Achieving effective conflict management

Multiple and integrated phased training programmes have generally proved to be appropriate and effective for skill building. The combination of classroom training and mentor-supported field practice has resulted in effective learning through practice and increased appreciation of the relevance of conflict management to participants’ work in natural resource management. However, the long term effectiveness of skill building training programmes for conflict management depends on a number of critical factors. These include first and foremost careful selection of  participants as well as provision ongoing support for conflict management processes by participants’ organisations.

Because conflicts are often characterized by considerable social complexity, managing these processes often call for much effort to build rapport for stakeholder engagement, facilitate negotiations, carefully prepare agreements and assist in the implementation or monitoring of such agreements. Addressing conflicts can be therefore extremely time-consuming, and emotionally draining. Shuttle negotiations, for example, can require substantial resources for meetings, transport, materials and other logistics.  To increase the chances that such processes are sustained,  it is worthwhile developing a participant selection process that identifies participants who are already helping parties in disputes and have facilitation and field-based experience in conflict management. Ideally, the training group includes participants who are already linked to disputants’ social networks and have credibility with the parties or people in authority who can provide assistance. Such commitment can only occur over an extended period if conflict management is a priority for the trainee’s organization.

Selection of participants

  • Training tends to be more effective when it is directed to a group of affiliated people, rather than to individuals.
  • The training of individuals often results in the random application of skills. A cadre of two or more people, however, can work together to mutually support each other in the development of strategies for resolving conflicts.
  • Training ideally targets NGO and government staff together, so that they can coordinate their conflict management activities.
  • Training a small group of people in a small geographic area effectively is usually better than training a larger group in a wider area where lack of resources, isolation or inability to enter a dispute will reduce the training’s effectiveness.

Enhancing the institutionalization of Conflict Management procedures

  • It is more effective to train a group of people working in a single organization - NGO or government agency - as this promotes the institutionalization of procedures.
  • Skills building trainings need to be well integrated in participants’ organisations to ensure that participants enjoy the required organisational support for their work. New intermediaries in a conflict need support, encouragement and strategy assistance. It is useful to provide periodic mentoring/coaching - via e-mail, telephone and most importantly via site visits - as an integral part of training.
  • New trainees are required to travel to conflict sites, meet stakeholders and conduct conflict management work. It is therefore important that conflict interventions do not have to be abandoned because resources have started to run out. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that adequate resources are provided to allow conflict management processes to be sustained over extended periods.

The training process

  • Training is more effective when it is underpinned by participatory, learning centred and adult education principles.
  • For skill building purposes it is worth considering a multiple and integrated phased program that combines both class room training and adequate and appropriate mentor supported field practice.
  • Suitable local training institutions should be involved in training and post-training mentoring from  the outset, to build local capacity for the replication of training.
  • The contextual understanding of natural resource conflicts is important. Documented conflict management processes and resolution outcomes can considerably enhance the material for future training courses. Mechanisms that support the documentation of conflict cases from training - such as coaching and editorial support - should therefore be considered.

In conclusion, effective problem solving requires resources and skills, but it depends even more on the commitment of all parties, including decision-makers, to find solutions to problems in natural resources management before those problems grow and escalate. Outcomes of trainings organised and implemented by FAO and partners suggest that a great deal could be achieved in addressing many of the pressing natural resource conflicts with similarly modest, but effectively, deployed investment of resources in training for and logistical support of informal conflict management procedures.

last updated:  Saturday, May 19, 2012