Constructive Conflict Initiative*

A call for a dramatically expanded, long-term effort to improve society's ability to constructively address the full scale and complexity of the challenges posed by destructive conflict.

Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess
Co-Directors, Beyond Intractability Project, Conflict Information Consortium
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April, 2022

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Initiative Goals: 


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Join a discussion about the application of conflict resolution insights to the problem of hyperpolarization--sponsored jointly by Beyond Intractability and the Conflict Resolution Quarterly

  • Promote awareness of the many ways in which our future is threatened by the destructive ways in which we commonly handle conflict, 
  • Clarify the challenges (see list) that will have to be overcome as part of any effort to limit the destructive conflict threat,
  • Promote collaborative problem-solving based on mutual understanding, respect, and the collaborative search for wise and equitable solutions to common problems,
  • Promote constructive advocacy strategies that use a more sophisticated understanding of conflict dynamics to help the parties better protect their legitimate interests,
  • Scale-up constructive conflict strategies to work at the full scale of modern society with its mass media, social network-dominated communication environment.
  • Resist "divide and conquer" politics in which Machiavellian actors try to advance their selfish objectives by driving society apart and attacking the institutions of collaborative governance.
  • Accelerate conflict research and development focused on addressing the legitimate concerns of the field's skeptics and promoting efforts to tackle the tough problems at the frontier of the conflict field,
  • Persuade large numbers of people to promote more constructive approaches to conflict and give them the training they need to be effective, and
  • Build the funding base needed to support such work.

For More Information...

  • Initiative Summary briefly explaining the underlying rationale (5 minutes)
  • Full Initiative Statement with a much more in-depth explanation of what needs to be done and why  (20 minutes)
  • Constructive Conflict Imperative article explaining the nature and importance of the conflict problem and a realistic strategy for addressing it (20 minutes -- suitable for use in conflict-related classes)

Initiative Development Process

Solving our conflict problems will take a long-term, large-scale effort. There are no quick and easy fixes.

Guy and Heidi Burgess started the CCI in 2019 in an effort to raise awareness about the severity of political polarization in the U.S. and other democracies around the world. We called on everyone in the broadly-defined peace and conflict fields to focus at least some of their time and attention on efforts to diminish this polarization and promote effective collaborative problem solving in its stead.  In the three years that have followed, political polarization has gotten considerably worse, but fortunately, peacebuilders and conflict resolvers have, indeed, begun to substantially increase their work in this area. However, much remains to be done, and many more people are needed if our peacebuilding efforts are to be effective.

When we started the Initiative, COVID hadn't happened yet, and we were thinking about hosting a series of face-to-face meetings to frame the Initiative's agenda and to recruit participants.  COVID changed those plans substantially, as did the Burgesses retirement from the University of Colorado. As a result of both of these events, the Initiative has remained virtual.  For the last several years it has mostly been focused on BI strengthening its knowledge base about the characteristics of the hyper-polarization problem, as well as what has and what can be done to address it. 

The Initiative Now in 2022

We are now trying to re-engage with our colleagues around the world in a discussion about possible next steps.  We are doing so by writing a "Feature Article" for the Conflict Resolution Quaraterly, authored by Guy and Heidi Burgess and Sanda Kaufman which is now published online and will be out in print in the Summer 2022 edition.  This article is designed not only to lay out the scope of the hyper-polarization problem and potential responses, but to stimulate a discussion in our field about these ideas.  We are hosting this discussion on BI.  It has been started by Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Connie Ozawa, and Barney Jordaan who each wrote "official" commentaries on the original article, which are being published in CRQ along with the initial article. They, along with the original article are meant to stimulate a much broader discussion, to which we invite all our readers to participate. 

Given the extent of malicious posts on many online discussions, we are not allowing direct posting to the discussion board.  Rather, we ask that you send your comments to BI in our contact form and we will post all but the malicious ones on the discussion board.  [We will certainly post comments that disagree with us--we just won't post comments that are destructive or designed to increase hate and fear as so many bot (and some human) discussion posts are trying to do.]

As you will see, the landing page for the discussion has several allied sections.  It includes the initial articles as well as the subsequent discussion; it also includes links to related materials on BI and elsewhere that discuss the nature of the problem and actual and proposed solutions.  In addition to commenting on the article, we hope our readers will also share information about what they and their organizations are doing to address this problem, and also information about useful resources we should add to our knowledge base on the topic. Again, please send this information through our contact form.

Initiative-Related Moving Beyond Intractability Learning Materials

The Initiative has emerged from Beyond Intractability (BI)'s almost 40-year inquiry into the nature of intractable conflict and associated dangers.  The BI Knowledge Base and the newer, Moving Beyond Intractability's growing collection of learning materials provided a starting point for the Initiative and what we still see as a realistic strategy for addressing the problem of destructive intractable conflicts.  Available Initiative-related materials include:

* We are indebted to Louis Kriesberg who in 1998 taught us the phrase "Constructive Conflicts" which we see as the most succinct statement of what should be the goal of the conflict resolution and peacebuilding fields--promoting the constructive aspects of conflict while, at the same time, working to limit its many destructive aspects.  Lou recently published the fifth edition of his excellent book on the subject, Constructive Conflicts, with co-author,  Bruce Dayton and is working now, we hear, on edition six.

We have another initiative called the "Constructive Confrontation Initiative" which is designed to show people how the skills typically used by third parties (for instance mediators) can also be usefully applied from an advocacy (i.e. confrontation) perspective.  This initiative is different from that one.  The Constructive Conflict Initiative has a much broader scope. We apologize for the potential confusion, but each title does say, we think, what the initiatives are about better than alternative titles.