Small Scale Reconciliation – Part 3: Develop a Unifying Vision for The Future

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

March, 2021

You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


This is the third of five videos on small-scale, bottom up reconciliation.  This video discusses how small groups of people can work together to determine the future they want to acheive and maintain--for instance, do they want to reconcile the relationship, or do they want to break it off for good? And--after they decide that--how can they accomplish that?

Full Transcript:

Slide 1:  Hi.  This is Heidi Burgess.  Today we are going to continue our discussion of small-scale reconciliation.

Slide 2:  The third thing I said local, bottom up, small-scale peacebuilders have to do is to develop a unifying vision of society and a path of how to get there.  We’ve already covered this in considerable detail in Unit 2, so I won’t go into much detail here.  But a few things are worth mentioning.

Slide 3:   In unit 2, I didn’t make a big deal about the difference between small-scale bottom up reconciliation processes and large scale, top down ones.  But in my head, when I made the prospective reconciliation video, I think I was thinking “large scale, top down.”  So let’s consider what would be different if you did this at a smaller scale—perhaps even at the interpersonal scale.  (I know I said at the beginning that I said I wouldn’t deal with the interpersonal scale, but there are several people in the course who are interested in that, so I’ve begun to think about it.)

Slide 4:   Let’s review the key ideas in that video.  I started out by talking about Ebrahim Rasool’s idea of “starting with the end.” That makes sense at all levels.  When you are in an interpersonal conflict, you need an image of what you want—do you want to reconcile, or do you want to break up?  Is the relationship worth saving? What would “reconcile” mean? What needs to be different to make a “good relationship?” If you decide it is worth saving, then you need to figure how to go about doing that—what’s the path from where you are now to that “good relationship” you desire?

Starting with the end is also valuable at the community level, although there, breaking up is likely not an option.  So then you have to move into Ebrahim Rasool’s first idea that the community belongs to all who live there.  So you have to work together to figure out what people in the community want, and how to accomplish that.

Slide 5:   That requires some sort of a community visioning process.  You read in Unit 2 about Jay Rothman’s “action evaluation” process in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the community came together to re-envision police/community relations.  That was a very long, very time- and money-intensive process, but they don’t have to be that way.

When I was just starting out in the conflict resolution field back in the 1980s, I was working with a mediation firm called Accord Associates.  This was a time when energy development was booming in the West—oil and gas particularly, but also coal was being developed rapidly, in an effort to make the U.S. “energy independent.”  (We had recently suffered through two serious oil shortages, that caused mile-long lines at gas pumps and reduced factory production. So we wanted to become independent of Mideast oil.)

Many towns in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah were rich with coal, oil, and natural gas, so they started “booming”  some were seeing their populations double or even triple in the course of a year or less.  They didn’t have the infrastructure to support the boom—not enough housing, schools, supplies of everything were stretched thin.

And not surprisingly, there was considerable conflict between the oil and gas workers and the locals, who most often, were farmers and ranchers.  While some of the farmers and ranchers welcomed the energy development, thinking it would bring revenue to a struggling area, many were very much against the newcomers, fearing a change in their rural way of life.  Some didn’t even know that they didn’t own the mineral rights below their lands, and were stunned when oil developers showed up, claiming they had the right to drill in a farmer’s pasture.

We worked in about 4 communities in each of the three states—Price, UT, pictured here, was one of them. In Price, there was coal up in those hills.  We interviewed people individually to find out both their concerns about what was going on at the time, but also their hopes for the future.  After collecting information from town leaders and “regular citizens,” including old-timers and newcomers, we prepared a report about what the issues were and what people’s hopes and aspirations seemed to be.

We then held a series of workshops in each community where we presented what we had found, and then we facilitated small-group discussions that took the general ideas we presented, refined them, and worked to develop pathways over which the towns might be able to pursue the desired futures. The local governments took it from there.

