This section examines the steps involved in preparing and entering a conflict setting. It:
explains the role of preliminary conflict analysis.
In the entry process, mediators need to:
clarify their commission (Section 3), role and function in relation to the conflict;
seek readily available background information about the conflict from knowledgeable people, written accounts and other sources;
identify and start communication with the conflict stakeholders, consulting them separately and listening to how they frame the conflict;
develop a preliminary analysis of the conflict that guides the next steps;
explore if and how to pursue the procedure.
The entry process involves three steps:
Step 1: Planning the entry;
Step 2: Entering the conflict setting;
Step 3: Preliminary conflict analysis.
Milestone A is achieved when the mediator has decided to become involved in the specific conflict case, and when this decision has been communicated in a transparent manner to the disputants and other concerned parties.
Several activities may need to be considered before entering the conflict setting for the first time. These include:
self-analysis of the mediator: the goals he/she expects, the outcomes to aim for, and basic premises about the conflict setting. Mediators must be ready to challenge their own assumptions whenever new information or changes in the conflict suggest that it is important to do so.
4.2.1 Building a team
In some situations, it might be more appropriate to have a team of mediators, e.g. in multisite negotiations, in multilingual settings, or where certain technical expertise is required which one person alone cannot provide. The following points should be taken into account when such a team is being created:
Team members should be appropriately trained or experienced in their assigned tasks. (If one member is perceived as incompetent, the credibility and effectiveness of the whole team will be undermined.)
Possible language barriers need to be taken into account. If possible, at least one member of the team should speak the local language. If this is not possible, a native speaker should be chosen who is both technically competent in translating and seen as impartial. (Suspicions about the quality or honesty of a translator can cause major problems.)
The team as a whole, as well as its individual members, should establish and maintain a professional, impartial approach.
It may be a good idea to rotate tasks within the mediation team, especially of such tasks as conciliation, mediation and finalization of agreements. Rotation can help to build up the skills of junior members, while drawing on the experience of senior ones.
A system should be developed to monitor the team as a way of enhancing its responsiveness and the quality of its performance. For example, team members could discuss:
- how they will respond when there are disagreements about how to proceed;
- what to do when there are internal tensions in the team;
- how tensions can be detected;
- which signs they will use to inform other team members of tensions (particularly when the tension occurs at a public meeting);
- what strategies to use to sort out problems in the team process.
4.2.2 Collecting background information
Background information is essential for helping to make decisions about whether and how to act as a mediator. It helps inform the mediator about the nature of the conflict, its origins and development, and any past attempts to resolve it. Information can be useful for exploring strategies for the next steps in the conflict management process, for example whom to consult on the first visit. It can also be referred to later in the process, as more data are gathered through direct observation or interviews and a more accurate and complete picture of the conflict is produced.
Before going to the conflict site, mediators can research sources that provide information on the region or community, including its environment, people, history, patterns of resource use, and conflict trends. Important starting places are newspaper articles, the published and unpublished reports of organizations or researchers working in the respective area, minutes of public meetings, and audiovisual presentations (including radio or television reports). All such information should be treated as potentially false, requiring verification from other sources and observations in the field.
Once in the field, a preliminary conflict assessment should be carried out to help place the dispute's dynamics and participants within the wider context of processes and trends related to the area's natural resource conflicts and their management. As noted in section 2.3.2, this assessment should make use of local capacity for consensual negotiations, including existing cultures of conflict management and local approaches to problem solving.
4.2.3 Action planning
Action plans lay out all the activities, the time frame for these activities, and the setting (where, how, who, which tools?). In addition, the process needs to be designed carefully: Who will be contacted first? What will be talked about?
Mediation teams need to consider:
logistical arrangements: transportation, accommodation, food, stationery supplies, etc.;
working with the concerned parties to set an appropriate date/venue for meeting: mediators must always remember that their task is to try to assist local people to manage the conflict. Therefore, the setting, time and place of meetings needs to based as much as possible on the preferences and needs of the various disputants, rather than on those of the mediation team;
process design: welcome protocol (appropriate greeting ceremonies in traditional settings), sequence of meetings with the different factions (who, when, where?);
preparation of an agenda for the first meetings: what will be talked about, clarification of the mediator's role, the advantages of ACM, map of the conflict management process, space for statements from the various factions and their perception of the conflict;
exploration of strategies for contingency plans: what to do if something goes wrong in the first meetings (e.g. the right people do not attend, stakeholders get upset, spoilers work against the meeting, etc.); this makes it possible to respond flexibly to unforeseen events;
constant reflection on their own assumptions: about the conflict, the stakeholders involved, and the goal to be achieved. These should be discussed within the team, documented and revisited after each field visit. Assumptions should be changed when new information suggests.
