Conflict Frontiers Seminar


Spring & Summer 2017
Seminar Syllabus and Posts to Date


This seminar looks at frontier-of-the-field issues involving the nature of intractable conflicts and more effective ways of addressing them. We are particularly interested in applying a complexity and systems approach to intractable conflicts, and examining ways to scale up responses to be effective in large scale, complex conflicts. The seminar is based on ideas and materials that we (Guy and Heidi Burgess) have developed and have taught over the last 30 years.However, these ideas and materials are based on our collaboration with over 400 people who have contributed to the development of Beyond Intractability and related projects. Thus it includes the work and ideas of many people, not just us.

Intended Audience: This is primarily designed for people know know the "basics" and are interested in a cutting edge discussion of what makes intractable conflicts particularly difficult, and what can be done about that.  We are thinking this is likely to be of particular interest to advanced (MA and PhD) students and professionals (scholars and practitioners) in peace, conflict, and related fields. However, the seminar is open to all participants.  (We also are offering a "basics seminar" called "Conflict Fundamentals.")

Scope: The topics that we are planning to address in this first semester-long MOOS are outlined below.  This is a daunting list – one that will certainly generate “sticker shock” among some participants.   Still, this is a “thinking big” seminar focused on developing a very broad strategy for a scale and complexity-oriented approach to peacebuilding---one that we think is required for any serious effort to address the “intractable conflict challenge.”  Unlike a MOOC, where the readings and videos are required, participants are only asked to look at those things that interest them.  Some of you may be interested in the broad, overview materials, others will want to focus on narrower sets of topics.  Feel free to pick and choose.
A Note about Post Order:  We should also note that while syllabi (or even topic lists or sequences of posts) are inherently linear, this set of ideas is not linear. Rather it is a web.  We have (as usual) had a very difficult time deciding what to post first, what later, what toward the end.  Conflict and particularly complex systems, are very much chicken-and-egg affairs--everything, in a sense, relates to everything else.  So we will be presenting a lot of different ideas up front, and then circling back to them over time as we explore earlier ideas further and present related ideas that need to be linked to something that came before.

Other Notes: 

  • Unit 0 and Unit 1 are the same in this seminar and the Fundamentals Seminar. Starting with Unit 2, the two seminars diverge.
  • [D#] indicates the discussion(s) that are associated with a particular post.  These discussions will be available when the associated post is posted.


Spring 2017 Seminar Topics / Syllabus
with Associated Discussions 

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.

"Preface-Posts" -- Introduction to the MOOS

    Welcome, Getting Started Videos

    Guy's Welcome, Project Rationale, and Quick Preview

     Heidi's Welcome & What's a MOOS?
    Using the Moos

    1. Invitation and Quick Introduction -- 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. 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)

    Section I: Understanding the Intractable Conflict Problem

    Unit 1: The Intractable Conflict Problem

    1. Why Can't We Fix Anything Anymore?  -- 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? -- Are there such things as intractable conflicts? We say "yes"--but they aren't impossible--just complex, difficult, and in great need of new ideas! (April 11, 2017​)
    3. What Makes Conflicts Intractable? -- Intractable conflicts have many layers. To address them, you need to peel those layers away. (April 12, 2017)
    4. Intractable Conflict: A "Climate Change-Class" Problem -- 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, and 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:  Pushing the frontier: the Limits of Business-as-Usual 

    1. Business-as-Usual Introduction -- Business-as-usual strategies don't work for intractable conflicts--they often make them worse! (April 17, 2017)​ 
    2. Part 1: Same Old Approach, Just More or Better -- "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."  Why do we do that with conflict? (April 18, 2017​) 
    3. Part 2: Boys Will Be Boys" -- Are confliict and war inevitable? Is “compromise” bad?  Common attitudes turn us into cynics and block learning. (April 19, 2017)​ 
    4. Part 3: The "Blame Game" -- In conflict, we often blame the other. But focusing on “contribution” instead usually gets much better results! (April 20, 2017)​ 
    5. Part 4: Power and the Power Strategy Mix -- Sources of power and power strategies--how to make the most of each. (April 21, 2017)​ 
    6. Part 5: The Interplay of Reason and Emotion -- Rationality and emotions both contribute to conflict decision-making--be smart about how! (April 24, 2017​)
    7. Part 6: More Bad Assumptions -- “If they’d just talk, they could work it out!” Exploring this and other bad assumptions. (April 25, 2017)​ 
    8. Part 7: The Return of I'll Fight-you-for-it Rules -- Are efforts to solve problems collaboratively now losing to naked contests of Machiavellian power? (April 26, 2017)​ 
    9. Part 8: The Backlash Effect and Coefficient  -- If your backlash coefficient is more than one, your cause cannot be won! Learn why! (April 27, 2017)​ 
    10. Part 9: Recent Peace and Conflict Paradigms -- Peace cultivation and massively parallel peacebuilding: two ideas for a new complexity-oriented conflict paradigm. (April 28, 2017)​ 

