The important issue of outcomes has been mentioned in a few previous forewords of this journal. In one case the reference was to the results of historical processes discussed in an article, and in another it was to monitoring the results of an attempt to balance the goals of reconciliatory peace and retributive justice. In a few other cases, the importance of taking outcomes of research seriously and implementing them where appropriate was emphasised. It may be worthwhile to quote from the two paragraphs:
[The articles could be understood as communicating] a strong encouragement to take research outcomes seriously, by being on the lookout for meaningful ideas, or implications of ideas, or implementations of ideas, and being oriented towards putting such possibilities into practice. By so doing, we can contribute to a wider acceptance of the value of research, and especially also to the greater effectiveness of our attempts to deal with conflict (Vol 2, No 2, 2002).
Having read an article, we secondly have to move into the mode of responding. Although the word, or metaphor, ‘lesson’ may remind us of our childhood responses to formal lessons, we should now be able to think more deeply and widely. In those days, our typical reaction was to memorise content and be prepared to give appropriate feedback in a test or examination. There were the cases, however, when we embraced bits of learning as worthwhile belongings for the rest of life. In our present era of outcomes-oriented education (and less of an obsession with mere content), more learners may have such an experience. It is something of this kind that may also happen when an academic article is read in which an innovative insight or a best-practice suggestion is shared. But then, of course, the acquired insight or skill has to be put into practice. We learn by doing, and inversely, by doing it becomes evident to ourselves and to others that we have indeed gained the learning concerned. Especially when the doing takes place spontaneously and creatively, it shows that the learning has been internalised (Vol 11, No 3, 2011).
Without using the term ‘outcomes’, however, similar encouragements have been given in other forewords. For instance: ‘From the editor’s desk then, my best wishes for meaningful reading and implementing’ (Vol 12, No 3, 2012). Such reminders and wishes may be taken approvingly and endorsingly by most readers, but some may dislike them and dismiss them as platitudinous directives. All we can say in response to such criticism is that we feel urged, not only as publishers but also on behalf of our authors, to promote the actual utilising of findings and recommendations which can improve the effectiveness of ways of dealing with conflict.
With regard to the journal, and also with regard to all ACCORD’s work, we feel convinced that our desire to promote such implementation is justified, but we also realise that there are limitations that should be complied with. On the one hand, we hope and trust that conflict-resolving attitudes, approaches and procedures will be put into place where needed, and that peace-restoring outcomes may indeed be reached. In any particular situation, therefore, we eagerly follow the daily news, taking note of what the parties are doing, or not doing. On the other hand, however, we have to refrain from anything that might be perceived as inquisitiveness or pressurising. There are many fields in which probing into outcomes may be acceptable and productive, but in ours it can be counterproductive and should therefore be carefully handled and sometimes even deliberately avoided. Our purpose, after all, is not to coerce people to apply our suggestions, so that we can boast about success rates. We merely offer our facilitation, and sometimes – when there seems to be a need for high-key mediation – our recommendation, but then we leave it to the people concerned to make use of it or not. In any case, if parties in conflict happen to be unwilling to utilise the experience and expertise of conflict-resolving practitioners, they cannot be manipulated into willingness. Willingness that is not willingly arrived at can obviously not be genuine willingness.
What can and should be done, however, is to look at and learn from outcomes in a receptive and responsive mode. I was fortunate to learn the potential value of documenting and studying outcomes twenty-six years ago – in one of my first interviews with a conflict resolution organisation. I referred to this lesson in my paper, ‘ACCORD’s commitment to research: Possibilities and planning’, a month after joining the ACCORD team (twenty years ago). And since then, I have quite often used this very significant example in training sessions, papers and presentations. Two brief quotations give the gist of what volunteer research assistants discovered in dispute resolution sessions:
From … methodical observations and the discussion they generated among trainers, patterns gradually emerged. It became apparent, for example, that in the hearings that showed dramatic change – when disputants arrived hostile and left cooperative – the transition was seldom observable as a progression. Rather, they observed a single moment – the ‘turning point’ or ‘breakthrough’ – in which the tone of the discussion changed, the atmosphere suddenly lightened, and hostility was supplanted by curiosity about the other disputant…
The curious thing about these moments was that the content of the discussion at the time was not particularly momentous and sometimes was almost trivial. But from that point on, disputants shifted their focus, so that instead of fighting one another, they united to battle the problem (The Community Board Program 1986:8-9).
Through the years I have become more and more convinced that the outcomes of those talks between disputants – in a multi-cultural city – were representative of similar talks all over the world, and that the outcomes of that research project contain findings that can be applied everywhere. What those researchers found about the breakthrough to (mutual) understanding should constantly remind us about the cruciality of inner, attitudinal transformation. This is indeed a miracle which no third party can bring about, but it is something towards which third parties and fellow human beings can nevertheless pave ways.
We trust that the material in this issue will equip us better and inspire us more to keep on paving such ways regardless of all the daunting challenges and discouraging opposition we may encounter. There are the tragic histories of colonial domination and ethnic hatred. There are the deplorable realities of selfish leadership and imperfect decisions. But there are also the possibilities of breakthroughs to understanding and unselfishness. Leaders might become personally and/or politically willing to be accountable and ethically responsible, to allow participatory democracy and to render service to their people. Ethno-cultural groups may become tolerant and coexistent. In a post-colonial Africa, the time-proven ubuntu way of being human may be lived interpersonally, interethnically, interculturally and internationally.
Taking into account then the justification to be interested in outcomes, but also the reservation with which this interest should be handled, we wish to extend an invitation to our readers to give us some feedback they may be inclined to share. On our survey form there are a few dotted lines on which to mention an example of the way in which you have made use of content you found particularly meaningful. But it may be that you know about a conflict-resolving outcome (or a non-conflict-resolving one with an important learning element in it) which deserves an article to be written about it. We will sincerely appreciate such responses – and we will treat them with care, confidentiality and sensitivity. Thank you very much.
- The Community Board Program 1986. Dynamics of conflict handbook. San Francisco, The Community Board Center for Policy and Training.