BOX 4.1 CONTACT PERSON(S)
Third parties often need to use a local contact person, or gatekeeper, to assist entry. For example, a contact person may arrange the first meeting between mediators and the conflict stakeholders. In some places, local administrative officers may assume - or seek to assume - the role of contact person. In other cases it may be possible to choose from a range of people, such as traditional mediators, leaders of local resource user groups, community-based authorities such as kin group or neighbourhood leaders, extension workers or other development agents. If a mediator selects a contact person who is perceived as partial, the process may be obstructed, because the mediator too may then be perceived as partial. Local authorities should be treated with appropriate respect and consideration, but local government officials or village heads are not necessarily neutral and may well be stakeholders in the conflict.
Regardless of how mediators enter a dispute, they must accomplish certain specific tasks at the beginning of a negotiation process. An external mediator first needs to establish rapport, trust and relations with the conflict parties. All mediators, both internal and external, need to assess whether intervention by a third party is at all likely to be successful. If so, they need to clarify the third party's role. The following three key aspects should be explored.
Are disputants ready to negotiate? Two factors influence readiness. The first of these is the actors' motivation to reach an agreement, which depends on their estimation of the state of the conflict and their perception of the costs and benefits of solution. Second is the actors' level of optimism, which is based on their skills, previous experiences and resources (Faure, 2003). If parties are ready to negotiate, how strong is their motivation to do so? What incentives exist for conflict parties to engage in consensual negotiations? How have the parties attempted to address the conflict in the past? What options are currently open to the parties in managing or resolving the conflict?
How are any differences in power or strength among the concerned parties likely to affect their ability to engage in consensual negotiations? Where there is extreme imbalance, it is the third party's job to ensure at least some procedural balance. In certain circumstances, it is also necessary to build the capacity of the weaker party.
To what extent is it possible to facilitate direct communication, open exchange and processes of understanding and problem solving among the conflicting parties? What tasks are appropriate for the mediators? How can the process be conducted to ensure that the conflict parties assume ownership, and the mediator is able to withdraw gradually?
During entry, mediators will:
establish primary contact by finding a neutral, trusted person and place for the first contact with the issues. Entry through an intermediary should be considered if the mediator is not known locally, or if there is suspicion and lack of confidence;
clarify their role with regard to the conflict stakeholders by introducing themselves, while respecting local protocol, clarifying their commissions, roles and tasks, and introducing the basic ideas of ACM, which are:
- a collaborative approach to problem solving through mutual learning;
- seeking mutual gain as much as possible: win - win outcomes instead of arbitrating a winner and a loser;
- overcoming or reducing conflict to improve people's livelihoods;
- agreements that are voluntary and in the hands of the conflict stakeholders;
- the mediator's responsibility for guiding stakeholders through the process. The mediator helps ensure that all views and interests are considered and the negotiation process is as fair as possible. The mediator is not responsible for the outcome. Successful conflict resolution depends primarily on the parties themselves, and the best possible process will not guarantee that people who do not want to agree can be made to do so;
build trust in themselves as people or a team, and build trust in the conflict management process: mediators should explain enough about their role and the procedure. Conflict parties need to be informed about the process in order to:
- minimize surprises that might result from misunderstandings;
- clarify the sequence of steps so that disputants know what to expect and what roles they will be playing;
- gain feedback from the participants that reflects their reservations about the procedure.
Building personal and procedural credibility is an important way of creating willingness to try the process among the stakeholders.
TRAINER'S NOTE: Mediators must not raise expectations that they cannot meet later on. The ACM process is designed to help participants learn how to solve their own problems. It will only be of help to the parties if they are ready and willing to seek agreement jointly. It may help stakeholders to restore their relationships, but it will not solve all the problems in a community, and will not guarantee in itself that peace will remain in the community
A preliminary conflict analysis seeks to provide an initial understanding of a situation. This includes finding out about local capacities to manage conflict and how they could be strengthened, including past conflict management attempts and the reasons why they failed. The preliminary conflict analysis helps to clarify assumptions and deepen insights regarding a conflict and the strategies for addressing it. Its purpose is to decide the appropriate course of action and role for the mediators.
