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A new place to explore and discuss ideas for moving beyond the complex intractable conflict problems that so threaten human society.

MOOS Seminars 

Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess

The MOOS project consists of several seminars, running simultaneously and  designed for audiences with different interests and time availability.  Current plans call for offering the following:
  • Semester Seminar – A comprehensive semester-long exploration of a broad range of intractable conflict-related topics; 

Semester Seminar Post List: 

Introductory Posts:

Substantive Posts: 

  • "Brown Bag" Seminars – A series of short seminars, each focused on particular problems and ideas for addressing them. Topics to be determined, but likely ones include:
    o   US Politics (particularly, right now, the upcoming elections)
    o   The battle between fighters and compromisers
    o   Complexity-oriented peacebuilding
    o   Responding to terrorism
  • Key Ideas – Videos or essays explaining (in 5 minutes or less) key ideas that everyone working in the peace and conflict field should (but may not) know.
  • Conflict in the News - A final "seminar" highlights and reflects on the many intractable conflict-related stories that are appearing in the news.  (This material also appears in theSupplemental Materials Blog.)

Semester Seminar 

The topics that we are planning to address in this first semester-long MOOS are outlined below.  This is a daunting list – one that will certainly generate “sticker shock” among some participants.   Still, this is a “thinking big” seminar focused on developing a very broad strategy for a scale and complexity-oriented approach to peacebuilding---one that we think is required for any serious effort to address the “intractable conflict challenge.”  Unlike a MOOC, where the readings and videos are required, participants are only asked to look at those things that interest them.  Some of you may be interested in the broad, overview materials, others will want to focus on narrower sets of topics.  Feel free to pick and choose.
Since we teach at universities that offer semester-long courses, we are thinking in terms of a semester-long seminar, at least for a starting point. We realize that it may take longer than that to cover the essential materials and that a second semester MOOS may be required.

A Note about Post Order:  We should also note that while syllabi (or even topic lists or sequences of posts) are inherently linear, this set of ideas is not linear. Rather it is a web.  We have (as usual) had a very difficult time deciding what to post first, what later, what toward the end.  Conflict and particularly complex systems, are very much chicken-and-egg affairs--everything, in a sense, relates to everything else.  So we will be presenting a lot of different ideas up front, and then circling back to them over time as we explore earlier ideas further and present related ideas that need to be linked to something that came before.    

At this point, we plan to address the following topics.  
  1. The Nature of the Intractable Conflict Problem
    1. Scale - the need to move from small group, table-oriented processes to societal-level efforts involving millions of people.
    2. Complexity - the challenges of working with complex, self-organizing systems that can be influenced, but not controlled.
    3. High Stakes - problems arising in situations where the parties are motivated to go "all out"  in defending their vital interests.
    4. Commons Focused - the difficulties associated with protecting common good with respect to the social, economic, cultural, political, and environmental commons.
    5. Cynicism -  the refusal of people to address the problem, because they see it is insoluble.
    6. Over-confidence - the tendency of people to assume that they have "the answer" and all the world needs to do is listen to them.
    7. The Power Trap - the assumption that coercive force is the only way to get things done.
    8. Resource Limits - the extreme and chronic shortage of the resources needed to develop and implement better solutions to conflict problems.
  2. Dealing with Scale and Complexity and the many factors that make society-wide conflict so intractable.
    1. Scaling Up strategies for coping with the fact that the number of things that “need doing” exceeds the capabilities of even the largest peacebuilding efforts by many orders of magnitude.
    2. Extending Rational Models of human decision-making beyond cost-benefit calculations to include the non-rational complexities of human perception, psychology, and neurobiology.
    3. Ecosystem-based Models of social organization for overcoming limits of hierarchical and network based models.
  3. Strategies of Change
    1. Empowering “Power-With” Compromisers so that they can successfully resist the “power over” Machiavellians.
    2. Macro, Meso, and Micro Responses – simultaneously working at the levels of macro-level strategy, meso-level project design, and micro-level conflict skills.
    3. Massively Parallel Approaches – assessment and mapping strategies that enable people to identify and people to pursue the large number of independent but mutually supportive intervention efforts that complex, large-scale conflicts require.
    4. Beyond Crisis Response – reframing the conflict problem as a decades long research and development effort that will, at best, be marked by a steady stream of incremental improvements.
    5. Big Picture Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation strategies that advance the long-term efforts to promote more constructive approaches to conflict (as well as short-term project assessment).
  4. Key Challenges to Be Addressed– types of projects that will need to be continually refined and implemented as part of a massively-parallel, complexity-oriented conflict strategy.
    1. Promoting Understanding – mass communication strategies capable of extending the benefits of small scale, table-oriented programs to the larger society.
    2. Mobilizing Expertise – so that society’s different “ways of knowing” can generate information that is more trustworthy, trusted, understood, and sensibly acted upon.
    3. De-escalation – improving strategies that allow communities to step back from ongoing hostilities and violence far enough to explore alternatives.
    4. Unrightable Wrongs – developing better ways of coming to terms with past crimes and laying the groundwork for more positive and mutually desirable futures.
    5. Visioning – enabling deeply divided societies to develop a detailed, realistic, and attractive images of a more desirable future that they would like to pursue together.
    6. Governance that collectively manages the social, economic, and environmental commons in ways wisely and equitably implement the community’s vision.
    7. Social Entrepreneurship that generates a self-sustaining market for the many things that conflict handling activities that “need doing” so that they can be scaled up with only modest governmental and philanthropic support.


Brown-Bag Seminars

We haven't finalized the topics for the brown-bag seminars but are thinking about a number of ideas.  These include:
  • The US Electoral process which seems to drive polarization, hatred, fear and intractability--and what might be done about it.
  • The use of complexity analysis and systems thinking in peacebuilding.
  • The conflict between fighters and compromisers and how to disempower spoilers
  • Different approaches to the concept of "diversity"
  • Implications of neuroscience for peacebuilding
  • The conflict between religion and science
  • Your ideas welcome!

Key Ideas Seminars

We haven't finalized the list of topics here either, but we have a lot of ideas. For example: 
  • The difference between "conflicts" and "disputes" and why it matters.
  • The Dual Concern Model of Conflict Engagement
  • Interest-based vs distributive negotiation
  • Key negotiation concepts: BATNA, ZOPA, etc.
  • Causes of escalation, strategies for de-escalation
  • The three "faces" of power and the power strategy mix.
  • Primers on common conflict management processes: mediation, arbitration, consensus building, dialogue, analytical problem solving, etc.

Conflict in the News

A final seminar will focus on current news stories and ways in which they illustrate both the good and the bad about conflicts and approaches to dealing with them.  This material will also appear in the Supplemental Materials Blog.

Moving Beyond Intractability Massive Open Online Seminar
Copyright © 2016 Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess

Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess, Co-Directors
Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado
UCB 580, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0580, (303) 492-1635,


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