    Discussion #12: What and Who Did We Miss in this "Literature Review"?  Covers all posts in this unit.

    Unit 3: Introduction to Complexity and "Systems Thinking" - Theoretical Antecedents

    1. Developing a Systems/Complexity Paradigm -- This video provides an introductory look at a developing new paradigm for peacebuilding: using systems thinking and complexity analysis to better understand wicked problems and difficult and intractable conflicts. (May 1, 2017)
    2. Dugan's "Nested Theory of Conflict" -- Conflicts exist on many levels at once - seeing these helps you see the conflict system. (May 2, 2017)
    3. Lederach's Pyramid -- Leaders at three levels of society all contribute to peace, but those at the middle-level are often the most effective, explains John Paul Lederach in Building Peace, an early exploration of systems, complexity, and peace. (May 3, 2017)
    4. Lederach's Big Picture of Conflict Transformation -- Lederach’s circle of conflict transformation shows how to design change processes that work. (May 4, 2017)
    5. Diamond and McDonald's Multi-track Diplomacy -- Diplomats are not just officials, but include 9 different types of people--all contributing towards peacebuilding. These nine tracks together create a synergy that consistutes a "systems approach to peace." (May 5, 2017)
    6. Ury's "Third Side" -- How YOU can help transform difficult conflicts! Everyone has a role to play! (May 8, 2017)
    7. Coleman's "Five Percent" Part 1 -- Peter Coleman says intractable conflicts are by formed powerful “attractors” or seemingly inescapable traps. (May 9, 2017)
    8. Coleman's "Five Percent" Part 2 -- Coleman says intractable conflicts can be tamed by 3 steps --learn what they are! (May 10, 2017)
    9. Ricigliano's SAT model -- Complex conflicts require complex responses: the SAT and PAL models are linked approaches for doing just that. (May 11, 2017)
    10. Hauss's "New Paradigm" -- Intractable conflicts are "wicked problems" that need an entirely new paradigm to deal with says Chip Hauss. (May 15, 2017)

