directors, Beyond Intractability Project, Conflict Information Consortium
University Of Colorado, UCB 580, Boulder, CO, USA burgess@colorado.edu, 303-492-1635

Purpose

We hope to use this forum to stimulate a broad discussion of the ideas presented in the Constructive Conflict Initiative (and other associated documents). The questions we will start with here are a subset of those we are asking on the private comment form, but the conversation here may go in different directions, and that's okay (as long as the discussion stays constructive and civil).

So please use this forum to make comments and suggestions about the Constructive Conflict Initiative that you are willing to share publicly and use the private comment form/email to make comments privately (about your potential participation for instance) to the authors Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess.

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Initial Questions:

  1. Overall Assessment: In principle, does this seem like an effort worth pursuing?
  2. Suggestions: Do you have any specific suggestions for improving either the substance or the language of our initial draft documents?
  3. Related Efforts: Are you aware of people working on similar or overlapping efforts who we should contact with the goal of being as mutually supportive as possible?
  4. Next Steps: Do you have thoughts or suggestions about next steps that should be taken to pursue these ideas further?
  5. Other: Is there anything else related to this initiative that you would like to share?

Responses as of 8/1/19

If you scroll down to primary post #6, you will see a set of posts where Heidi summarizes responses received so far via email (which is where most of the responses have been coming in.)  These posts summarize ideas for improving the initiative and possible next steps.

 

worth it

Based on 'initial questions' from above.

  1. This is absolutely worth pursuing.
  2. The language in the initial draft documents is for academics and people already in the conflict resolution field. It needs to be accessible to everyone. Constructive conflict resolution requires a particular set of skills; I would argue a particular set of life skills. This project is about marketing these skills—to some extent—to everyone. Not everyone needs the same training and/or education, but the training/education they do receive should be accessible, digestible, and immediately applicable to their jobs/lives/situations.
  3. I know of a couple of organizations that sell their approach to conflict resolution. Not sure if they’d be willing to share for proprietary reasons.
  4. What are BI’s next steps? Is there a plan somewhere on the site? From a marketing perspective, we need to figure out precisely what we’re selling, to whom we’re selling it, and how we’re going to sell it to them. Thinking about it in those terms might make figuring out next steps here easier. Are we selling a curriculum? Are we shopping around a research proposal? We're selling a paradigm shift. So what does phase one of this shift look like and who is going to buy it? Phase two? Etc.

Tara Smith | Delaware, USA

Agreed--and our response

Tara, you make excellent points. And thanks, in particular, for posting them here--we really want to get a lively conversation going!

Regarding your substance: we have tried to make the language accessible, but I'm sure we can do better.  And we certainly need to make it shorter!  We're actually now working on a set of info-graphics to go with each of the challenges, each of which lays out a key idea in about 15 -20 words.  We're not sure yet how we are going to use these, but they are likely to address (I hope!) your concern about accessibility.

As for next steps--that remains to be determined by the responses we receive.  If this initiative is to be successful, it needs to spawn many different projects, each targeting different audiences, and marketed in different ways.  Some would be focused locally at grassroots citizens, some would be academic research proposals, some could be curricula that could be used at the K-6, middle school, high school, or higher ed level., Some would perhaps be national-level initiatives aimed at trying to get our national politics played differently. That, obviously, would be a very hard nut to crack--I'd suspect we'll have more success if we go smaller and more local first. 

Bottom line: many different people need to take this basic idea and run with it--that we, as a community, a nation, a world, need to approach our conflicts differently.  We need to do this now, and we need to learn the skills to do it ourselves.  We can't wait for an "expert" to bail us out.

I welcome others to post your thoughts here--either in response to Tara or me--or start a new string with your thoughts on the CC Initiative.

Thanks!

Heidi Burgess

Philippe S Banzi's comments on CCI

Philipee Banzi is from La Sapientia Catholic University in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.  He sent us his comments about the initiative in a private email, but his thoughts were sufficiently compelling that I asked for (and received) his permission to repost them here.  

"1. What we think about the initiative: This could be a third option or
way of dealing with conflicts or "confrontation". It is true that most
of the powerful politics are taking their own ways as the right ones.
By doing so, they forget that they are leading our world through a
wrong path at all levels (socioeconomic and environmental trends). So
the Constuctive Confrontation Initiative could be a valuable way to
bring them on the right road.

