Scaling Up Processes to the Societal Level

Ron Fisher

Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, School of International Service, American University

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: How do you go from transformation of a group like that, or at least building empathy within a group like that, to societal transformation or creating societal empathy. How do scale-up from something that may contain 20 people to a nation of several million?

A: We don't really have the answer to that question and we don't necessarily have the scope of expertise to answer that. That's where you need a lot of people with a lot of professionalism, other experiences, qualifications, people in mass communication, public opinion, and social movements. You name it. You see a lot of my work has been focused, and it may not be as much en vogue as it used to be. It has been focused on what role conflict resolution can play at the center of things with elites and influentials who are critical at the initial stages and critical throughout the process, but who are insufficient on their own. We know that and we acknowledge that.

Then you need to think of ways that the kind of work we do can be done on other levels, grassroots level, intermediate levels, different sectors, like the work we did in Cyprus where we worked in business where we worked in health. We worked in every sector imaginable having people involved, and still do to diffuse the work in to society at large. To some degree what you need eventually to do is to change a culture of violence to a culture of peace. That is big time social change and I don't think that the field has really addressed how tough that is or how hard it is or hard it is or all the connections. We are not the only people, obviously, who can and need to be involved in that.

We need to think about the transfer process not just to the official decision-making, but also to public opinion, different constituencies, interest groups, and so on through the media. That is one reason why journalists are often invited to so called problem solving workshops. They will write about and talk about it. They influence other people, so you want opinion leaders in many sectors, in many ways to become involved in helping to build a culture of peace. They are just about always out there waiting, hoping, looking, and trying to do their thing. All outside parties can do in the field is work to support that process. It is a very big question.


I just got this image in my head while you were talking of conciliation and consultation processes functioning almost as lubrication to the very cogs at the Track I level to move and work together in a sense.

A: I think in a very focused way that is right on. That is what it is about. Consultation particularly or problem solving workshops or interactive conflict resolution, however wide a term you want to use. The latter is widest that I actually came up with in response to the people in the field asking for it at the time. In a focused way that is about as big as your expectations should be, that's challenging enough. For me to think about changing societies is quite frankly a quantum leap. I hope my work makes a small contribution to that, but to think about doing that boggles my mind and almost paralyzes my will. Of course you are working in constant with thousands of other people, but at the same time people in peace building need to be very sober about how tough it is to move toward a culture of peace in intractable conflicts.


It sounds like it might behoove conflict resolution practitioners to limit ones expectations with how far they can go with the work they are doing.

A: I think we need to be more modest and humble than the average but I think to acquire funding and support people make potential claims that they can help accomplish this and this and this and they are in that direction but if you take hardnosed social scientist and look at that they would laugh, quite frankly. The field has to be careful about what it promises.