Intervention Processes

Heidi Burgess

January 2004

Most intractable conflicts require outside intervention in order to be constructively transformed or resolved. This intervention can take many forms, and be either formal or informal. Perhaps the best-known form of intervention is mediation, in which a neutral third party (who may be an individual, a panel, an organization, or even a country) will try to help the disputing parties work out their differences in a mutually acceptable way. Unlike arbitrators or judges, mediators have no power to impose a settlement or resolution. Rather, they help the parties to clarify their interests and needs, and their alternatives, in an effort to find a negotiated solution. Usually finding such a solution is extremely time consuming and difficult--if it were easy, the conflict would not be intractable. For those conflicts that have resisted resolution for many months or even years, many interrelated issues must be discussed and resolved, often among a large number of parties. For this reason, the successful mediation of intractable conflicts, while possible, is a significant challenge. 

Other intervention processes which are discussed in detail in the following essays include:

Conflict Assessment - in which an outside party comes in at the request of one or all of the parties to assess the situation, and make a recommendation about the best way to proceed.

Facilitation - in which an outside person comes in to help improve communication between the parties, help them examine and solve problems, and help them make decisions.   

Education - in which one or both parties are taught new or improved conflict assessment, communication, negotiation, or conflict management skills,

Dialogue - in which a facilitator sits down with the parties to discuss the issues in dispute in a constructive and non-confrontational way. Although the approaches used vary considerably, most dialogue facilitators focus on creating safe spaces for in depth inquiry. The goal is usually increasing mutual understanding, not finding an ultimate solution.

Consensus Building - in which many parties work together with a mediator and/or facilitator to reach a mutually agreeable solution to complex, multi-party disputes.

Problem-Solving Workshops - an informal "track two" process in which disputants sit down with conflict scholars to identify the underlying issues and needs involved in their conflict and use an analytical approach to finding potential solutions.

Arbitration - in which a neutral party listens to the arguments of all sides, and makes a binding decision resolving the conflict,

Adjudication - in which a dispute is submitted to a court of law for binding resolution.

Witnesses - in which people enter the scene of the conflict and simply watch and report on what happens. This can call attention to gross injustice or human rights violations, making it more costly to engage in such behavior.

Peacekeepers, who position themselves between the fighting parties to keep them physically apart.

Peacebuilders, who come into a conflict, usually after violent hostilities have ceased, to try to help the parties rebuild their lives and their relationships. The ultimate goal is reconciliation and a normalization of relationships.

Much more detail about what these processes are, how they work (and don't), and when and where they are appropriate are found in the other essays in this section.


Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Intervention Processes." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: January 2004 <>.

Additional Resources