2. To strengthen the initiative: 2. The effort should adopt two
approaches: the horizontal one that will bring the communities to air
their voices and on the other side the powerful politics together with
the United Nations and other NGOs should take the matter seriously.
The decionmakers should take into consideration these voices and not
go their own ways. That will lead to the vertical approach,,,

3. We think that civil societies in Global South countries are doing
tremendous work but they are unheard. The International Federation of
Catholic Universities (IFCU/FIUC) as a forum of scholars with their
research centers can have a suggestion or strong guidelines to
contribute to the initiative. The Women organizations like the
International Community of Women living with HIV/AIDS, the Women
Cross-cultural exchange Programme (Isis-WICCE) and other similar
organizations could have strong ideas to contribute.This does not
exclude the civil societies in various countries...

4. The next step is to share with a big number of groups or people,
politicians, business people, scholars in Universities and schools,
church leaders, women fora and all other marginalized groups have a
say and powerful ideas. Unfortunately no one listens to them. To think
of country meetings as a way of collecting ideas and strategies after
which a big meeting at a higher level could bring around the table the
decisionmakers,,,

5. Future Involvement: We are interested in getting involved in the initiative because
what we are living in the current world in general and in our region
in particular is really appealing. We as the UNIVERSITE CATHOLIQUE LA
SAPIENTIA (La Sapientia Catholic University) from GOMA, Eastern DR
Congo are willing to reflect on the issue with others people of good
will within Beyond Intractability.

In a nutshell, that is what we think about the Constructive
Confrontation Initiative. Keep it up.

 

"

Mark Oelze's picture
A Monumental task, but needed!

1) what you think about this effort:  I applaud the efforts undertaken by Guy & Heidi Burgess. As a marriage and family counselor and former pastor, I have seen SO MUCH conflict in relationships at a micro and macro level such as in our city, and surely in our country and world. We are ever so much in need of insight, wisdom, and an openness to learning from each other.

 2) how you think it might be strengthened: In truth, I have only begun to look into this website and its purpose but am very intrigued by its objectives. Upon reading Heidi's response to Tara (above), I am glad to hear about the summary work of each of the initiatives through the creation of infographics. One of the challenging aspects of coming to this website is that there is SO MUCH information everywhere that I get a bit overwhelmed. The more streamlined each initiative can be, the better.

3) who else is doing related work and should be invited to participate: I know of two resources. The first is an organization:  peacemaker.training.  The second is myself. I have created a 6-step process that leads to healthy communication while at the same time serving as a critical dialogue sequence to enhance each parties ability to understand and appreciate the other's perspective and increase the chances of finding resolve. In my opinion, it is one of the main missing pieces when dealing with conflict. We aren't addressing the sequence of the dialogue process itself which I address.  My daughter, a kindergarten teacher, is also in the process of developing a curriculum based on our material for her entire grade school. It is currently in the beta stage but has brought about wonderful stories of seeing five-year-olds work out their conflicts together, and entire classrooms becoming more peaceful and caring.

5) I would certainly be willing to share what I have learned and help out however I can, time permitting.

Thank you again Guy and Heidi for all your work and efforts!

Mark, thanks for the

Mark, thanks for the supportive comments!  I apologize that it took me this long to respond.  I realized now that I didn't have the notifications set up right, so I wasn't being notified that comments came in.  I'll be remedying that promptly!  I also realize this discussion isn't linked up to the main discussion board either--2 things to fix.

Yep, this is a huge task, and the websites are big too. We have long puzzled over the best way to present things so they aren't overwhelming, but (1) not simplifying the complexity of it all, because we think accepting and working with the complexity of these conflicts is essential and (2) making it clear that we have lots of materials for different audiences and different uses.  We're actually in the process of re-doing the BI home page once again, although the changes are not going to be huge.  We always welcome ideas for making it better!

For now, we are just asking people to share the Initiative homepage (https://www.beyondintractability.org/constructive-conflict-initiative) as widely as possible.  Soon we'll be sending out a mid-summer update (even though we've passed mid-summer) discussing some further "next steps."

Thanks for the comments!

Feedback on the CIC as of July 31, 2019

As of the end of July, we have received a little over 100 responses to our CC Initiative.  Almost all have written us back via email—perhaps because that’s easier, or perhaps because folks wanted their comments to be private. However, we see a benefit to sharing as many of the ideas submitted as we can, so we are posting an anonymous compendium of “typical” responses here. The responses are broken down by category, according to the questions we asked on the Initiative homepage and in the letters that we sent out.

Overall Impressions of the CIC Received as of July 31, 2019

With a few exceptions, the comments have been extremely positive.  While most of the respondents live in the U.S.(which makes sense since most of the people we wrote to are in the U.S.), we were pleased to learn that this also resonated with people in Africa (South Africa and DRC), Brazil, Great Britain, and Canada.

