About Moving Beyond Intractability (MBI)

by Heidi and Guy Burgess

June 26, 2022

We started developing a new project and website in the Spring of 2016. We named it ""Moving Beyond Intractability" because this project built on top of the long-standing Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base with the goal of moving beyond the limits of current knowledge, and helping as many people as possible "move beyond" intractability in the conflicts they are involved in and care deeply about.  ​We also called it a "MOOS," which stands for "Massive Open Online Seminar" because we envisioned it as being similar to more common MOOCs (massive open online courses), but it focused on frontier-of-the-field issues (as university seminars often do), rather than "settled knowledge," which is what is usually covered in MOOCs.

MBI's development was spurred by three factors.  First was our concern about the increasing number and intensity of intractable conflicts around the world.  When we started developing BI, intractable conflicts were seen as an important challenge, but they were being surmounted.  Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Cold War, for example, were all intractable conflicts that had certainly been transformed, if not resolved.  In 2016, all three of these conflicts seemed to be re-emerging (albeit in different form). At the same time, were seeing the almost total meltdown of the Middle East, the continuing intractability of many wars in Africa, a hightening of tensions in several parts of Asia, and now, an ever-deepening division within the United States that was—even then— threatening the very basis and stability of our own democracy.  

A second driving factor was Bill Ury's suggestion, many years ago, that we turn Beyond Intractability from simply an online "knowledge base" to a virtual "place" where users could "get together," talk, and brainstorm new ways of dealing with their myriad conflict challenges.  We tried to implement this a few years ago by developing the idea of a "Collaborative Learning Community" on BI.  We reformated the BI homepage trying to stress that idea, and hoped that users would begin to contribute their own ideas to BI, as well as learning from it and engage in conversations with each other about the material.  A small group of users did contribute papers--particularly John Paul Lederach's graduate students at Notre Dame University, the Burgesses' graduate students at George Mason University, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado.  (A few other people who weren't students of ours or John Paul's contributed too.)  But not very many other people did and the discussions didn't take off--so the idea didn't really catch on.

A third factor was that the Burgesses retired from teaching at the University of Colorado in the spring of 2016, which freed up a lot of their time.  They began to think about writing the book that they had been wanting to write for years, but never had time to do so.  But books aren't really "their style"--they had  been committed to the notion of sharing ideas online for free for a very long time.  So it wasn't a hard sell when their friend and colleague Mari Fitzduff suggested that they would be better off writing "their book" online. Doing so would also allow them to try, once again, to implement Bill Ury's notion of creating "a place" on BI, which is how we switched from the idea of an online book to an online seminar that was open to anyone who was interested.

As time went on, they realized we wanted to do more than we originally planned and they started to add more seminars and blogs.  Now Moving Beyond Intractability includes

  • The Conflict Frontiers Seminar (the original MOOS) -- which is written by Guy and Heidi Burgess and focuses on frontier of the field issues
    • The format for this seminar is one short (about10 minute) video every few days, along with associated materials (transcript, references, etc.) These videos will be posted on BI and MBI as well as distributed over Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and bi-weekly (or so) in the BI-Newsletter.  Many of these videos also have discussion questions associated with them.  As of August 2018, the discussions hadn't really started yet, as we haven't been pushing them.  This is a task for the fall, and we hope people will contribute their thoughts.  However, in order to prevent the kind of nastiness that is frequently seen in comment and discussion boards, we are requiring all discussants to register and get a user name and password.  While we aren't limiting the discussions to experts only, we will be trying to limit them to people with a serious interest in the field and a desire to make conflicts better, not worse.
  • The Conflict Fundamentals Seminar -- which draws from the full set of Beyond Intractability knowledge base materials and focuses on more traditional conflict resolution knowledge.
    • Each original essay is supplemented with a new "Current Implications" section (written by Heidi Burgess) relating the ideas in the essay to what is going on in the world now.
    • Like the Conflict Frontiers posts, these, essays are also posted one at a time every few days to the social networks and sent out in our bi-weekly newsletter.
  • The ""Beyond Intractability in Context" blog that reposts articles (and videos) made by others that illustrate, add to, or sometimes challenge the key points we are trying to make in our other two seminars.
    • These are usually sent out every day sometimes twice a day.
  • Things YOU Can Do To Help Blog, which has very short ideas about things that everyone (not just leaders or "important people") can do to improve intractable conflicts, linked to other BI and MBI materials that provide more details.
    • These are just now being developed and will be released every few days starting in September 2017.
  • A Colleague Activities Blog which highlights related work that our many colleagues are doing. 

While MBI is still growing in 2022, it is largely morphing into two related projects: The Constructive Conflict Initiative and an online discussion being initiated jointly with the Conflict Resolution Quarterly, examining what the conflict field can do to better address hyper-polarization, which is tearing apart democracy and society itself in the United States and many other countries as well.