MOOS Project History

by Heidi and Guy Burgess

We started developing the Moving Beyond Intractability MOOS in the Spring of 2016. Its development was spurred by four factors. First was our concern about the increasing number and intensity of intractable conflicts around the world. When we started developing BI, intractable conflicts were seen as an important challenge, but they were being surmounted. Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Cold War, for example, were all intractable conflicts that had certainly been transformed if not resolved. Now in 2016, all three of these conflicts seem to be re-emerging (albeit in different form). At the same time, we have seen the almost total meltdown of the Middle East, the continuing intractability of many wars in Africa, a heightening of tensions in several parts of Asia, and now, an ever-deepening division within the United States that is threatening the very basis and stability of our own democracy.

A second driving factor was Bill Ury's suggestion, many years ago, that we turn Beyond Intractability from simply an online "knowledge base" to a virtual "place" where users could "get together," talk, and brainstorm new ways of dealing with their myriad conflict challenges. We tried to implement this a few years ago by developing the idea of a "Collaborative Learning Community" on BI. We reformated the BI homepage trying to stress that idea and hoped that users would begin to contribute their own ideas as well as learning from it and engage in conversations with each other about the material. A small group of users did contribute papers, particularly John Paul Lederach's graduate students at Notre Dame and the Burgesses' graduate students at George Mason University, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado. A few other people who weren't students of ours or John Paul's contributed, too, but not very many others, so the discussions didn't take off and the idea didn't really catch on.

A third factor was that the we both retired from teaching at the University of Colorado in the spring of 2016, which freed up a lot of our time. We began to think about writing the book that we'd been wanting to write for years, but never had time to do so. But books aren't really "our style." We've been committed to the notion of sharing ideas online for free for a very long time, so it wasn't a hard sell when our friend and colleague Mari Fitzduff suggested that we'd be better off writing "our book" online. Doing so would also allow us to try, once again, to implement Bill Ury's notion of creating "a place" on BI, which is how we switched from the idea of an online book to an online seminar that was open to anyone who was interested.

But the fourth factor was that we got cold feet. We have been watching the vitriol and worse that seems to accompany most (if not all) online political discussions and were cognizant that we did not have the staff or funding to monitor all the discussions we had originally envisioned encouraging in response to our posts. So, we're going to start the discussion part of the seminar fairly slowly. Right now we are posting our own thoughts all presented in "bite-sized" videos and transcripts of same along with some broad discussion questions about the "big questions" we are trying to address. People will have to register to contribute to the discussions and in most cases we ask that they use their real names. Our hope is that this will keep the dialogue constructive. If they aren't we will try something else, or if we have to, turn them off entirely.

But if these discussions "catch on" and are useful, then we will slowly increase their scope. We will also slowly morph from having all the core content in the seminars be ours to including materials produced by others, not only in the Additional Resources and Colleague Activities blogs, but in the core seminars themselves. But for the time being, the core seminars will be the Burgess' book-by-short-installments and in video as well as text format. Bottom line, this is a work in progress. I hope you will find it interesting, but be patient with us as we experiment with different approaches and ideas.