Conflict Phases

Tamra d'Estrée

Conflict Resolution Program, University of Denver

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Are there practical lessons learned, either in the workshops or in the study of evaluations that you've done.

A: One lesson learned, and this is partly from our comparative evaluation work, is that not every process works in every setting and that different processes are good for different things. And also that one of the challenges that we have is to figure out a way, and I hope comparative evaluation will help to do this, of figuring out what types of interventions achieve what the best. So, for example, in another realm, I and a colleague of mine, ???, have done a comparative evaluation of conflict resolution processes in 10 different western water disputes.

One of the things that came out of that work was very clearly that certain processes, certain conflict resolution processes. And it's not that there's one best process, but different processes accomplish different things. Different processes actually set out to do different things, so it's not surprising that they accomplish different things. You'll have a process like mediation be very good for generating creative, efficient solutions, compared to say, the legal process because the legal process is not set up to generate creative, efficient solutions. So you get better results in the sense of the efficiency from mediation, but you might find that another process is better for parties feeling included. So we found regulatory negotiations, regulatory administrative rule-making process, is actually the better process for having all the parties feel like they had a voice and were included because they actually had explicit rules for making sure that everyone is included, much more so than most other processes. Whether it be mediation or the legal process or legislation or whatever.

We also found that on a different criterion, a different process might work better. And fairness, people felt that the legal process is probably one of the most fair because it is addressing rights and fairness. What you have is recognition for different dimensions of the problem. Different processes may be the best, so depending on what's the most important thing, you may go with a certain process or you may have processes working in compliment.

There have been people who've written on this in terms of the importance of having multiple processes or multiple approaches, whether it's John Paul Lederach's work on multiple levels operating at the same time, or Ron Fisher who has a contingency model. I think we actually looked at it briefly where at different stages different processes may be the most important to use. It allows you to kind of break away from this mentality that says, we have to approach this with only one tool. I think that that's probably one of the next biggest challenges of the field is to figure out how to coordinate different approaches and maybe having them running simultaneously and also maybe having them sequenced to achieve what each can do best.

For example in a pre-negotiation phase, what you really need is a process that allows the parties to re-humanize each other and build trust, whereas in a negotiation phase, you need a process that allows parties to unpack interests and to generate new options for meeting those interests. The processes that you use at different phases may achieve different things, or maybe you need to have both of them going at the same time. I know about examples where the official negotiations were operating using more traditional negotiation procedures and maybe could have used some mediation in the more standard sense. But at the same time, as those official discussions are going forward it is really important to recognize that there are other issues that haven't yet been surfaced, where the parties are not even willing to talk to each other on those issues yet, and so you've got to be doing some other kind of relationship building, trust building around those issues before those issues are going to get to the table.