introduction to the field of conflict mediation

September 11th, 2008

»Its always about people«

That is what my father, a practitioning priest since more than thirty years, says about conflicts. Conflicts might be based on material differences, geographical questions or related to historical facts but there is no way of settling a conflict without reaching a situation of emotional equality. The main key to mediation is the understanding of humans need for a healthy psychological setting including parameters like selfesteem, pride and the ability to live without permanent fear.

Since a few years mediation became a dicipline on its own involving different human sciences. People from this profession work in many fields like political conflicts, businessstructures and private disputes.

neutrality and storytelling

“The mediator must be capable of accepting the emotions that might range from fear, selfishness, to defensiveness while at the same time striving to bring disputing parties to a place of caring and confidence.�

To see a conflict as one big narrative to which each side contributes fragmentarian stories helps the mediator to keep a neutral position. He does not mediate between different sides but between stories which form together “the ongoing interactive nature of the mediation narrative�

Religion talks in Germany

An early example for conflict mediation are the meetings between catholics and protestants in Germany in the 16th century. Through a period of almost 30years several meetings of representatives took place and formed a understanding wich allowed to achieve the religious peace of Worms in 1555. The negotiations where not purely theological but a lot of steps had to be made to find a common way of argumentation, the right places to let them happen and also to find an appropriate composition of the participating negotiators and a common way of argumentation. The achievements in theological questions are still part of the foundation for the dialog between the catholic and the lutheranian churches.

The role of the UN in conflict mediation

Since 1948 the United Nations have been involved in 63 peace keeping missions. Most of them involved not only a military engagement but also included efforts to mediate between the conflict parties.

» With the end of the Cold War, the strategic context for UN peacekeeping dramatically changed, prompting the Organization to shift and expand its field operations from “traditional� missions involving strictly military tasks, to complex “multidimensional� enterprises designed to ensure the implementation of comprehensive peace agreements and assist in laying the foundations for sustainable peace.«

Since the 5th of march 2008 the UN has a special taskforce for conflict mediation. It consists of six experts who will support mediation processes around the world.

» We think that this is something that has been needed for a long time,« said B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

In the UN announcement it is described that »although members had been chosen from various disciplines, including academia, what drew them together was their experience on the ground and their involvement with various aspects of peace processes.«

the role of experience design

September 11th, 2008

Experience Design is a transdisciplinary approach to complex settings of human interaction seeking for hollistic ways of problem solving. By that it can help to reintroduce pace into the process of resolving deadlocked conflicts by forming a common ground for a debate and providing the spatial setting neccessary to get into an equal communication. The creation of communication environments would therefore be a key element of the contribution of Experience Design. Not only is it neccessary to persuade all sides of the importance and the usefullness of a new attempt to enter a conversation based on a shared language. An outside view of the situation made accessible through experience prototyping can help to create a common ground to start or restart the debate. But it also demands to regard environmental aspects like spatial setting, timing, scents, drinks and food. These communication environments can be either transformations or improvements of already existing mediation settings or newly created situations. Their creation should focus on the different human characters involved in the conflict and therefore participatory methods need to be developed to gain the knowledge which is neccessary for a broad understanding of a certain conflict setting.

In experiencedesign we use fragments of a variety of scientific disciplines but also from the fields of art and design. It is impossible to become an expert in all these fields equally. Therefor its important to understand how to apply and addapt fragments and how to maesure the success of their application. To achieve this the grammar of each discipline involved has to be understood. By comparison of the different grammars and the fusion of them a hybrid grammar will be formed which opens the opportunity to describe the effects of the experience design methods and to measure their potential of success.

soft power

September 11th, 2008

Joseph Nye emphazised the potential to influence through something which he calls soft power. Softpower is the persuasive ability of culture and ideologies being used for political purposes. Contrary to material power embodied in a big military arsenal for example softpower tries to convince in the field of ideas and by that to gain influence. An example for this can be seen in the success of western soapoperas like Sex and the city conveiging over long periods of time rolemodels of human interaction.

