Engaging citizens in joint problem solving or collaborative discussion of issues can help you move through the conflicts that inevitably occur in our diverse communities. This does not mean though that simple invitations to sit down and talk will allow you to move forward and avoid a partisan stalemate. Just as a doctor diagnoses a patient before deciding on an intervention, collaborative approaches work best if you assess your community’s readiness and resilience before determining how to move forward. This includes analyzing both the sources of conflict and the level at which they are occurring. If there is little trust, or of even greater concern, patterns of hate that are active among community members, you will want to start in a different way and at a different point than you might if community members are already comfortable working together. Put another way, if trust issues are not addressed upfront in designing your collaborative process, efforts to find joint resolution on substantive points are likely to founder on bipartisan resistance to “cooperating with the enemy.” In addition to analyzing patterns and sources of conflict, is is also useful at the outset to take stock of the resources available in your community to help you work through conflict. These will be the subject of our next post.
If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.