Mediators must have some idea about the boundaries of the conflict and the stakeholders involved before they can make informed decisions about whether or not they have the capacity to become usefully involved.
There are not usually enough time and resources to allow long, detailed investigations. Conflict analysis need to be action-oriented, and it might be worth considering the principles of rapid rural appraisals, which are:
optimal ignorance: "knowing what is worth knowing";
appropriate precision: choosing standards of accuracy that might not be acceptable to academic research, but that still allow responsible decision-making;
iteration: advancing in cycles, as a continuous learning process;
exploration: applying the serendipity principle of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by chance;
eclecticism: choosing and accepting freely from various sources;
triangulation: looking at things from different (at least three) points of view. This principle is essential in considering team composition, units of observation, sources of information and research methods;
learning: rapid rural appraisal is a learning process, and not simply information collection. It involves learning through interacting with people, and learning not only about people, but also with people.
As already noted, the conflict analysis starts before entry into the field with a review of written sources (including unpublished reports), discussions with researchers and practitioners familiar with the area, and examination of audiovisual accounts. When they enter the field, mediators should meet the contact person and local authorities or dignitaries. Protocols can serve as another source of information.
It is important to seek out as many local views as possible. These can be obtained through informal interviews, group interviews (including structured focus groups) and meetings with key informants (individuals who are highly knowledgeable about a topic). In any research, it is important to ascertain that the individuals met really do represent stakeholder groups. As Chambers (1983) notes, in order to avoid the biases of particular individuals or elite groups, it is necessary to seek out a range of different people and views - official and nonofficial representatives, women and men, old and young people, as well as the middle-aged, poor and prosperous people, etc. However, much can also be learned simply through walks, observation, asking questions and, most important, listening.
In the preliminary assessment, information should be collected on the following topics (see also Goodhand, Vaux and Walker, 2002):
The nature of the dispute and its underlying conflict: What resources are involved and where are they located? When and how has the conflict manifested itself? What seems to have triggered the conflict, and what appears to have caused it?
The stakeholders or interest groups: Who first brought the conflict to the public's attention? Which people are involved, directly and indirectly? What are their interests? What are their relationships with one another, and what is the past history of conflict? What capacities do the stakeholders have to influence the conflict, either positively or negatively? What are their motivations for continuing, managing or resolving the conflict? What norms, values or knowledge are the contesting parties citing to support their claims?
Conflict trends and local capacity to manage it: What have been the short- and long-term trends regarding natural resource conflicts and their management? What capacity do the local people and institutions involved in conflict management have for handling this conflict? Have there been any past attempts to manage the conflict? What have these been like, and why have they not succeeded? Do local institutions have the leadership, authority, resources or incentives to carry out their nominal roles and duties? What are the overall trends in the community regarding conflicts and their management? What are the risks if the current natural resource conflict continues?
The preliminary assessment can help improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of the mediators by sharpening their understanding of the conflict through, for example, drawing their attention to people, processes or events that have been overlooked. Such knowledge can help the mediators to serve in more appropriate roles. It might also indicate that existing roles should be redefined. The assessment may, for example, suggest that local institutions have the capacity to handle the conflict with little or no support from outside mediators.
Alternatively, it may indicate that the mediators ought to focus on a specific aspect, such as reconciling the parties, providing advice on conflict management options or assisting local conflict managers to mediate the negotiations.
In addition, the assessment may indicate that the situation is too antagonistic or dangerous to risk attempting consensual negotiations. For example, a growing number of automatic weapons in the area may discourage participation, as people fear the escalation of violence
TRAINER'S NOTE: Section 5 explains how to conduct a conflict analysis and which tools may be helpful. Annex 2 provides a simple, practical guide to each of the tools and describes how these can be applied in the field.
On the basis of the preliminary conflict analysis, the mediator or mediation team can assess the likelihood of negotiations succeeding by answering the questions from the following checklist:
What are the root causes for the conflict, and are they negotiable?
How are the identified causes/interconnections likely to manifest themselves in "frames" among the disputants, and how are they likely to emerge as issues in the negotiation process?
Have all conflict stakeholders indicated their willingness and ability to engage in negotiations?
Does it appear that the services of a mediator are needed?
