SCICN’s engagement with individuals engaged in conflict resolution processes on the ground contributes not only to our teaching, but is more generally central to the activities of the Center and our research. Through our involvement with political and civil society leaders Tunisia since 2011, with Community Dialogue of Northern Ireland, and with a wide range of individuals and groups in Israel/Palestine, for example, SCICN has developed an innovative form of researcher/practitioner collaboration that differs significantly from the more standard models of training and expert consultation that are prevalent in the field of conflict resolution. Conceived as an extended conversation — a conversation lasting months and even years — that goes far beyond a workshop format, this intervention is structured around a discussion of the day-to-day problems and issues that confronted our partners and reflects two deeper questions:
1. What would researchers find interesting if they knew everything that practitioners knew? and
2. What would practitioners find interesting if they knew everything that researchers knew?
The conversations that emerge highlight for the practitioner those aspects of their experience that are theoretically significant for better practice and highlight for the researcher those aspect of their research that have real world relevance.
There is another aspect of these conversations that always surprises us. In many cases it is easy to assume that the people and groups we work with are already engaged in dialogue and, therefore, that our efforts serve to help them deepen this dialogue. What we often find is that we are actually enabling them to have their first deep and extended discussion. In this way, our work serves an important “Track Two” diplomacy function that can make a positive practical contribution to efforts to resolute conflicts.
Seven lessons from real world experience
1. The importance of intragroup conflict. Without it, resolution is apt either to be easy or to be impossible.
2. The importance of relationships and trust – especially in dealing with spoilers and the demands to internal politics.
3. The importance of a shared view of (and shared commitment to) a mutually bearable future. Without it, negotiation between leaders and their agents, and even second track diplomacy, is doomed to produce failure and to heighten rather than ease distrust.
4. The futility of trying to convince parties to conflict of something they can’t afford to understand. Parties seeking to end conflict must reduce threats regarding the future to unfreeze attitudes.
5. The importance of transparency of loss. Each side must be able to see that the other side’s losses are real and heartfelt.
6. Sometimes unilateral concessions are more productive, and/or easier to achieve than bilateral ones. They can, however, be counterproductive to the extent that they humiliate by reflecting power imbalance.
7. Dealing with the tension between desire for peace and demands for justice. Trading some justice for (a lot of) peace; not demanding more from one’s adversaries more than one expects and received from non-enemies and even friends.
We have received core funding and grants from the Hewlett Foundation, the United States Institute of Peace, the Compton Foundation, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, and a number of individual donors. Our work with political and civil society leaders in Tunisia has been funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. Our collaboration with our partners in Northern Ireland has been funded by numerous sources including most recently the Special European Programmes Body.