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What questions do these lenses raise?
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Posing a dilemma asks:
What would a transformational platform suggest?
a. The episode has created energy to do something touching a wider citizenry. This has become an opportunity to explore the potential of what is good for the whole community. So we must not look exclusively at the presenting issues. Instead, we must take a view that looks back across the patterns of the past five, 10, maybe even 20 years. Let the issues be a window into the relational context that is a backdrop to this community and then come back to look at the design of processes.
b. We need processes that respond both to the immediate issues and the longer-term agenda. The presenting issues are a good window into the nature of the repeated patterns. They suggest some avenues for what may be useful in the future. Let's think about multiple processes, each with different time frame requirements, but ones that are linked. Examples of such processes might include:
i. A facilitated community forum to air grievances and clarify immediate needs and solutions.
ii. A facilitated community forum to talk about expectations for community policing.
iii. An initiative to develop regular exchange and feedback between police and citizens.
iv. An initiative to develop a facilitated long-range strategic plan for establishing a mission statement and guiding values for policing, involving both citizens, police, and town officials.
v. A plan to initiate a citizen-police advisory panel that creates specific ways citizens and police can consult and exchange their concerns, hopes, and fears.
It is important to note that each of these, although they may be thought about and launched simultaneously, require different kinds of support structures and time frames as they are carried out. Some may be a one-time event, some are ongoing processes, and still others may, in fact, become new community structures and resources. Remember, we are thinking about change processes and what facilitates constructive change.
c. In proposing the process of response to the immediate situation, think about whether there may be ways to build a new and ongoing response mechanism for concerns about policing. For example, an advisory or facilitative group, as proposed above, might initially be seen as the way to work with the immediate process, but they could also become a facilitative mechanism for ongoing community response on longer-range issues. The idea is this: We can expect new episodes in the future given the patterns of the past. Can we establish something that helps us to prepare and respond more constructively? This type of mechanism would become, in fact, a new social space, a structure, and it needs to be made up of people who are not like-minded and who are from different parts of the community. It would likely be initiated informally and take on a more formal role if it is deemed to be useful. If it works well in the future, it becomes an ongoing platform of response to emerging situations, both preventing and facilitating.
d. The design should include a forum for discussing current issues and the capacity to continue discussing. However, the processes should not rely exclusively on "talk" as the only mechanism for dialogue. We must think carefully about community processes, events, and common initiatives where there might naturally be constructive interaction between police and community that can be built on over the next number of years.
So what happened in the real life situation? The story is not yet over. It never is. But some interesting features didn’t develop. Several good facilitated community forums and discussions were created. Some dynamic people from the police department and a number of concerned citizens reached out constructively to the other side. A proposed advisory panel on policing appears to be emerging and taking shape. These signs suggest that the episode may have created a window into the epicenter. Solutions have been initiated for the immediate problems, and it may be that changes in the relational and identity patterns are under development. Check back in five years. Meanwhile, you might want to try out these lenses, questions, and platforms in your hometown.
The lenses of conflict transformation raise questions for participants and practitioners that emphasize the potential for constructive change inherent in conflict. These lenses can be applied to many kinds of conflicts; the potential of broader desired change is inherent in any episode of conflict, from personal to structural levels. The challenge before the practitioner is to assess whether the circumstances merit investment in designing a transformational response to a particular situation.
A key advantage within this framework lies in its capacity to consider multiple avenues of response. I have suggested that transformation builds from and integrates the contribution and strengths of conflict resolution approaches. But conflict resolution does not necessarily incorporate the transformative potential of conflict. In other words, you can use a transformational approach and conclude that the most appropriate thing to do is a quick and direct resolution of the problem, period. But conflict resolution narrowly defined does not automatically raise the questions and inquiries necessary to spark the potential for broader change.
Clearly, a transformative approach is more appropriate in some situations than others. There are many conflicts or disputes where a simple resolution approach such as problem-solving or negotiation makes the most sense. Disputes that involve the need for a quick and final solution to a problem, where the disputants have little or no relationship before, during, or after, are clearly situations in which the exploration of relational and structural patterns are of limited value. For example, a one-time business dispute over a payment between two people who hardly know each other and will never have contact again is not a setting for exploring a transformational application. At best, if it were applied, the primary focus might be on the patterns of why these people as individuals have this episode, and whether the episode repeats itself time and again with other people.
On the other hand, where there are significant past relationships and history, where there are likely to be significant future relationships, where the episodes arise in an organizational, community, or broader social context—here the narrowness of resolution approaches may solve problems but miss the greater potential for constructive change. This is especially important in contexts where there are repeated and deep-rooted cycles of conflict episodes that have created destructive and violent patterns. From the perspective of conflict transformation, these are always situations where the potential for change can be raised.
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