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This section examines the steps involved in preparing and entering a conflict setting. It:

4.1 Why careful entry is essential

In the entry process, mediators need to:

The entry process involves three steps:

Step 1: Planning the entry;
Step 2: Entering the conflict setting;
Step 3: Preliminary conflict analysis.

Milestone A is achieved when the mediator has decided to become involved in the specific conflict case, and when this decision has been communicated in a transparent manner to the disputants and other concerned parties.

4.2 Step 1: planning the entry

Several activities may need to be considered before entering the conflict setting for the first time. These include:

4.2.1 Building a team

In some situations, it might be more appropriate to have a team of mediators, e.g. in multisite negotiations, in multilingual settings, or where certain technical expertise is required which one person alone cannot provide. The following points should be taken into account when such a team is being created:

4.2.2 Collecting background information

Background information is essential for helping to make decisions about whether and how to act as a mediator. It helps inform the mediator about the nature of the conflict, its origins and development, and any past attempts to resolve it. Information can be useful for exploring strategies for the next steps in the conflict management process, for example whom to consult on the first visit. It can also be referred to later in the process, as more data are gathered through direct observation or interviews and a more accurate and complete picture of the conflict is produced.

Before going to the conflict site, mediators can research sources that provide information on the region or community, including its environment, people, history, patterns of resource use, and conflict trends. Important starting places are newspaper articles, the published and unpublished reports of organizations or researchers working in the respective area, minutes of public meetings, and audiovisual presentations (including radio or television reports). All such information should be treated as potentially false, requiring verification from other sources and observations in the field.

Once in the field, a preliminary conflict assessment should be carried out to help place the dispute's dynamics and participants within the wider context of processes and trends related to the area's natural resource conflicts and their management. As noted in section 2.3.2, this assessment should make use of local capacity for consensual negotiations, including existing cultures of conflict management and local approaches to problem solving.

4.2.3 Action planning

Action plans lay out all the activities, the time frame for these activities, and the setting (where, how, who, which tools?). In addition, the process needs to be designed carefully: Who will be contacted first? What will be talked about?

Mediation teams need to consider:


Third parties often need to use a local contact person, or gatekeeper, to assist entry. For example, a contact person may arrange the first meeting between mediators and the conflict stakeholders. In some places, local administrative officers may assume - or seek to assume - the role of contact person. In other cases it may be possible to choose from a range of people, such as traditional mediators, leaders of local resource user groups, community-based authorities such as kin group or neighbourhood leaders, extension workers or other development agents. If a mediator selects a contact person who is perceived as partial, the process may be obstructed, because the mediator too may then be perceived as partial. Local authorities should be treated with appropriate respect and consideration, but local government officials or village heads are not necessarily neutral and may well be stakeholders in the conflict.

4.3 Step 2: entering the conflict setting

Regardless of how mediators enter a dispute, they must accomplish certain specific tasks at the beginning of a negotiation process. An external mediator first needs to establish rapport, trust and relations with the conflict parties. All mediators, both internal and external, need to assess whether intervention by a third party is at all likely to be successful. If so, they need to clarify the third party's role. The following three key aspects should be explored.

Are disputants ready to negotiate? Two factors influence readiness. The first of these is the actors' motivation to reach an agreement, which depends on their estimation of the state of the conflict and their perception of the costs and benefits of solution. Second is the actors' level of optimism, which is based on their skills, previous experiences and resources (Faure, 2003). If parties are ready to negotiate, how strong is their motivation to do so? What incentives exist for conflict parties to engage in consensual negotiations? How have the parties attempted to address the conflict in the past? What options are currently open to the parties in managing or resolving the conflict?

How are any differences in power or strength among the concerned parties likely to affect their ability to engage in consensual negotiations? Where there is extreme imbalance, it is the third party's job to ensure at least some procedural balance. In certain circumstances, it is also necessary to build the capacity of the weaker party.

To what extent is it possible to facilitate direct communication, open exchange and processes of understanding and problem solving among the conflicting parties? What tasks are appropriate for the mediators? How can the process be conducted to ensure that the conflict parties assume ownership, and the mediator is able to withdraw gradually?

During entry, mediators will:

Building personal and procedural credibility is an important way of creating willingness to try the process among the stakeholders.

TRAINER'S NOTE: Mediators must not raise expectations that they cannot meet later on. The ACM process is designed to help participants learn how to solve their own problems. It will only be of help to the parties if they are ready and willing to seek agreement jointly. It may help stakeholders to restore their relationships, but it will not solve all the problems in a community, and will not guarantee in itself that peace will remain in the community

4.4 Step 3: preliminary conflict assessment

A preliminary conflict analysis seeks to provide an initial understanding of a situation. This includes finding out about local capacities to manage conflict and how they could be strengthened, including past conflict management attempts and the reasons why they failed. The preliminary conflict analysis helps to clarify assumptions and deepen insights regarding a conflict and the strategies for addressing it. Its purpose is to decide the appropriate course of action and role for the mediators.

Mediators must have some idea about the boundaries of the conflict and the stakeholders involved before they can make informed decisions about whether or not they have the capacity to become usefully involved.

