The Conflict Fundamentals Seminar

Spring 2017
Seminar Syllabus and Posts to Date 

Links to articles covering each topic are added as they are posted over the course of the seminar.


This seminar presents the core knowledge from the conflict resolution and peacebuilding fields, that is, to a large extent, considered a "starting point" for our more advanced Conflict Frontiers Seminar.   This seminar is made up of a videos and Beyond Intractability essays that cover the largely "settled knowledge" in the field, for example a description of negotiation strategies, approaches to dialogue, the importance of  human needs in conflict, etc. A few of the essays and videos (for instance the first few) are sufficiently important to be included in both seminars, but most of the material is different.

This seminar, we expect, will be of interest to people unfamiliar with the conflict resolution field, or those just starting to study it.



Seminar Topics / Syllabus

New posts can be found here or you can sign up to receive them on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Alternatively, you can get an email compliation of each unit by signing up for our newsletter.

Section I: Understanding the Intractable Conflict Problem

"Pre-Posts" -- Introduction to the MOOS Unit 0: Introduction to the MOOS (Note: This unit and Unit 2 are the same in this seminar and the Frontiers Seminar. Starting with Unit 3, the seminars diverge.)

  1. Invitation and Welcome (text version) --  A text and video explanation of what the MOOS is, who it is for, why it is needed, and what you can do with it. (April 5, 2017)
  2. The Intractable Conflict Challenge -- If we keep going as we are headed, we will get there. And "there" isn't good! (April 5, 2017)
  3. A Complexity-Oriented Approach -- Large-scale intractable conflicts are complex, not complicated systems--and the difference matters! (April 6, 2017)
  4. MOOS Audiences -- The MOOS has different seminars & blogs for many audiences--newcomer to expert. (April 6, 2017)
  5. MOOS Seminars -- April 7, 2017
  6. The Conflict Fundamentals Seminar -- The MOOS Fundamentals Seminar syllabus highlighting key conflict resolution insights. (April 7, 2017)
  7. Conflict Frontiers Seminar -- The Conflict Frontiers syllabus explores new ideas for advancing the frontier of the intractable conflict field. (April 8, 2017)
  8. Accessing MOOS Content --  A text and video explanation of the many ways to access MOOS content. (April 9, 2017)

Unit 1: The Intractable Conflict Problem

  1. Why Can't We Fix Anything Anymore? [D1] [D2] --  We can't fix our serious social, economic, political, and environmental problems because our attempts to "fix things" only make the underlying intractable conflict worse! (April 10, 2017)
  2. What Are Intractable Conflicts? [D2] -- An explanation of the controversy surrounding this term..and why we use it. (April 11, 2017)
  3. What Makes Conflicts Intractable? -- Intractability is driven by core differences and numerous "complicating" or "overlay" factors. (April 12, 2017)
  4. Intractable Conflict: A "Climate Change-Class" Problem [D1 part 3] -- A new video explores the parallels between intractable conflicts and climate change--and considers what conflict resolvers can learn from climate activists. (April 13, 2017)
  5. Limits to Growth, Tragedies of the Commons, & the Conflict Problem -- Conflict problems associated with wisely and equitably managing the social, political, economic, and environmental "commons" are society's real "Limit to Growth." (April 14, 2017)

Unit 2: Core Concepts:

  1. Conflicts and Disputes -- Distinguishing between conflicts & disputes is essential for successful engagement in each. (April 17, 2017)
  2. Complex and Complicated Systems -- Beyond complex, societal-level conflicts can be considered to be "complex adaptive systems," similar in some sense to weather, ant colonies, or jazz ensembles. The study of these systems requires us to challenge assumptions deeply embedded in the North American/European understandings of conflict intervention. (April 19, 2017)
  3. Interests, Positions, Needs, and Values  -- These are the things people fight about--and each must be handled differently. (April 20, 2017)
  4. Settlement, Resolution, Management, and Transformation -- Often considered synonyms, each of these implies a very different process and outcome. (April 21, 2017)
  5. John Paul Lederach on Transformation -- Conflict transformation sees conflict as an opportunity, not a problem needing a solution. (April 24, 2017)
  6. Reconciliation -- Once a hot topic, now a hotly-needed but controversial topic - this essay tells why. (April 25, 2017)
  7. Lederach's "Meeting Place" -- Think you know what peace, truth, justice, mercy, and reconciliation mean? This exercise forces a deeper look. (April 26, 2017)
  8. Stable Peace -- Stable peace, says Boulding, exists when the thought of war as a tool to resolve conflicts is not considered. (April 27, 2017)
  9. Principles of Justice and Fairness -- Like, beauty, "justice" is "in they eye of the beholder. " Or is it not? Can it be objectively measured? (April 28, 2017)

