Conflict Research Consortium

Menu Shortcut Page

Transformative Approaches to Conflict


Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess


Tanya Glaser and Mariya Yevsyukova

Created in conjunction with The Training Design Consultation Project, funded by the Surdna and Hewlett Foundations

For More Information: Contact: Guy Burgess or Heidi Burgess, Co-Directors, Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Campus Box 327, Boulder, Colorado, 80309-0327, E-mail: Phone: (303) 492-1635; Fax: (303)492-2154.

Copyright 1997 by Conflict Research Consortium

What this Website Is

This website is one of several created by the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium. This particular website has been created in conjunction with The Training Design Consultation Project, funded by the Surdna and Hewlett Foundations, and directed by Joe Folger and Baruch Bush. Folger and Bush are the authors of the pathbreaking book, the Promise of Mediation (Jossey-Bass, 1994). This book describes an alternative approach to mediation, which the authors refer to as "transformative mediation." Although this approach has long historical roots, its use in the mediation field has been largely abandoned in recent years, at least until publication of this book, which has sparked a great deal of renewed interest in the transformative approach, not just to mediation, but to conflict resolution in general.

In the Training Design Consultation Project, Folger and Bush have been working with mediators across the United States who have been piloting transformative mediation training programs. We at the Consortium wanted to participate in this project, but not being mediators ourselves, we suggested that we put up a website of materials related to transformative mediation and other transformative approaches to conflict. The intent was to supplement the material that could be presented in short (8 hour - 40 hour) training programs and to make information available to people who were curious about the topic, but did not want to take or have access to a training program. This website is the result.

It contains information about a variety of transformative approaches to conflict including transformative mediation, John Paul Lederach's conception of transformative peacemaking and conflict transformation, the analytical problem solving/human needs approach to conflict transformation, research on the transformation of conflicts from intractable to tractable (primarily done at Syracuse University), and other techniques for successfully dealing with intractable conflicts, particularly dialogue and constructive confrontation. Short descriptions of each of these approaches can be found in the materials below, as can abstracts of related academic books and articles and references (and links) to sources for additional information.

While the Training Design Consultation Project is now in its final stages, we plan to expand and update this website over time. We especially welcome comments, suggestions, and additional material from people who see it and use it. We hope to be able to include, for instance, a list of the people who currently offer transformative mediation and/or training. This, however, is not available currently.

If you are interested in learning more about this field, we urge you to read some of the related material, and then continue to check this website periodically for additions. Immediately below is the Table of Contents of this site. To skip that, and go directly to the first substantive page [click here].

To look at the other material available on the web from the Consortium [click here]


Contents of this Website

Introduction: Transformative approaches to conflict

Transformative Mediation [Click here]

Conflict Transformation and Peacemaking [Click here]

Human Needs/Analytical Problem Solving [Click here]

Dialogue - a Therapeutic approach to conflict transformation [Click here]

Constructive Confrontation [Click here]

Collaborative Learning [Click here]

Summaries of Selected Readings on Transformative Approaches to Conflict [Click here]

Bibliography on Transformative Approaches to Conflict [Click here]

Links to other Websites dealing with Transformative Approaches to Conflict [Click here]

Full Text Searching of Transformative Approaches to Conflict [Click here]

Main Consortium Web Site


Transformative Approaches to Conflict

The terms "transformation" and "transformative conflict resolution" are used in many different ways. Almost all uses of the two terms, however, relate "transformation" to a fundamental change in attitude and/or behavior of individuals and/or the relationship between two or more disputing parties. While the change may be relatively minor or subtle, it goes beyond the immediate situation to alter the way in which the parties see themselves, the world, and especially, each other and how they treat each other over the long term. This contrasts with problem-solving conflict resolution which is used to resolve a specific short-term problem, while usually ignoring or avoiding long-term relationship issues.

Transformative conflict resolution takes many forms. One with increasing visibility and interest over the last several years is transformative mediation. Other approaches include conflict transformation, constructive confrontation, analytical problem solving, dialogue, and collaborative learning. This website explains these and related terms and processes, summarizes key publications in each of these areas, and provides access to additional resources on each of these topics.

Transformative Mediation

Transformative mediation, for example, can be contrasted with problem solving mediation. While problem solving or settlement-oriented mediation focuses on finding a mutually agreeable settlement of an immediate dispute, transformative mediation, as described by Bush and Folger (1994), seeks to transform the disputing parties by empowering them to understand their own situation and needs, as well as encouraging them to recognize the situation and needs of their opponent(s). While such empowerment and recognition often lay the groundwork for a mutually- acceptable settlement, such an outcome is not the primary goal. Rather, the parties' empowerment and recognition are the main objectives of the transformative approach to mediation.

