People can contribute to making a conflict less intractable. With many people in each role working at different levels of a conflict, a great deal of good can be accomplished, even when the conflict is not ripe for resolution.
by Burgess, Heidi. “Parties to Intractable Conflict.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: January 2004 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/parties>
The people involved in conflicts hold many roles. These are described briefly below, and then in more detail in the associated essays.
Disputants or first parties differ in the directness of their involvement and the importance of the outcome for them.
Primary parties are those who oppose one another, are using fighting behavior, and have a direct stake in the outcome of the conflict.
Secondary parties have an indirect stake in the outcome. They are often allies or sympathizers with primary parties but are not direct adversaries.
In addition to the disputants, there are third parties. Some may be acting in active intermediary roles, such as mediators, arbitrators, or dialogue facilitators, while others may be by-standers. As conflicts become increasingly polarized, however, the by-standers tend to be pulled in, being forced to join one side or the other, and polarizing the conflict even further.
In addition to the traditional intermediaries, William Ury suggests that there are other “third-siders” who can help play a transformative role. These include:
Most intractable conflicts are so deeply-rooted that the parties need outside help to transform the conflict into something more constructive. Most often, people think in terms of mediators. But there are many more roles people can play to help transform intractable conflicts. In his book, The Third Side, Ury suggests that there are at least 10 roles that people can play: provider, teacher, bridge-builder, mediator, arbitrator, equalizer, healer, witness, referee, and peacekeeper. Some of these roles are traditional “third party roles,” while others are not. The chart below summaries what each role does.
This is derived from a graphic on http://www.thirdside.org/roles.cfm. (Note: the parenthetical comment in the “teacher” box is ours; the rest are from Ury’s diagram.)
All of these people can contribute to making a conflict less intractable. With many people in each role working at different levels of a conflict, a great deal of good can be accomplished, even when the conflict is not ripe for resolution.