    Unit 4: Moving Toward a Complexity-Oriented Paradigm

    1. Embracing Complexity: The Key to Dealing with Intractability -- The Moving Beyond Intractability MOOS Seminars introduction to unit on complexity, ecosystems, & intractability. (May 23, 2017)
    2. Complex vs. Complicated Systems -- Intractable conflicts are complex adaptive systems, so they need complex, adaptive responses. (May 24, 2017) 
    3. System Levels -- Simple models won't work! We must develop conflict intervention models for higher-level complex systems. (May 25, 2017)
    4. The Really Big Picture Ecodynamics and Planetary Evolution -- An exploration of how understanding ecodynamics and evolution can help us deal with complex conflict. (May 31, 2017)
    5. Meeting the Adaptation Challenge -- Speeding society's ability to rapidly adapt to changing conditions should be a key goal of the conflict field. (June 1, 2017)
    6. The Evolutionary Choice: "Power With" or "Power Over"  -- An explanation of why this may be our best/last chance to make democracy work (and avoid autocracy and anocracy). (June 12, 2017)
    7. Our Most Important Conflict: Coexisters vs. Fighters vs. Divide-and-Conquerors -- We need to resist "divide and conqueror's" efforts to control society by exacerbating left/right tensions. (June 15, 2017)
    8. The Complex Causes of Social Problems -- We need to think about social problems as complex adaptive systems requiring massively parallel problem-solving. (June 27, 2017)
    9. Social and Psychological Complexity -- Those who seek power-over others are dealing better with social & psychological complexity. This needs to change! (July 6, 2017)
    10. Mari Fitzduff's An Introduction to Neuroscience for the Peacebuilder-Part 1 - Neuroscience can explain why so many peacebuilding interventions don't work as hoped --and how to do better.  (July 11, 2017)
    11. Mari Fitzduff's An Introduction to Neuroscience for the Peacebuilder-Part 2 - Neuroscience can explain why so many peacebuilding interventions don't work as hoped --and how to do better.  (July 13, 2017)
      • ​D16: Neuropsychology and Conflict What can and should peacebuilders do about the predispositions described in this video?  Particularly, how do we address people's emotional needs as well as their rational interests and needs in our peacebuilding work? And, how can we work within the constraints of non-rational/emotional thinking, rather than engage in a futile effort to convert all thinking to the rational approach?
    12. Engineering and Medical Troubleshooting - Complexity-oriented approaches to conflict are more like medicine and less like engineering. (July 17, 2017)
    13. The Scale Up Problem --  We need to stop thinking in terms of mediation triads, and scale up conflict work to societal levels. (July 20, 2017)
    14. The Google Traffic Metaphor -- Google traffic and other traffic control activities can teach us a lot about dealing with conflict. (July 24, 2017)
    15. The Decentralized, "Markets Plus" Metaphor  (August 11, 2012)

    Unit 5:  Massively Parallel Peacebuilding (MPP)

    1. Massively Parallel Peacebuilding – Introduction
    2. Constructive Confrontation - Parts 1 and 2
    3. Keys to Making MPP Work
    4. Precedents for MPP
    5. Complexity-oriented Capacity Building 
    6. Ways of Knowing and Learning
    7. Learning and Teaching in Different Settings
    8. Institutional and Structural Capacity Building

    Unit 6: Owning the problem

    1. Starting at Home
    2. Mega Worry How Bad Could It Get 
    3. Routine Worry: Why We Can't Fix Anything (Again and Still)
    4. Background: Peacebuilding at Home and Abroad - Part 1
    5. Peacebuilding at Home and Abroad Part II: "Wearing the Others's Shoes"
    6. US Focus/International Applications
    7. Open Goals and Accountability
    8. Meta-proposal for the Field
    9. Further Ownership Issues
    10. Examining Our Own Assumptions: What We Don't See and Talk About Does Hurt Us.
    11. Compassion and Empathy
    12. Building and Using Mirrors
    13. Beyond the Binary Frame

    Unit 7: Examining US Politics

    1. Red/Blue Cultural Divide
    2. The Role of Culture in Conflict
    3. Constructive Responses to Cultural Differences
    4. Neuroscience and Cultural Lag
    5. The Gold/Purple Divide Parts I and II
    6. The 2016 Presidential Election
    7. Unmet Human Needs
    8. Mirror: Cosmopolitan Meritocracy/Distributional Conflict
    9. Mirror: Cosmopolitan Progressive Cultural Values
    10. Mirror: Government/ Blank Industrial Complex
    11. Mirror: Environmentalism
    12. Mirror: Trump supporters
    13. Mirror: Business Excesses/Caveat Emptor Values
    14. Fighters and Compromisers
    15. Divide and Conquer Strategy
    16. Power Strategy Mix (reprise)
    17. Backlash (reprise)
    18. Legitimate and Illegitimate Power
    19. Justice in the Red/Blue/Gold Divide
    20. The many elements of Democracy and Avoiding Dystopian Tyranny
    21. Partisan Structures
    22. Partisan Frames

    Section II: Moving Beyond Intractability: Defining Goals, Objectives, and Make-a-Difference Actions

    Unit 8: Exploring Goals

    1. Exploring Alternative Goals
    2. First Focus: Violence-limited Societies
    3. Big Picture Prequel
    4. Distributional Goals
    5. Moral Goals
    6. Identity Goals
    7. Type I and Type II Cultural Issues and Conflicts
    8. Constructive Responses to Cultural Differences
    9. Security Goals
    10. Justice Goals
    11. Peace Goals
    12. Forgiveness Goals
    13. Lederach's "Meeting Place" - Balancing Peace, Justice, Truth, and Mercy 
    14. Distinguishing Core Goals from "Astroturf Goals"
    15. Visioning

