Just back from a conference “Analyzing Conflict Transformation” hosted by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. My mind is busy with all sort of thoughts about how to model conflicts, how models help support decision makers, how maps and other visualizations are essential analytic tools, and how much of this might be applied in the nonviolent conflict transformation and community building fields I normally inhabit. We talked about whether science is only the hard, qualitative sciences, or if values, emotions, qualitative approaches are included and even what it means to include the observer, the investigator in the system that is being investigated and observed.
It was a fantastic gathering of people from many different fields, disciplines and perspectives. I had made a naïve assumption that many if not most people at a conference about analyzing conflict transformation would come from a peaceful conflict transformation prospective. This was not the case, as many of the participants were from the military or military related commercial companies. It is so refreshing to get outside the usual collection of perspectives, assumptions, opinions I associate with, and mix with others.
I also felt sad that these sophisticated tools and approaches are not more widely available in the peace building and community building world. The resources we put in to the military and commercial sectors so dwarf what is available to the NGO and INGO sectors. I got excited thinking about interesting some of the researchers at the conference, in carrying out their research in partnership with some of the organizations I work with.
While “we” ( include yourself if you think you belong to this “we”) use narratives to describe complex systems of conflict, there are modeling tools that others use, that allow you to explore via computer modeling, the impacts of one or another interventions and moves. While not meant to predict, these explorations open up possibilities we might not have thought of, or thought through in the way a model reveals. They can reveal a promising lever for change, around which a program can be built. A well developed systemic model might also allow us to understand the impacts of our work, without having the problem of singular causality but rather to examine how the system has changed and explore what the levers of change might have been.
While the actual unfolding of events always includes surprises and it isn’t possible to include the vast array of elements in real life conflict situations, and so models can’t reliable predict futures, they can show us visions we might otherwise not imagine.
So, sometime in the next few weeks, I am going to do some follow up and explorations with colleagues from the meeting, to see what bridges might be built. How fun.