There are not usually enough time and resources to allow long, detailed investigations. Conflict analysis need to be action-oriented, and it might be worth considering the principles of rapid rural appraisals, which are:

As already noted, the conflict analysis starts before entry into the field with a review of written sources (including unpublished reports), discussions with researchers and practitioners familiar with the area, and examination of audiovisual accounts. When they enter the field, mediators should meet the contact person and local authorities or dignitaries. Protocols can serve as another source of information.

It is important to seek out as many local views as possible. These can be obtained through informal interviews, group interviews (including structured focus groups) and meetings with key informants (individuals who are highly knowledgeable about a topic). In any research, it is important to ascertain that the individuals met really do represent stakeholder groups. As Chambers (1983) notes, in order to avoid the biases of particular individuals or elite groups, it is necessary to seek out a range of different people and views - official and nonofficial representatives, women and men, old and young people, as well as the middle-aged, poor and prosperous people, etc. However, much can also be learned simply through walks, observation, asking questions and, most important, listening.

In the preliminary assessment, information should be collected on the following topics (see also Goodhand, Vaux and Walker, 2002):

The preliminary assessment can help improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of the mediators by sharpening their understanding of the conflict through, for example, drawing their attention to people, processes or events that have been overlooked. Such knowledge can help the mediators to serve in more appropriate roles. It might also indicate that existing roles should be redefined. The assessment may, for example, suggest that local institutions have the capacity to handle the conflict with little or no support from outside mediators.

Alternatively, it may indicate that the mediators ought to focus on a specific aspect, such as reconciling the parties, providing advice on conflict management options or assisting local conflict managers to mediate the negotiations.

In addition, the assessment may indicate that the situation is too antagonistic or dangerous to risk attempting consensual negotiations. For example, a growing number of automatic weapons in the area may discourage participation, as people fear the escalation of violence

TRAINER'S NOTE: Section 5 explains how to conduct a conflict analysis and which tools may be helpful. Annex 2 provides a simple, practical guide to each of the tools and describes how these can be applied in the field.

On the basis of the preliminary conflict analysis, the mediator or mediation team can assess the likelihood of negotiations succeeding by answering the questions from the following checklist:

TRAINER'S NOTE: Mediators need to take a conscious and transparent decision as to whether or not to proceed and, if so, how. This decision has to be communicated and discussed with the conflict stakeholders.

As already noted, mediators can consider disengaging if they cannot find a convincing answer to some of the above questions, or if their services are not needed to deal with the conflict. If the process has no or very little chance of success, it is better not to start than to initiate a process half-heartedly. Sometimes, the message that mediators are unwilling to continue the process can increase the conflict stakeholders' commitment and willingness, and move the process in a more constructive direction. The mediators may then reconsider their commitment.

If the circumstances are not right for ACM, there is little to be gained from pushing the approach. On the other hand, even when full resolution of the issues at stake is not possible, mediators may decide to start a negotiation process that aims to minimize the destructive consequences associated with many confrontations. It is particularly important that mediators take a deliberate decision that is communicated to the parties in conflict.

If the team has decided to move ahead with mediation, further steps include:


In the early stages of the conflict management process, it is often most appropriate to consult the different conflict parties in separate sessions, giving them the opportunity to express their views of the conflict, and explaining to them the potential advantages of ACM and the role of the mediator. This is best conducted in an environment that the conflict stakeholders trust. This procedure is called shuttle consultation.

Facilitating shuttle consultations should provide space for the conflict stakeholders to talk and express their grief, emotions, feelings and opinions. Mediators can support this process by:

- active listening: signalling their attention to the speaker, speaking less and listening more;
- mirroring back: rephrasing what they have understood in their own words;
- showing empathy: letting the speaker feel that the mediator is "putting his-/herself in the shoes of the speaker".

At the end of the entry process, mediators have gathered sufficient information from the preliminary conflict analysis (step 3) to advise about the most appropriate way to proceed in terms of conflict management options.

Section summary

Section 4 has emphasized that entering a conflict setting needs careful preparation. Before mediators become actively involved in ACM and start to involve the different conflict parties (stakeholders), they need to clarify their own commission (who, what, how, why?) and role as mediators in this setting. This includes a preliminary conflict analysis and detailed clarification of what the conflict is about (Section 5). This is the basis for broader engagement of stakeholders (Section 6), which leads to negotiations (Section 7).

Rushing into the field too fast and unprepared can cause more harm than good. Mediators need to prepare their entry into the field carefully. As soon as mediators come into contact with the conflict setting, they influence its internal dynamics and processes and are influenced by them. Planning entry is important in order to avoid situations in which important issues are overlooked, the wrong people are contacted, or the mediator's reputation as a neutral person is spoiled.

In the entry process, mediators establish contact with the different conflict stakeholders, clarify their own commission, role and tasks and provide space for the stakeholders to state their cases. This process is important to establish rapport, mutual trust and relations with the conflict parties. At this early stage of the conflict management process, it is most appropriate to consult the different conflict parties separately in shuttle consultations.

The preliminary conflict analysis is an internal, strategic exercise and helps the mediators clarify their assumptions and deepen their insights into the conflict's causes, issues and dynamics. The preliminary conflict analysis serves the following two purposes:

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