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Conflict Engagement

Conflict is a normal process that may result from a clash of differences between individuals and groups, or a struggle for resources and/or power. Often the response to its emergence is one of antagonism or of avoidance, either of which can lead to a breakdown in relationships, polarisation of groups, harmful behaviours, and a downward destructive spiral that can suck in more and more players the longer it persists. Division and segregation in communities can cause further problems due to a lack of interaction and communication. Misunderstanding, fear of the unfamiliar, and a compulsion to attribute blame for difficulties in life can lead to prejudice and stereotyping, particularly in times of social stress and uncertainty.

At iFacilitate, we believe in the positive potential of conflict to bring about creative change and to transform situations. It is not always possible, nor necessary, to resolve conflicts. Hence we prefer to use the term 'engagement' – whereby we take an investigative approach to working with those in conflict, inquire into the nature of the situation, and collaborate to find ways of improving matters.

We work with groups and communities and support them in addressing divisive and difficult issues so that they can:

• rebuild productive relationships, or at the very least find ways of making them non-destructive;

• highlight their differences in needs and perspectives;

• explore options and possibilities for changing the situation for the better;

• develop the capacity to address their conflicts constructively in the future.

Conflict Engagement at work...

Writing on conflict and development for the Open University

During 2014 and 2015, Elizabeth of iFacilitate was a member of an Open University (OU) team tasked with designing a new online module on Conflict and Development (T879). The new module is a core and compulsory component for postgraduate students wishing to complete the OU's MSc in Development Management and was available for the first time in May 2015. The production process involved working with a diverse and experienced team to develop the educational materials and to ensure its suitability for online presentation and learning.

Elizabeth's role was in writing the final part of the module. The aim here was to enable students to explore how the concepts and theories covered in T879 could inform their professional practice. As well as delving into the fields of conflict transformation, complexity and systems thinking, Elizabeth designed a highly-interactive mediation activity. In doing so, she drew on her knowledge of, and practice in, facilitation, mediation and community engagement. This simulation provided students with the opportunity to experience a mediation process and to bring to life their learning on the theory of group dynamics and of alternative resolution approaches. 

The mediation simulation proved extremely popular with students, with feedback citing it as engaging, challenging, interesting and enjoyable. Evaluation of the process has demonstrated that it is a very effective learning experience. Subsequently, Elizabeth's experience of writing the mediation simulation contributed to her successful application to be recognised as a Senior Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. 

This experience has provided Elizabeth with renewed insight into the creation of online educational and training materials that proactively engage learners, link theory and practice, and are an effective means of learning about engagement with conflict situations. 

 

Community reconciliation - segregation in schools in Vukovar, Croatia

The community of Vukovar is still recovering from the devastation the town suffered over 26 years ago in 1991,  following the outbreak of the Croatian War of Independence. One consequence is that, even now, the town’s community and its educational system remains segregated, with Serbian and Croatian children having little opportunity to mix and interact with each other. Whereas keeping communities apart may help to avoid past pain and distress and allow people to get on with their lives in the short term, it also has the potential to create future problems. Lack of interaction and alienation between different communities does not allow for any healing or reconciliation to take place, and there is a danger that ill feeling could be carried into future generations, with the potential for an eruption of violence or war once again. Young people do not get the opportunity to interact with their peers from the 'other side', so creating the potential for misunderstanding, suspicion and fear of those perceived to be different. 

Elizabeth of iFacilitate worked with an international team from Croatia, Serbia, Cyprus, France, and the UK on the Consol project. In January 2010 and January 2011 the project enabled Croatian and Serbian schoolchildren to come together and participate in a very successful and enjoyable series of workshops. The approach made use of science-based group activities, with which the children engaged enthusiastically. They worked creatively together and the process supported development of their communication, collaboration and critical inquiry capabilities.

Enabling children to learn to work together and to think critically allows them to participate actively in their communities and to question accepted practices. Over time, students in Vukovar may be able to learn from the example of students in the town of Jajce, Bosnia-Herzegovina who successfully campaigned to have the regional government drop its plans to divide students between two ethnically based schools. 

Children's feedback (translated from Croatian):

"We have learnt that we can learn a lot through meeting and laughing; that we can learn and have fun at the same time”

“I liked that we learned through a game. I learned a lot of useful things that I know I will use. Cooperation with colleagues was super and teachers were interesting. Science is teaching us about our achievements, the planet, everything useful…”

“At the beginning I was a BIT confused because I didn't know everyone, but later it was super. Because we got to know each other."