Unit 3: Parties

  1. First Parties, Third Parties, and Thirdsiders -- Everyone can play a role in making conflicts better--or worse! (May 1, 2017)
  2. Ury's "Third Side"' -- "Third siders" are disputants and outsiders - united in a desire to transform conflicts for the better. (May 2, 2017)
  3. Leaders and Leadership -- James MacGregor Burns, observed, "Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth." These resources examine the dynamics between a group and their leader. (May 3, 2017)
  4. Lederach's Pyramid -- Leaders at 3 levels of society can contribute to peace, but the middle level is often the most effective. (May 3, 2017)
  5. Within-Party Differences -- Not everyone on the “other side” is the same: some are open to compromise and others not. Don't lump them together. (May 4, 2017)
  6. "Extremists" and Spoilers -- Violent extremism is one of the most difficult challenges our time. We MUST design better ways of preventing it. (May 5, 2017)

Part II: Examining Causes of Intractable Conflicts

Unit 4:  Core Factors

  1. Core and overlay distinction - Part 1 -- The more 8 "core factors" are present, the more likely a conflict will become intractable. (May 8, 2017)  
  2. Core and Overlays Part 2 -- Eleven "complicating factors" obscure the core conflict and make it even more difficult to deal with effectively. (May 9. 2017)
  3. High-Stakes Distributional Issues -- When conflicts over who gets what really matter--they are high stakes--they drive intractability. (May 10, 2017)
  4. Inequality -- Conflicts between the rich and the poor are intractable in many contexts. (May 11, 2017)
  5. Moral Conflicts -- Moral conflicts often become intractable, as neither side is willing to compromise their deeply-held beliefs. (May 22, 2017)
  6. Identity Issues -- Identity drives many intractable conflicts as people simplify complex situations into an "us-versus them" story. This article examines: (1) the characteristics of identities, (2) how particular qualities of collective identities contribute intractability, (3) what shapes collective identities, and (4) how such identities can be modified to help transform and resolve intractable conflicts. (May 31, 2017)
  7. Status and power struggles -- Social status is intrinsically linked with ideas of power, humiliation, dignity and hierarchy. In many societies, there is a perpetual struggle between those at the top and those at the bottom, as is evidenced by the political struggles waging today. (June 7, 2017)
  8. Power -- If power were one-dimensional, we could agree who has more and who has less. However, we are often surprised when a seemingly less powerful party holds a more powerful party at bay. This essay discusses both potential and actual power, the forms power can take, and its role in causing and solving intractable conflicts. (June 8. 2017)
  9. Oppression -- This intro to a 6-essay series focuses on the causes and impacts of oppression and how it can be overcome. (June 9, 2017)
  10. Humiliation -- Evelin Lindner calls humiliation the "atom bomb of emotions" because it does such profound damage to relationships. (June 9. 2017)

Unit 5: Overlay Factors

  1. Fundamentals Unit 5: Conflict Overlay Factors -- A very short introduction to Unit 5, covering conflict overlay factors that make conflicts even more intractable. (June 12, 2017)
  2. Frames, Framing and Reframing -- Frames determine what we believe is true. When we framing things differently, conflict resolution is a challenge! (June 12, 2017)
  3. Process Frames -- Your process frame is a blinder that lets you see a solution...or forces it away. (June 13, 2017)
  4. Win/lose and competitive/cooperative framing -- Self-fulfilling prophecies keep us stuck in destructive conflict styles. (June 14, 2017)
  5. Into-the-Sea Framing -- Total refusal to live with the "other side" results in into-the-sea framing and deep intractability. (June 15, 2017)
  6. Identity Frames -- Identity frames shape who we are...and what we believe and do as well. (June 27, 2017)
  7. Stereotypes -- Genocides start with negative stereotyping--is this where the US wants to go? (June 29, 2017)
  8. Enemy Images -- Enemy images deepen our socio-economics & political problems, while they make effective problem solving impossible. (June 30, 2017)
  9. Cultural and Worldview Frames - Worldview frames go a long way in explaining why the US is becoming increasingly polarized.(July 7, 2017)
  10. Rational and nonrational decision-making - Emotions cannot be ignored in intractable conflicts--they are the elephant that a rider only tenuously controls. (July 14, 2017)
  11. Psychological Dynamics of Intractable Conflict -In intractable conflicts, entire societies can get tangled up in destructive psychological dynamics. (July 18, 2017)
  12. Ethos of Conflict - Since the conflict ethos feeds continuation of the conflict, that needs to change for conflicts to be resolved. (July 28, 2017)
  13. Siege Mentality - North Korea's siege mentality is particularly dangerous as the US is exhibiting a siege mentality too! (August 12, 2017)
  14. Delegitimization - Delegitimization drives escalation and violence—but how is it reversed?  (August 17, 2017)
  15. Victimhood - Victimhood has a dual nature—people can be both ashamed and proud of their victim status at the same time. (August 23, 2017)
  16. Cognitive Dissonance - : Cognitive dissonance, too, can escalate or de-escalate conflict depending on how it is used. (August 24, 2017)
  17. Interpersonal Communication - We take it for granted, but so much can go wrong with our communication. In conflict, care is essential! (August 29, 2017)
  18. Misunderstandings - Even if the misunderstandings do not cause conflict, they can escalate it rapidly once it starts. (Sept. 1, 2017)
  19. Closed Channels of Communication
  20. Distrust
  21. Conflicts over "facts"
  22. Fact-finding problems
  23. Ways of learning and knowing
  24. Distrust of experts, science, and technical facts
  25. Confusing facts and values
  26. Analysis paralysis, certainty trap, ilnumeracy, qed syndrome
  27. Destructive conflict dynamics
  28. Escalation spirals and positive feedback loops
  29. Polarization
  30. Conflict History
  31. Conflict Ethos
  32. Unrightable wrongs
  33. Justice in the Context of Unrightable Wrongs
  34. Retributive Justice
  35. Restorative Justice
  36. Distributive Justice
  37. Procedural problems
  38. Procedural justice
  39. Distrust of Process or People
  40. Spoilers

