Continued from Part 1.

That's why we structured this as a seminar that will play out over a series of months and hopefully we will get a lot of people thinking about this--not because there's a simple solution that were trying to convey--but rather a set of ideas and tough problems.

So this is a time for peacebuilders who have been spending a lot of time over the last several decades telling folks in other countries how they can deal with their deeply- divided societies to start applying what they know to the United States. It's also a time to address the concerns of the peacebuilding and conflict resolution field’s skeptics and cynics. The sort of simple “Kumbaya-love-each-other” naïve utopian vision just doesn't stand up.  We have to be ready to really address the hard problems.

The good news is that there are lots of efforts going on to advance the frontier of the conflict field. For example, the Alliance for Peacebuilding's been working through a series of reports entitled “Peacebuilding 2.0, and 3.0… There have been lots of efforts to deal with scale, complexity, and what is called in a lot of circles “wicked problems,” and that’s really what they are!

And as we do this we need to be careful not to focus on just reinventing the wheel again and again and again. There is a lot that we know about how to deal with conflict and we have to build on that. So instead of just reinventing the wheel--we can follow this metaphor a bit—we can start inventing maglev trains and that sort of thing!  

In order to be able to do that, we need to build a “learning curve accelerator” because the speed with which people learn more constructive approaches to conflict over the course of their lives just isn't fast enough to deal with today's tough problems. So somehow or another we need a new learning paradigm, one that will speed our understanding of these kinds of problems. 

What we're trying to do with this project is to extend the reach of massive open online courses—which freely make educational opportunities available to huge numbers of people worldwide.  But instead of having to be of course, with a fixed body of knowledge where students take a test and get a certificate, we want it to be a seminar with very in-depth consideration and discussion of frontier-of-the-field issues that we think that the problem really demands. 

As we do this, we want to take into account the fact that everybody is very, very busy. We really generally don't have time to participate in semester-long seminars.  So we are trying to figure out how we can squeeze this kind of learning into everyday life.  And the trick that were going to try to do is to integrate this into the social-networking framework.  So we are going produce a lot of short posts--several a day--that might take 10 minutes or may be a little more, often a lot less, to raise some interesting ideas.  Then we are going to distribute them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can get them on the Beyond Intractability website--and there will be an option for getting a weekly digest by email as well.

The ideas that we plan to present in the seminars come from the knowledge-base projects and our reflections on those projects. They also come from the teaching that we've been doing over the years at the George Mason University, the University of Colorado and some at the University of Denver. The thing that's different about the way that we've approach teaching from a lot of other instructors is that we haven't taken an academic focus, but instead, what we are trying to do is to present a series of very complex ideas in ways that are generally understandable by broad audiences, including introductory college students, for example.  But our information is also very practically useful.  So it is not academics for the sake of academics--it always has a practical component to it. We are big fans of Kurt Lewin's famous line, “there's nothing so practical, or for that matter, so widely adaptable as a good theory.” We are not going to be talking about a cookbook of “do this, do this, do that,” but rather, we will try to help people understand a series of general principles that they can follow and adapt to their particular conflict situations. We think this is vastly more useful!

We are also structuring this to serve a lot of different audiences. One audience we hope to serve are students.  They are at the stage of their lives were they get to spend years focusing on some tough problems—and they are likely never going to get a chance to do that again! We hope that many students will take the time to participate.

But this is also designed to provide information for citizens--and especially activists and advocates on one side or the other and folks who work as conflict resolution practitioners--intermediaries in one way or another.

We also would like to extend an invitation to people who have some real in-depth understanding of some aspect of the problem we’ll be discussing to work with us in this framework to try to advance the frontier of the field a little more.  At any rate, you are ALL invited to join us. There's more information on the website. There lots of different ways to participate and we hope you find it helpful and let us know any ideas you have for improving it.  Thanks!

Guy Burgess is a Founder and Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar and a practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts, public policy dispute resolution, and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He is one of the primary authors and creators of the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, and is the Co-Director of CRInfo -- the Conflict Resolution Information Source. Dr. Burgess has edited and authored a number of books and articles, the most recent being The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (with Heidi Burgess, ABC-Clio 1999). www.beyondintractability.org