Several people noted that this is an extremely difficult task.  It is…but as I replied to those comments directly (and Guy is creating a post in response as well), we believe this is doable if we get lots and lots of people involved.  It is not doable if it is just a two-person activity.  So our main goal at this time is to spread the word and get as many people as possible involved in a variety of ways. We discuss that more in our mid-summer update.

Typical overall comments were as follows:

  • This project is fabulous!
  • I think this is an important effort.
  • We desperately need creative approaches….
  • This is so needed!
  • A very comprehensive and impressive statement.
  • I’m fully on board.
  • We share the same goals.
  • It is exceedingly worthwhile and very interesting. 
  • I like both the tone and the substance.
  • I love the idea that everyone has a role to play!
  • Scaling up our small-group processes is very important.
  • I think the initiative is great and much needed, but it is sad that the issues you’ve identified resonate so broadly.  (This was in response to the statement that we’ve gotten letters of interest from quite a few countries outside of the United States.)

A few other comments, however, maintained:

  • This is worth pursuing but very difficult.
  • It is hard to argue with any of the points made, but this is not a novel approach.  Others are doing similar things.
  • Howeverr, another person observed that they didn’t think others were working to expand peace PROCESSES as we are, and they thought that was beneficial.
Ideas about Strengthening the CIC

This is a subset of the ideas received.  All of these bullet points have been shortened and paraphrased to protect respondent anonymity, and to shorten this post.  Other responses, which were either duplicative or harder to shorten and paraphrase have not been included, 

  • Make the introductory materials shorter (we already did that, but they likely could be shortened further).
  • Clarify the audience(s)
  • Interview potential audience members to learn when they have used constructive conflict strategies, when not, and why not.
  • Adopt both a horizontal and a vertical approach—reaching widely among  different grassroots audiences, and also up to leadership levels.
  • Include some examples of success or progress.  Make it more hopeful!
  • Use stories to appeal to hearts and minds.
  • Create downloadable podcasts
  • Add visuals and animations to reach mass audiences.
  • Consider how we get beyond our own cultural, political, gender, and racial limits.
  • Address power differentials.
  • Consider the interests that lead people to handle conflict poorly and address those.
  • Try to work with current peace negotiators and diplomats.
Feedback about other projects and people to contact

We got LOTS of feedback here.  We are reaching out to all the groups and individuals we have been referred to and will be posting information about their activities and their publications on the Colleague Activities Blog. Look for the first few posts today (August 31, 2019).

Next Steps

Many of the ideas listed as “strengthening ideas” could be next steps.  The following were other ideas suggested—interestingly, there wasn’t as much overlap here.

  • Cross link with other related sites and get them to cross link with us, forming a network of sites with similar goals.
  • Share the initiative as widely as possible!
  • Try to improve online dialogues.
  • Have a meeting with marketing experts, social media experts, social movement experts, etc., to discuss how to gain traction.
  • Select a few intractable problems and create a video to show how we might go about solving them.
  • Create a strategy map.
  • Have an international online discussion about this.
  • Have the documents read by different generations—particularly young people.  Also get them read by politicians and people with marketing and social media expertise.
  • Hold a conference.
  • Create a blog to address this.
Suggestion from Jerry McCann

We met Jerry at a peacebuilding symposium in June.  His background is structural engineering and peacebuilding and he now serves as the Secretary of the Board of Advisors for Build Up^, an international network of people working on the intersection of peacebuidling, technology, and the arts.  

He wrote the following in response to our request for feedback on the CCI (and gave us permission to post it here): 

"Thank you for this initiative and for your efforts to address the growing polarization and its turn towards destructive conflict.  I have read through the material and while I believe you have extensively covered the objectives, the needs and the intent, there is little in terms of the operationalization of such a phenomenal effort as you are suggesting.  As an operational/process thinker who has been involved in supporting national peacebuilding practitioner efforts in over 20 countries around the world, I do not feel this initiative is yet to the stage where my feedback would be helpful.  (HB note:  we see this feedback as very helpful!)