Unit 6:  Power and Conflict

  1. Understanding power (power sources and power strategies)
  2. Over-reliance on coercive power/backlash
  3. Integrative power
  4. Power strategy mix
  5. Power Hierarchy
  6. Legitimate and illegitimate power

Unit 7: Culture and Conflict

  1. The Role of Culture (Culture & Conflict)
  2. Culture and Worldview Frames (reprise) (Trap 8: Cultural blinders)
  3. Cross-Cultural Communication
  4. Communication-tools for Cultural Differences
  5. Culture-Based Negotiation Styles

Part III: Conflict Transformation Processes

Unit 8: Conflict Assessment

  1. Theories of Change
  2. Conflict Assessment
  3. Graphical Conflict Mapping
  4. Formative Evaluation

Unit 9: Exploring Alternative Goals

  1. Recent Peace and Conflict Paradigms
  2. Conflict styles/dual concern model
  3. Settlement, Resolution, Management, and Transformation (Reprise)
  4. Meeting Place (reprise)
  5. Visioning

​Unit 10: Improving Relationships

  1. Improved communication
  2. I-messages
  3. Empathic listening
  4. Creating safe spaces for communication
  5. Dialogue
  6. Cross-cultural communication
  7. Communication Tools for Understanding Cultural Differences
  8. Rumor Control
  9. Managing distrust
  10. Building Trust
  11. Expert/non-expert trust building activities
  12. Respect (reprise)
  13. Face-saving actions
  14. Apology and Forgiveness
  15. Tolerance and Coexistence
  16. Community-Building Activities
  17. Integrative Power (reprise)

Unit 11: Exchange Power and Negotiation

  1. Exchange Power
  2. Ripeness
  3. Ripeness Promoting Strategies
  4. Conflict styles/ dual concern model (reprise)
  5. Distributive (positional) bargaining
  6. Interest-based (integrative) bargaining
  7. BATNA
  8. ZOPA
  9. Islands of collaboration within conflict

Unit 12: Alternative Dispute Resolution

  1. Traditional Third Party Processes
  2. Facilitation
  3. Mediation
  4. Collaborative Problem Solving and Consensus Building
  5. Dialogue (reprise)
  6. ​Arbitration
  7. Adjudication
  8. Dispute Systems Design
  9. Which Dispute Resolution Process is Best?
  10. When to Mediate
  11. When to Arbitrate
  12. When to Litigate
  13. How to Find a Mediator
  14. How to Find an Arbitrator
  15. William Ury's "Third Side" Roles
  16. Prevention roles
  17. Resolution roles
  18. Containment roles

Unit 13: Peace Processes

  1. Preventive Diplomacy and Violence Prevention
  2. Peacemaking
  3. Track I Diplomacy
  4. Track II Diplomacy
  5. Track I - Track II Cooperation
  6. Peacekeeping
  7. Peacebuilding
  8. Training
  9. Dialogue
  10. Analytical Problem Solving/Problem-Solving Workshops
  11. Trauma Healing
  12. Narratives and Story-Telling
  13. Apology and Forgiveness (reprise)
  14. Peace Education
  15. Joint Projects
  16. Disarmament, Demobilization, and Re-Integration
  17. Nation Building
  18. Transitional Justice
  19. Retributive Justice (Tribunals)
  20. Restorative Justice (Truth Commissions)
  21. Election Reform and Monitoring
  22. Evaluation and Assessment of Interventions
  23. Evaluation as a Tool for Reflection