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Conflict System Design
Designing better systems for the
effective management of conflict.
What is "Conflict System Design"?
Conflict System Design is a process for designing or
redesigning the system by which conflict is managed in a particular environment.
When designing or redesigning a conflict management system, the task is
to design and implement a "better" system for dealing with conflict in
that environment. The designer works with the stakeholders to understand the
present system and then applies key design principles to develop a more
Diagnosis of the existing dispute resolution system is a
key step in designing a new one. During
the diagnosis phase of the project, the designer asks three important questions:
what?, how?, and why?
- What disputes are being experienced or are likely to arise?
What are they about? What
are the contributing factors to the conflict?
Who are the disputants?
- How are the disputes being handled at the present time? What about the costs of the present system?
What are the transaction costs? How
satisfied are disputants with the outcomes arising from the present process?
What effect does the present system have on relationships? How often do the same problems or types of problems arise?
- Why are disputes handled in the way they are? The answers to this question
frequently revolve around issues relating to traditional procedures, motivation,
skill, resources, and the organizational environment.
Approaches to Conflict Resolution
It is useful to recognize that there are three
inter-dependent fundamental factors that affect the resolution of disputes:
- are defined by a party in an interaction and are the things that that party is
interested in (money, recognition, physical goods, or whatever).
Dispute resolution methods that focus on reconciling interests include
win-win styles of negotiation and facilitative mediation.
- is given by a combination of external circumstances and self-confidence.
There are two basic types of power procedures: power-based negotiations
(threatening) and power contests (strikes, votes, and so forth).
- are given by an external framework, for example national laws or contracts
between parties. Dispute resolution
methods based on rights include litigation, arbitration, advisory opinions, and
Cost of Conflict Resolution
The principal goal of a conflict system design is to
reduce the "total cost" of resolving disputes.
While total cost certainly includes the monetary costs, it is a broader
concept which also includes the following criteria for measurement and
Transaction costs - resources (time and money) consumed
and opportunities lost.
with outcomes - to what degree are interests met? Is the resolution of the conflict perceived to be fair?
on relationships - if there is an ongoing relationship, is it strengthened or
weakened by the dispute resolution system?
- are the resolutions achieved durable (that is, do they hold over time)?
Is the number of similar disputes reduced?
Conflict System Design rests on two main concepts: (1)
quality should be engineered-in at the beginning, not inspected-out at the end;
and (2) generally, interest-based approaches to conflict resolution will be less
costly and more satisfying than rights-based or power-based approaches.
Features and Benefits of Good Conflict Management Systems
The features portion of this clause is based on Dispute
Resolution: Negotiation, Mediation, and Other Processes by Stephen B. Goldberg,
Frank E.A. Sander, and Nancy H. Rogers (Little Brown, 1992).
Consultation and negotiation are stressed.
Parties get the information they need to construct
There is a focus on interests.
The stress is on win-win solutions.
Provision is made for evaluating rights, with a
loop-back to negotiation.
Allows the balance of power between parties to be
mutually understood and taken into account during negotiations.
A fast and inexpensive rights-based approach exists.
Lowers the cost and delay of the dispute resolution
Parties move from low-cost dispute resolution processed
to higher-cost alternatives if the dispute cannot be resolved with
Minimizes the cost of the dispute resolution process.
Provides the motivation, skills, and resources
Allows the desired conflict management process to
happen in practice.
Once the disputants' cultures and the nature of the
actual or potential conflicts has been understood, a design can be developed in
accordance with the principles outlined above.
Then a specific implementation plan can be developed in order to provide
the necessary motivation, skills, and resources. For example, potential disputants or neutral third parties
could be provided with training in specific techniques.