Conflict Transformation

Lederach uses the term "conflict transformation" in a similar, though broader way. Like Bush and Folger, Lederach suggests that conflict professionals stop focusing on "resolution," because resolution often involves the continuation of injustice. He also rejects the notion of "conflict management" because it is too narrow. Management, he asserts, tends to focus on the technical and practical side of peacemaking, while ignoring the cultural and relational issues.

Lederach uses the term "conflict transformation" to describe his approach to peacebuilding. This approach focuses on the dialectic nature of conflict. It sees conflict as caused by--as well as causing--changes in relationships. In order to build peace, negative or destructive interaction patterns need to be transformed into positive or constructive relationships and interactions. This occurs through personal and systemic change that encourages and allows the parties to pursue truth, justice, and mercy simultaneously with peace. Like Bush and Folger, Lederach too focuses on the development of empowerment and mutual recognition, along with interdependence, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Human Needs/Analytical Problem Solving

A related, yet still different image of conflict transformation comes from a group of theorists who stress the importance of fundamental human needs to the development and maintenance of protracted or deep-rooted conflict. When an individual or group is denied its fundamental need for identity, security, recognition, or equal participation within the society, say theorists such as John Burton, Herbert Kelman, and Jay Rothman, protracted conflict is inevitable. The only way to resolve such conflict is to identify the needs that are threatened or denied, and restructure relationships and/or the social system in a way that protects those needs for all individuals and groups. This is often attempted by holding what are called "analytical problem solving workshops" in which a panel of scholars facilitates private, unofficial analytical discussions about the nature of a particular difficult conflict. By helping the parties work together to frame the conflict in terms of needs, potential solutions to the impasse often become apparent when they were not so before. Most often, these solutions require significant changes in the social, economic, and/or political structures--thus, like Lederach, they see conflict transformation as requiring systemic as well as personal change.


A growing number of conflict professionals have been utilizing dialogue to transform deep-rooted, value-based conflicts. With dialogue, small groups of people who hold opposing views on highly divisive and emotional public policy issues (such as abortion or gay rights) are brought together to have a "new kind of conversation." Unlike debate, which seeks to score points and to persuade, the goal of dialogue is mutual understanding and respect--essentially recognition in Bush and Folger's terms. This does not lead to a resolution of the conflict, but it can lead to a transformation in the way the conflict is pursued from one which is highly destructive and divisive to one which is constructive and leads to personal growth. Dialogue has also been used effectively to alter relationships in deep-rooted ethnic conflicts, such as that between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Constructive Confrontation

Another approach to transformation is what Burgess and Burgess call constructive confrontation. This approach to intractable conflict is primarily directed at public policy, intergroup, and international conflicts. It assumes that conflicts over high-stakes distributional questions, deep-rooted value issues, and domination issues are inevitable and ongoing. Although particular short-term disputes can be settled, the underlying long-term conflict will remain. Although these kinds of conflicts can seldom be completely resolved, they can be confronted in more or less constructive ways. Thus, constructive confrontation is a way of dealing with a conflict that seeks to transform the conflict process, which will then allow a transformation of relationships, and at times, the individuals and social structures as well.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is a process developed by Steven Daniels, Gregg Walker, Matthew Carroll, and Keith Blatner to enhance the public policy decision making process, especially as it involves public participation. This approach utilizes ideas from soft systems methodology (a theory of learning) and alternative dispute resolution. The key ideas are that public participants and "experts" must work together to learn more about the system that they are all operating in together. As in other transformative processes, the goal of collaborative learning is not solving a particular problem, but improving a situation, which is framed as a set of interrelated systems. The goal of collaborative learning is to utilize improved communication and negotiation processes as a means through which learning--and then improvement of the situation--can occur.

For More Information

[Click here] for more information on transformative mediation

[Click here] for more information on conflict transformation and peacekeeping

[Click here] for more information on human needs and analytical problem solving

[Click here] for more information on dialogue

[Click here] for more information on constructive confrontation

[Click here] for more information about collaborative learning

[Click here] for a list of abstracted readings available on this website

[Click here] for a bibliography of readings on transformative conflict resolution

[Click here] for links to other interesting and related websites

[Click here] to go to back to the beginning of this page