“Partly. Power is the ability to alter the behavior of others to get what you want. There are basically three ways to do that: coercion (sticks), payments (carrots), and attraction (soft power).�

Simple as the definition of softpower seems there are still many missunderstandings. Some of them Nye tried to correct in his article Think again: soft power from 2006. Among other mistakes he describes why economical sanction against countries are no form of softpower as they just turn around the carrot principle through punishment. Softpower is the power which persuades to share values and ideas.

“If I am persuaded to go along with your purposes without any explicit threat or exchange taking place — in short, if my behavior is determined by an observable but intangible attraction — soft power is at work. Soft power uses a different type of currency — not force, not money — to engender cooperation. It uses an attraction to shared values, and the justness and duty of contributing to the achievement of those values.�

knowledge through design

August 14th, 2008

Trying to find methodologies which can help to bring a positive change in a variety of conflicts means that it is necessary to search for a language which can be used both for analysis and for description of the new found knowledge. Paul Watzlawick described the difficulty to act in the sphere of metacommunication.

“When we no longer use communication to communicate but to communicate about communication, as we inevitably must in communication research, then we use conceptualizations that are not part of but about communication. In analogy to metamathematics, this is called metacommunication. Compared with metamathematics, research in metacommunication is at two significant disadvantages. This first is that in the field of human communication there exists as yet nothing comparable to the formal system of a calculus…. The second difficulty is closely related to the first: while metamathematics posses two languages (numbers and algebraic symbols to express mathematics, and natural language for the expressions of metamathematics), we are mainly restricted to natural language as a vehicle for both communications and metacommunications. This problem will arise again and again in the course of our consideration.â€?

Working on the resolution of conflicts, on the invitation to reenter a sphere of productive communication means to work on opening locks which have no original key. These locks are not made by a company which produced lock and key simultanously. No original and save key exists. Instead we have to develop picklocks which might function with the specific lock but which can also be easily modified to increase the chance of opening another lock with them. This understanding taken from constructivism as it is understood in sociology can teach us about the possible knowledge which can be gained.

“The radical difference between constructivism and traditional epistemology lies in the relationship of knowledge and reality. While the traditional understanding sees this relationship always as a more or less accurate image coherence, constructivism sees it more as an adjustment in a functional sense. Its the difference between being right and fitting.�

Following that it is also as described in the example of the lock an approach to develop approximate tools which have to be redefined for each differing application and by that move through an evolutionary process. This is also described in Wolgang Jonas essay Mind the gap! On knowing and not knowing in design.

“The basis of our learning Processes, which are the epistemological core of design, can be considered as biological, grounded in the need of organisms to survive in an environment. The aim cannot be true representation of some external reality, but (re-) construction for the purpose of appropriate (re-) action.�

Ronald Jones on the Experience Design Group

May 22nd, 2008

»The Experience Design Group (edg) at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies arises from a need to reconsider the relevance of art, craft and design in response to the fundamental shift in western culture from an object-based to an information-based culture wherein information networks distribute knowledge and influence on a global scale. Industry’s deepening appreciation of consumer preference for experience over more traditional commodities, coupled with the ‘dematerialization of the art object,’ in Lucy Lippard’s words, are early indicators of this profound historical shift – namely, the privileging of experience over object-making. These are reason enough to question the continuing relevance of art, craft and design to the emerging experience economy – or, more productively, to investigate what new relevance experience-based culture can bring to these established disciplines.

In music, architecture and dance – the time-based arts – cultural experience unfolds over time and has a long and well-established history and literature. But at edg we additionally investigate new relevance for hybrid studio practices; that’s why edg is comprised of students, researchers and faculty who work across disciplines, typically in advanced hybrid constellations of research and practice. We are devoted to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary practice-led research – from art and design to the experience economy; from history to science; philosophy to technology. Our work, while often speculative, remains practically engaged socially, culturally and ethically. We educate artists, designers and craft-persons who can perceive relevance – often furthest from their own discipline – and convert it into new forms of knowledge. To design time as immersive experience is to persuade, simulate, inform, envision, entertain, and forecast events. It is to influence meaning and modify human behavior. This is why edg graduates are the creators and producers of tomorrow’s – as yet unanticipated – experiences.«

    Experience Design Group