Heidi and Guy Burgess have been partners personally and professionally since the early 1970s. They both received their Ph.D.s in sociology in the same year (1979) and then did post-doctoral work at MIT a year later during the 1979-80 "energy crisis." That, together with their dissertations, encouraged their focus on difficult conflict problems ranging from international conflicts to domestic U.S. environmental and public policy conflicts.
After working a variety of short-term, practical conflict jobs, Heidi and Guy received a grant from the Hewlett Foundation in the late 1980s to start a conflict resolution "theory-building center" that is now known as the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado. The Consortium started with a team of researchers focused on three different areas: international conflict, environmental conflict, and racial and ethnic conflicts within the U.S. It soon became apparent, however, that all three groups were examining problems that were very similar in many respects. They soon combined them into one big project focusing on what they call "intractable" (not impossible) conflicts--conflicts that are very deep-rooted, very complex, and very difficult to resolve. The Burgesses and the Consortium have maintained that focus ever since.
As Co-Directors of the Consortium, Heidi and Guy have been able to self-design rather unusual careers which combined theory-building, practice, and teaching using theories and strategies from many disciplines, not just sociology. Drawn to complexity and systems theory very early on by Kenneth Boulding's work, they almost always tried to focus on the big picture and how all the different conflict elements fit together. They have also long focused on the multiplicity of conflict roles, examining not just how experts (mediators, lawyers, judges, etc.) resolve conflicts, but also how disputants themselves can engage in conflicts more and less constructively. Since they believe that most conflicts are not resolved by experts, but rather by the disputants themselves, Heidi and Guy understand the importance of teaching involved disputants more effective conflict-handling techniques.
This led them, in the early 1990s, to begin focusing on the use of computer-based information systems and the Internet (once that was developed) to disseminate conflict knowledge to as many people as possible. This resulted in the development of two extremely large knowledge bases--CRInfo and Beyond Intractability. (These two websites have now been combined and are both available at www.beyondintractability.org.)
In addition to directing the Consortium, and designing, developing, editing, and maintaining these large web-based knowledge bases, the Burgesses also both taught at three universities. They were the core faculty for the University of Colorado Peace and Conflict Studies Certificate Program (we recently retired from those positions). We taught (and Heidi continues to teach) at the graduate level at the University of Denver's Conflict Resolution and International Studies Program. Lastly, we both have been teaching online for about five years with George Mason's School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, that too, at the graduate level.
Our current focus is developing the next iteration of Beyond Intractability, which we are calling the Moving Beyond Intractability Massive Open Online Seminar (or MBI-MOOS). Unlike BI and CRInfo, which were created by hundreds of people, at this point, the MBI-MOOS is just being created by us -- largely on our own. We are using materials drawn from all of our colleagues, of course, but we are for the first time adding our ideas to the mix and suggesting new ways of looking at the intractable conflict problem. If we were different people, working at a different time, this would be our "life-work" book. But given the time, and our nature, we are creating yet another website, which we hope to use to jump start a discussion about how to move the conflict resolution field to the next level, and really empower people in all walks of life to confront intractable conflicts more constructively.