The whole project—in all 12 communities--lasted about a year or maybe two (I don’t remember for sure), but it’s budget was probably 1/10 what the Cincinnati budget was, and the time commitment from the locals was way less too.  But the process helped people in all of these communities plan for a more stable future, and it improved relationships. (It didn’t help several years later, when oil prices dropped precipitously and all the boom town turned into bust towns—but that’s another story.

Slide 6:  What other processes are useful for envisioning at the small scale?  I like Elise Boulding’s envisioning workshop model, which you learned in the Unit 2 exercise can be done individually or in groups of two.

If you are focusing on reconciliation at the societal level, as you did for that exercise, in the “real world,” you’d want to get many more than one or two people involved.  You’d need processes that engage people across the country—perhaps using a process related to the one Jay Rothman did in Cincinnati.  But if you are focused on a small group.  But if you are trying to bring about reconciliation within a family, a small group process is perfect.  It can also be used to good advantage in small businesses, church groups, neighborhood groups to develop an image of how to work together to mend relationships.

Slide 7:  Dialogue, is of course, another small group process that has been used very successfully in many different contexts around the world, generally to help people understand each other better in an effort to improve relationships.  That, alone, of course, is helpful in pursuing reconciliation, but more specifically the dialogue can be directed to help people visualize how they want to live together in the future.

This picture was taken at a Seeds of Peace dialogue that was held in March 2009 in Shlomi (Northern Israel).  Seeds of Peace, is a  “Leadership Development Program” that brings teenagers from both sides of conflict lines—Israelis and Palestinians, mostly, but also Greek and Turkish Cypriots and teens from the Balkans, to live and work together and get to know each other.  Their website explains: “As participants find their own voices, form relationships, and gain insights into the root issues that divide them, they build greater levels of confidence, trust, respect, and empathy, which inspire their commitment to work for change at home.”

The description of this event explained that the group viewed the documentary "In October the Earth Shook," which describes the events surrounding the 2000 killing of Seed Aseel Asleh by Israeli police in 2000. The screening was followed by an intense dialogue.

The next day, the seminar focused on the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, beginning with a showing of the Encounter Point documentary, and followed by another dialogue session. Later, participants took part in a leadership activity. The event ended with a letter-writing session, where Seeds addressed their Palestinian counterparts.

That’s all the detail I know, but I would imagine, this being a “leadership activity,” that the participants likely discussed how they would like to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict evolve toward reconciliation, and how Seeds might work to help this happen.  Indeed, that’s the purpose of the whole Seeds of Peace Program. 

My skepticism about Seeds of Peace is whether and how the program can scale up to make a societal-level difference in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  But clearly, at the small group level at least, the program appears to have a significant positive impact.

Slide 8:  Similar to dialogues are problem-solving workshops (also called “interactive problem solving”) which are essentially dialogues designed to address fundamental human needs.  These, too, can be applied at all levels from interpersonal to international, although at the interpersonal level, it wouldn’t be a workshop—it would just be an interpersonal investigation of each party’s needs, and development of a plan to meet those needs.

John Burton, if you remember, took Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and adopted it to conflict theory, arguing that the need for identity, security, and recognition were paramount, and when those needs weren’t fulfilled, deep-rooted conflict was likely to occur.  His answer for resolving such conflicts, therefore, w using problem solving workshops to identify the missing needs and developing ideas (a pathway in essence) of how to provide them to all the disputants. 

The interesting thing about needs that is different from interests, is that needs are not zero sum or win-lose.  Interests aren’t always zero-sum either, but they sometimes are.  Sometimes there is a fixed amount of a good or a benefit, and it has to be divided up in a way that the more you have, the less I have. 

But Burton’s needs don’t work like that.  The more security one side has, the less it is likely to feel a need to threaten the other side, so the other side will have more security too.  If one side’s identity is respected, they won’t feel as much need to disrespect others—so respect is naturally a win-win commodity (such that it is a commodity at all).

These ideas are true when you are talking about individual people—people need to feel safe, they need to feel respected for who they are, and they need to be recognized for their accomplishments.  These needs apply to groups too—groups in communities, in organizations, in nations.  So that’s another similarity across levels.