Do all the primary conflict stakeholders accept the mediator's role?
Do all parties to the conflict have some power to influence negotiations?
Are parties assured of their basic needs (food, shelter, security)?
Do mediators have sufficient funds and other resources to sustain the process?
TRAINER'S NOTE: Mediators need to take a conscious and transparent decision as to whether or not to proceed and, if so, how. This decision has to be communicated and discussed with the conflict stakeholders.
As already noted, mediators can consider disengaging if they cannot find a convincing answer to some of the above questions, or if their services are not needed to deal with the conflict. If the process has no or very little chance of success, it is better not to start than to initiate a process half-heartedly. Sometimes, the message that mediators are unwilling to continue the process can increase the conflict stakeholders' commitment and willingness, and move the process in a more constructive direction. The mediators may then reconsider their commitment.
If the circumstances are not right for ACM, there is little to be gained from pushing the approach. On the other hand, even when full resolution of the issues at stake is not possible, mediators may decide to start a negotiation process that aims to minimize the destructive consequences associated with many confrontations. It is particularly important that mediators take a deliberate decision that is communicated to the parties in conflict.
If the team has decided to move ahead with mediation, further steps include:
determining the location of the first meeting, taking into account local needs and preferences in terms of site, time, etc.,
meeting with conflict parties separately, letting them frame the conflict and documenting their views (shuttle consultation);
explaining the potential role and mission of the mediators, and making clear that they are there to examine whether or not and how they can make any sensible contribution;
identifying possible contributions that mediators can make to resolving the conflict;
building trust and relationships with the conflict stakeholders so that they gain confidence in the mediators;
identifying connectors (people who are helpful in conflict management) and dividers or spoilers (people who provoke conflict escalation and/or might have an interest in perpetuation of the conflict); it is crucial to note, however, that characterizing or stereotyping people too quickly is dangerous, particularly when rapport has not yet been established; in addition, spoilers and dividers may have good (or at least understandable) reasons for acting as they do - mediators must remember to separate the people from the issues/interests;
clarifying whether or not the mediators' commission and task are accepted by the conflict stakeholders; if not, the reasons should be clarified and possible steps to increase confidence in the mediators' role should be identified.
BOX 4.2 SHUTTLE CONSULTATION
In the early stages of the conflict management process, it is often most appropriate to consult the different conflict parties in separate sessions, giving them the opportunity to express their views of the conflict, and explaining to them the potential advantages of ACM and the role of the mediator. This is best conducted in an environment that the conflict stakeholders trust. This procedure is called shuttle consultation.
Facilitating shuttle consultations should provide space for the conflict stakeholders to talk and express their grief, emotions, feelings and opinions. Mediators can support this process by:
At the end of the entry process, mediators have gathered sufficient information from the preliminary conflict analysis (step 3) to advise about the most appropriate way to proceed in terms of conflict management options.
Section 4 has emphasized that entering a conflict setting needs careful preparation. Before mediators become actively involved in ACM and start to involve the different conflict parties (stakeholders), they need to clarify their own commission (who, what, how, why?) and role as mediators in this setting. This includes a preliminary conflict analysis and detailed clarification of what the conflict is about (Section 5). This is the basis for broader engagement of stakeholders (Section 6), which leads to negotiations (Section 7).
Rushing into the field too fast and unprepared can cause more harm than good. Mediators need to prepare their entry into the field carefully. As soon as mediators come into contact with the conflict setting, they influence its internal dynamics and processes and are influenced by them. Planning entry is important in order to avoid situations in which important issues are overlooked, the wrong people are contacted, or the mediator's reputation as a neutral person is spoiled.
In the entry process, mediators establish contact with the different conflict stakeholders, clarify their own commission, role and tasks and provide space for the stakeholders to state their cases. This process is important to establish rapport, mutual trust and relations with the conflict parties. At this early stage of the conflict management process, it is most appropriate to consult the different conflict parties separately in shuttle consultations.
The preliminary conflict analysis is an internal, strategic exercise and helps the mediators clarify their assumptions and deepen their insights into the conflict's causes, issues and dynamics. The preliminary conflict analysis serves the following two purposes:
It forms the basis for the team to decide consciously whether to engage or disengage in a particular conflict. This decision needs to be communicated to the conflict stakeholders.
It makes it possible to explore strategies about the way forward and to develop strategies for working with each of the stakeholders.