Welcome and Introduction to the Frontiers Seminar-Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Everyone has a role to play in addressing the intractable conflict problem. The course of history will be determined by the cumulative decisions of people throughout society and not just the actions of a few leaders (though they obviously can have an outsized impact). It really is true that, if you are not part of the solution, you are (to some significant degree) part of the problem.

We also need to specialize. Durkheim was right, the only way that humans of ever been able to do big things is through a system of specialization with an extensive division of labor. As we will talk about many times over the course of the seminar, there are lots of things that need to be done and lots of opportunities to “make a difference.” 

Doing these things will require us all to improve our conflict-handling skills and this, in turn will require something of a “learning curve accelerator.” The truth is that the business-as-usual ways in which people learn about conflict are pretty inadequate (partly because we don’t address these issues very well in primary or secondary schools or in higher education). We have to find ways of speeding the rate at which people learn. 

This is why we have been so fascinated with the promise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The idea is simply to make learning materials freely available online where anyone, anywhere can instantly access them for free. These courses are designed to convey a fixed body of testable knowledge and then certify the student as having mastered that information. Our situation is somewhat different, however. We are dealing with tough problems for which there are no clear solutions and what we need to do is work through these problems together. That’s what you do in a seminar as opposed to a course. What we are trying to do with our Massive Open Online Seminars (MOOS) is to make a quality seminar experience freely available to most anyone.

We will be focusing the seminar on practical theoretical ideas or general principles. Kurt Lewin has, for years, been widely quoted as saying that “there is nothing so practical as a good theory” because it can be easily adapted to a wide range of situations. We are dealing with problems for which there are no “cookbook” solutions – do X, Y, and then Z and everything will work out. There is simply too much variation in the way in which intractable conflict problems manifest themselves.  The best we can do is to help people understand the various dynamics that are at play, the things that are making things worse, and the things that could make things better. So the whole focus of the seminar is going to be on the development of practical theories that are relatively easy to adapt to specific conflict situations. 

We have also tried to design a seminar that works for people with very busy schedules. While students might be able to devote a fair amount of time to something like this, we recognize that everyone else will have two find a way to fit into the time that they spend reading the news (and complaining about the way things are going).  

So, we have set up as a system that you can follow on social media (follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn).  You can sign up for weekly email newsletters or simply visit our website where can you can easily see everything. 

Our semester-length, one or two a day, short-post format it is designed to work within today’s tough time constraints.  Most posts will be shorter than this, often 10 minutes or less. (Our goal is to move toward shorter but more frequent posts.) We expect that seminar participants will review the short “tweets” announcing each post and follow-up, when they have time, on those that seem interesting. Each post will also have a little inset box that provides links to related posts. So once you find something interesting, it’s easy to browse around and find out how each idea fits into the bigger picture. 

The system is set up to meet the needs of five key audiences: everyday citizens, advocates and activists, students and educators, conflict resolution and peacebuilding practitioners, and expert scholars (and practitioners) who are interested in helping us think through these tough problems. 

So there are lots of different levels at which you can participate. So please join us. There is lots more information on the website.

Finally, you might look at our new Constructive Confrontation Initiative, which outlines what we will be doing over the next three months. The idea is that in these contentious times, not many people think that compromise is a realistic possibility. Still, we believe that many people recognize that we simply must figure out how to more constructively confront one another over today’s tough issues.  We need to preserve, strengthen, and improve democracy in ways that protect us from anarchy, authoritarian rule, and the prospect of violent and potentially catastrophic conflict. So, take a look, get involved, and let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you. 

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