    Unit 9: Examining Objectives: Traps and Opportunities

    1. Section Introduction
    2. Framing traps and opportunities
    3. Identity and Characterization Framing
    4. Win/lose, Competitive & Into-the-sea Framing
    5. Power Frames
    6. Spoilers  
    7. Risk frames
    8. Process frames
    9. Bad Communication
    10. Misunderstandings
    11. Cognitive Dissonance, Confirmation Bias, and Sacrifice Trap
    12. Narrowcasting and Media Bias
    13. Propaganda and Disinformation and "Alt-Facts"
    14. Cultural Blinders
    15. Bandwidth Stereotype Problem
    16. Fact-Finding Problems (Introduction)
    17. Confusing Facts and Values
    18. Risk and Uncertainty
    19. Distrust of Science/News/Facts/Experts
    20. Analysis Paralysis, Certainty Trap, Ilnumeracy, QED Syndrome
    21. Escalation 
    22. Escalation Spirals
    23. Riding the Tiger
    24. Polarization
    25. Ineffective Negotiation and Decision Making
    26. Ineffective Negotiation
    27. Ineffective Agreement Implementation
    28. Ineffective Governance
    29. Market pathologies
    30. Mission creep

    Unit 10: Make-a-Difference Actions - Principles

    1. Identifying First-order and Second-order "Make-a-difference" Actions
    2. Implications of the "Massively Parallel" Approach - Simultaneous Micro, Meso, and Macro Efforts
    3. Use of Mapping to Identify "Ripe Places" for Intervention
    4. Beyond Crisis Response: Working in the Short, Intermediate, and Long-term Simultaneously
    5. Matching Actions to Objectives
    6. Avoiding
    7. Grabbing Opportunities
    8. Forming Coalitions
    9. Insider and Outsider Roles
    10. Third Sider Roles
    11. Large-Scale Actions
    12. Defining  "Good Governance" 

    Unit 11: "First-order" Actions

    1. Empowering “Power-With” Compromisers So That They Can Successfully Resist The “Power Over” Machiavellians.
    2. Mirror Building, Compassion, Pragmatic And Principled Empathy
    3. Face-Saving Actions
    4. Crisis Response
    5. Rumor Control
    6. Tolerance and Coexistence
    7. Constructive Confrontation of Moral Differences
    8. Community-Building Actions
    9. Expert/Non-Expert Trust-Building
    10. Islands Of Collaboration Within Conflict
    11. Ripeness, Compromise And Interest-Based Bargaining
    12. Fighting Fair/Referees
    13. Peacekeeping
    14. Nonviolent Direct Action
    15. Implementing "Good Governance"
    16. Election Reform And Monitoring
    17. Market Reform to Limit Fraud
    18. Market Reform to Reduce Inequality
    19. Market Reform to Limit Tragedies of the Commons
    20. Peacebuilding Social Entrepreneurship

    Unit 12: Second-order Actions - - Peacebuilder Mobilization Strategies

    1. Review Of Difference Between First-Order and Second-Order Actions
    2. Match-Making (E-Bay Approach)
    3. Diagnostic Questionnaires
    4. Social Movement Organization
    5. University Reform
    6. Peacebuilder Support
    7. Mobilizing And Legitimizing Expertise 

    Unit 13. Second-order Actions - Capacity Building 

    1. Section Introduction - Second Order Capacity Building
    2. Media strategies
    3. Traditional Education and Training
    4. Identity-Group Training
    5. Cross-Fertilization Opportunities and Events
    6. Cost Containment
    7. Big Picture Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation 

    Unit 14: Where Do We Go From Here?

    1. Section Introduction: Where Do We Go From Here?
    2. Things Individuals Can Do
    3. Things Grassroots Leadership Can Do
    4. Things Mid-Level Leadership Can Do
    5. Things Elite Leaders Can Do
    6. Things The Conflict-Resolution and Peacebuilding Field Can Do



    Spring 2016 "Beta" Seminar Posts