Slide 9:  Our discussion of retrospective reconciliation was also, primarily, focused at the large scale.  Truth and reconciliation commissions are a standard way for whole societies to reckon with wrong of the past. Typically, they are organized and run by top-level actors—either government or highly positioned non-governmental people (such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa).

What’s the equivalent at the smaller scale, bottom-up domain? First, Lederach’s Meeting Place applies here too. If two friends or a couple are trying to reconcile after one has deeply wronged the other (or perhaps they both had a contribution to the current estrangement), the parties still likely want to know the truth of what happened—who did what, and why.  They probably want some form of justice.  It might be compensation for the damages incurred, it might be a heart-felt apology and promise to do better, it might be some sort of restorative justice process that indeed seeks to understand the hurt and develop a consensual plan for remedying the situation and the relationship.  The wrong-doer, likely also wants mercy—they don’t want to be dealt with overly harshly—and presumably, if the couple is working for something they’d call “reconciliation,” they’d like to also end up with what they’d call “peace.”

Slide 10:  TRCs can also be held at the local level, and in the United States, there is reason to believe local TRCs might work, while a national-level one might not.  This is the website of the first-ever (to my knowledge) local TRC which was held in Greensboro, NC.  It was an independent, democratically selected body which sought truth and “healing transformation,” seeking to close the deep wounds created in November of 1979 when the KKK and Nazi Party members attacked a racially mixed group of activists, killing five and wounding ten others. 

According to George Mason’s Mary Hoch Center’s document “Local Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) and Other Commissions,” as of early 2021, 14 local jurisdictions and 28 college campuses have convened their own TRC-like processes, seeking racial and ethnic healing in their communities.  (See and Although the centers have different names (some are TRCs, some are not), “all of these focus on truth-telling, atonement, racial reconciliation, healing, reparations, justice and/or transformation. Under all the formulations the focus is on overcoming system cracism through the honest examination of its history and trauma inflicted on communities.”

Slide 11:   A related process that is undertaken at the interpersonal level is “restorative justice,” also sometimes called “victim-offender reconciliation.” 

This process brings victims of crimes (or sometimes other community members representing the victim) face-to-face with the perpetrator(s) of the crime to explore what the harms were, the reasons for the offense, and what can be done to make amends.  Apologies are a minimum response—significant reparations are also common results, together with forgiveness of the crime and the offender if the apology and reparations are made. 

This kind of process is most commonly used in the U.S. for juvenile crimes, but it has been applied to adult crimes as well—even at times violent crimes, although it is more common for minor crimes such as vandalism and civic disturbances.  In other countries, including particularly Canada, it is used both for adults and juveniles, much more extensively.

Slide 12:  That’s a quick overview of the most common methods used for what I call “prospective” and “retrospective” reconciliation at the interpersonal and local levels. 


Slide 7: Seeds_of_Peace Shlomi Dialogue: .

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Photo Credits:

Slides 2 and 12: Unsplash:  open source.

Slide 3: US Map: The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet:20:57, 9 October 2005 . . Dbenbenn . . 959x593 (339217 bytes) (fix South Carolina label)20:27, 9 October 2005 . . Dbenbenn . . 959x593 (339227 bytes) (typo, Massachussetts -> Massachusetts)19:01, 9 October 2005 . . Dbenbenn . . 959x593 (371653 bytes) (crop, and remove some shapes (rivers, highways, capitals, lakes) that didn't display anyway)13:18, 23 September 2005 . . Ed g2s . . 990x855 (978668 bytes) (fix (removed <image /> tag))23:48, 23 September 2004 . . Wapcaplet . . 0x0 (978926 bytes) (SVG map of the United States. Created by Wapcaplet. {{GFDL} }), CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Virginia map: JimIrwin, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Arlington, VA Map: Mr. Matté CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Slide 4: Public domain.

Slide 5: Price theatre:  By Don Barrett. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Price town: Zacry Cloward, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Slide 6:,_a_digital_interp....  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Author unknown.

Slide 7:  Seeds_of_..., CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Slide 8:, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Slide 9: Slide 8: