Contents this month
Engagement and resolution
by Andrew Acland
It's a depressing time for everyone in the conflict resolution
world. As the Middle East spirals into battle once again we think
back over the years and decades from Camp David to the Oslo talks
and the 'Road Map': the endless failed initiatives and almost-breakthroughs.
A dozen or so years ago I spent a long and sleepless week as part
of an international initiative on the Middle East, mediating talks
between Israelis and Palestinians at a time when such contacts were
still notionally illegal. I was struck by two things. There is the
difficulty of making progress when every move is mired in the shadow
of whose fault it all is; and when the multiple uncertainties of
the future mean that the past, however grim, does at least offer
some anchors. History becomes the great comfort of those who feel
that survival means living only from day to day.
How does this relate to what Dialogue by Design does in the far
cosier world of public engagement, where the most danger we face
is the occasional scrap at a public meeting?
First, all conflicts, regardless of scale or protagonists, are alike
in their underlying motivations and processes if not in their manifestations.
Those arguing for and against incinerators and wind-farms, for example,
argue facts and figures, seek alliances, demonise opponents, maximise
the strengths of their arguments and minimise the weaknesses just
as do Israelis and Palestinians, pro-abortionists and pro-lifers,
climate change campaigners and climate change deniers.
Secondly, the road to resolution, though different in its details
for every situation, again has the same components. The process
of claim and counter-claim needs to be replaced with a process of
calmer dialogue, of listening and examining, of joint exploration,
of seeking common ground and visions for a shared future. The pro-abortionsts
and pro-lifers agree on the need to prevent unwanted pregnancies;
those for and against climate change agree on the need to conserve
fossil fuels, albeit for very different reasons. Such areas of agreement
are not, of course, the end of their differences, but they are a
first step in the long trek forwards.
Such simple changes of process can work in the most intractable
circumstances, as organisations such as Search for Common Ground
and Conciliation Resources (http://www.c-r.org/),
to name but two, have been demonstrating for twenty years. But they
are working against the grain of the world: if we spent as many
billions on waging peace as we do on waging war, the world would
be a very different place. So many fragile ceasefires and tentative
steps falter for the lack of minimal funding for monitors and mediators.
At Dialogue by Design we are not, currently, involved in international
conflict resolution initiatives, but from this autumn we will be
turning our attention from merely engaging people and identifying
their concerns to helping to resolve them. We increasingly think
that engagement processes need to be regarded as the first step
in efforts to bridge differences and reconcile opponents. Over the
coming months we will be putting forward ideas to turn this into