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Intractable conflicts are often extremely complex: they involve many parties with different worldviews, interests, values, and needs; intertwined positive and negative relationships, destructive dynamics (such as polarization and escalation), different levels of power, power sources and power strategies, all working within complex structures and ever-changing social, economic, political, and natural environments. It is impossible to develop an effective plan of response to such situations if one doesn't have a fairly good understanding of what is going on--although having a perfect understanding of the ever-changing environment is not possible. Also, like all complex systems, no one is "in charge." So you can't change the behavior of "the leader" to acheive your goals. So what can you do?
Parties and/or disputants need to step back and make an effort to assess the conflict elements and environment as best they can before the choose a course of action. Consider your own--and the other sides' likely worldviews, interests, values, and needs. How much power do you and they have? How can you/they maximize that power to get what you/they want or need? Who might be your allies? Your opponents?
Try to see all the elements in the confict as an interacting system--and realize YOU--even an outside intervenor--are part of that system. So any action you take will reverberate through the system. If you choose what to do and where/when to do it accurately, your action may substantially change the system in desired ways. But it also may not--or the change may be slow to come about. So actors in complex systems (which almost all intractable conflicts are) need to see themselves not as engineers fixing a broken machine, but rather as scientists, experimenting with a system they don't entirely understand, trying to figure out as best they can how it works, and what can be done to change it for the better. And when one experiement fails, they need to learn from that failure and try something else. There are no pre-set answers in the complex systems that are intractable conflicts.
More about this topic can be found in the following related posts.
- Complex Adaptive Systems - This Conflict Fundamentals Essay explains the difference between "complicated systems" and "complex systems," and how one must respond differently to the complex systems that are typical of intractable Conflicts.
- Frontiers Seminar 3: Introduction to Complexity and "Systems Thinking" -- Theoretical Antecedents - This is the first of two Frontiers Seminars focused on complexity. This one reviews other people's ideas that have developed complexity theory as it applies to conflict.
- Frontiers Seminar 4: Moving Toward a Complexity-Oriented Paradigm - This second Frontiers Seminar develops the Burgess's thinking regarding complexity theory and intractable conflict.
- All Infographics - A set of very short statements that try to emphasize key conflict resolution principles, which, if followed, would make a lot of intractable conflicts much better.
See the conflict's complexity:
Parties, their attributes,
relationships, issues, dynamics,
and power are among the many
conflict elements one must