I would say that before we get to this point in our work, we typically would do an intensive national mapping exercise (which I can see is part of your current effort), but we would not do so through the engagement of those already understanding the principles of peacebuilding… rather our teams (always made up of those from the country and directly effected by the conflict), would “get off the tarmac” and into the depths of society to better understand first hand not only what they believe are the impediments to peace (in this case to depolarization and peaceful conflict management) but also why aren’t things worse (to get a better understanding of the resiliency mechanisms that are potentially transformational in leading society towards greater positive peace).  I do not see a lot of the latter in what you have shared.  In fact, your focus seems to be on fixing the problem rather than on recognizing and celebrating those that are already effectively succeeding.  The premise of my orientation towards peacebuilding is that we focus too much on the drivers of conflict and not enough on the pockets of peace… those places in the middle of the conflict that have been able to not only effectively cope with the problem but actually turn the tide to reduce/eliminate it.  These pockets reside in every conflict and most often are overlooked.  Without a serious mapping of the pockets of peace (we call it peace mapping rather than conflict mapping), I feel the orientation of such an effort as yours will over-emphasize the conflict-drivers and root causes, without paying enough attention to those in the trenches that are already demonstrating positive peaceful change (often times with less explicit strategic intent, but with great intuitive intent).

Given the impressive, thoughtful and expansive defining of your intent, I may have missed both your operationalization efforts (process roadmap) and your attention to the actual evidence of positive peaceful change that already occurs… happy to take a second look if you want to steer me in those directions."

 

Leo Smythe's Comments on CCI

Leo is an Irishman who we met years ago when he participated in at least one (maybe more, I forget) of the early Beyond Intractability conferences that we held in the very early 2000s.  He wrote some detailed and excellent comments about CCI when we reconnected, and has given us permission to post them here.

What do I think about your latest initiative?

A wonderful initiative, tuned to our current state of world affairs, timely, perhaps in the nick of time..

A ‘post-truth’ environment stands against the intellectual tradition of reasoned search for evidence. It is not the first time in the history of the world that the spirit of rational-empirical enquiry has come under attack but the internet has aggravated the assault. Whether ‘alternative facts’ are the deliberate propagation of falsehoods or the Orwellian abuse of meaning, their impact is enormously amplified by social media.

Intolerance of dissenting views has led to virtual censorship while the passion for simple answers carries with it a distain for detailed expertise. Polarisation of the population based on simplistic slogans is apparent in several countries.

Issues such as global responsibility, inequality and sovereignty pose significant intellectual challenges when taken together; they need debate and communication of the highest order.

How might it be strengthened?

My answer is coloured by my years in education, so I think of pedagogical interventions. How about the University of Colorado developing a free online course in argument?  It might start with logic and logical fallacies, going on to cover distinctions between rhetoric, persuasion and polemic, arriving at the value of adversarial cross-examination as well as the value of problem-solving dialogue. The object would be to ‘norm in’ identification of these topics, with students encouraged to call out what they see as unfair presentations and offer alternatives. [ I am guessing such courses already exist and could be built upon.]  Once the basics have been covered, debates could be organised on serious issues by committed people of opposing views; moderators could summarise the key arguments made and respondents could scrutinise the evidence. Perhaps develop a ‘truth-quotient’?

The ‘fairness-delivering’ institutions of society need to be respected – and also be the subject of critique. The crucial separation of judicial powers is under attack. We need to be reminded of what happens when it is eroded. Re-telling of history is a way of raising awareness of current dangers.

What are others doing in this field?

I am not up-to-date but a couple of ideas suggest themselves. Following the ‘gilets-jaunes’ (yellow, hi-vis waistcoats) protests in France, President Macron initiated a ‘grand debat’. In essence it tasked the mayor of every town with organising a series of meetings of the populace. Ground rules for civilised debate were laid down. Topics to be discussed were: (1) taxation (2) state organisation and administration (3) ecological transition (4) citizenship and democracy. The results were to be in by 15 March of this year. Some people were cynical, some enthusiastic. I haven’t followed up how the results were collated and what, if any, effect they had on governance. But I applaud the effort. You can find it on the net ‘grand debat’

A technique I have sometimes used myself is to get participants in planning meetings to write their ideal future for a date set about 25 years in the future. The suggestions are brought together into a series of statements. Once discussed, revised and agreed these can be the basis for goals, targets and time lines. It has some similarities with the one-text approach advocated by the late Roger Fisher.

Next steps

Well done on including that heading. I used to peddle a formula in class (especially for engineering students who are unimpressed by anything that isn’t in a formula): C= A.B.D >X

I don’t recall where I lifted it from though I certainly didn’t invent it. C stood for Change. A for dissatisfaction with the status quo. B for a vision of a better state. D for practical first steps. X for the cost of change. If the first three variables multiplied together do not exceed the cost of change it won’t happen.

The absence of practical first steps is why teenagers don’t change the world. ( Except Greta Thuneberg might, with mass mobilisation of young people – but they will still need practical first steps. )