Louise Diamond & John McDonald's Multi-Track Diplomacy

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

October, 2016

You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


Louise Diamond and John McDonald were another pair of peacebuilding practitioners who developed a "systems thinking" approach to peacebuilding long before others did.  They introduced the concept of "multi-track diplomacy" and described the workings of nine different tracks in their book of the same name.  This video explains what these tracks are, and how they work together to create a "synergy" (using Louise's term) which enables the development of stable peace--a goal that is usually unobtainable from any of the tracks acting alone.

Discussion Questions: 

(1) What other ideas from Louise Diamond and John McDonald have you found to be particularly useful in your work?  Put another way, what are their core ideas that have influenced the way you work or think about conflict problems?

(2) What other people should we include in this "literature review" of the "founders" of the complexity-oriented approach to peacebuilding?  What key ideas of theirs have you found particularly useful or influential?  Can you give us citations to sources that talk about ideas?

Discuss both these questions in D12.

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Full Transcript

Hi. This is Heidi Burgess. Today I want to talk about another early application of systems thinking to peace building. And that is the concept developed by Louise Diamond and John McDonald called multi-track diplomacy.

Louise and John wrote a book called, Multi-Track Diplomacy-- A Systems Approach to Peace--the third edition was 1996. I think the first and second editions were close to then. And they started something called the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, which still exists today and implements their strategy around the world. The picture at the bottom right is taken from their website, which is IMTD.org, and you'll all see a picture of their book and their smiling faces.

Multi-track diplomacy is an extension of the notion of track two diplomacy, or citizens' diplomacy, that was first introduced by a foreign service officer Joe Montville in 1981. He made the distinction between Track One, which he defined as official governmental action, and Track Two was anybody who was involved in peacebuilding activities, but was unofficial, not part of the government.

Louise and John realized that it would be useful to divide up Track Two into a lot more tracks. So they added seven more tracks to come up with nine tracks and presented them in this diagram. Up at the top at the 12 o'clock position, you see Track One, government, which is the same as Joe Montville's distinction. And Track Two is professional conflict resolution, which is similar to the notion of traditional Track Two diplomats. But they then add business actors as Track Three, private citizens as Track Four, researchers, trainers, and educators as Track Five, activists as Track Six, religious leaders and followers as Track Seven, funders as Track Eight, and people who work in the area of public opinion and communication as Track Nine.

And what they point out in their book and their lectures is that all of these tracks are part of the conflict and peace system. And they talk about systems much in the same way that systems theorists do now as well-- it's a loose organization that has elements flowing through it. Each of the elements has its unique resources, its different values, different goals, different approaches. But they all interact and influence each other.

Now the goals of business are not usually to bring peace. They're usually to make money. The goals of activists are not usually to make peace but to win their side. Funders usually, or at least often, have a goal of making the world a better place, but the way they define that is different.

So the goals and values of these players are different. The approaches that they use are different. They come with different resources. But none of them alone can produce sustainable peace. It takes all of them working together.

When they function together, they create a synergy that Diamond refers to as a systems approach to peace. Now like other systems theorists, she realizes that there is nobody in charge. There is nobody calling the shots that is telling what each of these entities should or should not do.

They make decisions on their own, for their own reasons, for their own purposes. But when they all interact, they can do so either in a way that leads to greater peace or greater conflict. And the likelihood of it leading to greater peace increases if people understand the notion of a system and the part they play in it. 

Referenced Resources:

Dr. Louise Diamond and Ambassador John McDonald. Multi-Track Diplomacy: A Systems Approach to Peace.  Third Edition. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press. 1996.

A short article on these ideas, written by Amdassador McDonald is also available on the BI Knowledge base at "Multi-Track Diplomacy."