Elicitive Training

Michelle Maiese

September 2004

An Integrated Approach to Training [1]

"Prescriptive approaches generally assume universal models of conflict resolution which are then applied or adapted in particular cultural situations. Elicitive approaches, on the other hand, recognize the existence of distinctive cultural understandings of conflict and its resolution, which are then clarified, elucidated, and enhanced through reflection and dialogue."

- Douglas W. Young, "Prescriptive and Elicitive Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Examples from Papua New Guinea," 211.

What John Paul Lederach calls an "integrated" framework for conflict resolution training focuses on four key ideas: [2]

1. People in a setting are a key resource, not recipients.

2. Indigenous knowledge is a pipeline to discovery and appropriate action.

3. Building from available local resources fosters self-sufficiency and sustainability.

4. Empowerment emerges from processes that promote participation in naming and discovering appropriate responses to identified needs and problems.

According to Lederach, the notion that training models are universally applicable needs to be rethought. In fact, these approaches are often grounded in fundamental assumptions about conflict that are appropriate and applicable in one cultural context but not necessarily in another. While conflict is universal, the ways in which people frame, express and handle conflict are not. [3] Each culture has its own conception of conflict resolution and management techniques. Therefore, rather than exporting North American training practices to other cultural settings, the conflict resolution trainer must approach the conflict within its particular context.

Lederach has proposed a methodological framework that emphasizes the importance of cultural factors in conflict resolution processes. Its guiding question is this: How do we foster a pedagogical project that empowers people to participate in creating appropriate models for handling conflict in their own context? [4] One can explore this question by comparing two approaches to training: prescriptive and elicitive. These distinct approaches can be understood as analytic models, each with a defining set of characteristics.

Prescriptive versus Elicitive

Additional insights into elicitive training is offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

Training in conflict transformation is based on accumulated knowledge about conflict, how it operates, and how to handle it. Insofar as conflict is socially constructed, it arises out of the meaning that people attach to events and issues and what they regard as appropriate responses. This social knowledge can be either implicit or explicit. [5] Implicit knowledge refers to everyday, commonsense understandings accumulated through natural experience. Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is expertise that results from study, reading, research, training, and focused experience. While both knowledge bases are present in any given training, the relevance and importance assigned to the two types of knowledge vary according to the training model. 

The prescriptive model understands the training event as built around the specialized knowledge of the trainer,  which is taken to be both transferable and universal. The trainer defines participants' needs, names the model to be used, and presents a series of strategies and techniques. Training typically begins with a description of the model, followed by exemplary demonstrations led by the trainer. Participants then practice the approach through role-plays and other exercises and work to master the established set of techniques and skills. This approach assumes that the trainer is an expert who knows what the participants need and suggests that the knowledge of trainers is more valuable than that of participants. It also assumes that conflict resolution methods require only minor adjustments in order to be applicable in different cultural settings. In short, the prescriptive approach views training as a transferable package of "how to's." [6]

The elicitive model, on the other hand, understands training as a process that emerges from already-existing, local knowledge about managing conflict. It views training as a process aimed at discovery and creation of models that emerge from resources within that setting. [7] Culture is regarded as the seedbed for the development of a training model that can respond to local needs In addition, the trainer sees himself/herself primarily as a catalyst and a facilitator rather than as an expert in a particular model of conflict resolution. His/her central role is to provide a highly participatory educational process in which participants gain a better understanding of conflict. Finally, the design and goals of the training process are formulated by the participants, rather than dictated beforehand by the trainer. The aim is to foster an indigenous, self-sustaining peace process. [8] Participants are encouraged to participate in the creation of the training model and to articulate their own understandings of how to approach conflict.

The overall goal of these activities is to enable participants to discover and name the approach that emerges out of their own way of understanding and responding to conflict.

There are a variety of significant differences between the two models.

While the prescriptive model views training as the transfer of knowledge from trainer to trainee, the elicitive model understands training as the discovery and creation of within-setting knowledge.

In the prescriptive approach, trainers provide "how to" recipes for handling conflict and trainees strive to master these approaches and techniques. The elicitive approach, on the other hand, understands training as a participatory process in which trainees themselves draw from local knowledge to create the training model. [9]

While the expert knowledge of the trainer is central to the prescriptive approach, the everyday cultural knowledge of participants provides the foundation for the elicitive approach.

Finally, while the prescriptive model approaches culture in terms of technique, the elicitive model understands culture as a foundation and seedbed for training.

While both models aim to empower people, they go about it in very different ways. Both of these approaches have strengths and weaknesses. The prescriptive model draws on the extensive experience and knowledge of the trainer. The techniques taught have proven useful in multiple settings and provide trainees with concrete ideas and skills. However, the prescriptive model's underlying assumption that conflict resolution knowledge and skills are universal and can simply be transferred to other cultures with only minor adjustments is problematic. First, such a transfer can easily overlook the resources available in a given setting. Second, the training methods being used are not culturally neutral as assumed, but rather are infused with a particular society's assumptions about approaching conflict. Third, the prescriptive model sends a subtle message that the trainer's ways are best, that resources for empowerment lie outside the setting, and that emulating those who have made more "progress" will lead to productive conflict resolution. When the trainer's model emerges from a dominant Western culture and is applied in non-dominant settings, it may be seen as imperialistic. [10]

The elicitive approach, on the other hand, shows greater respect for cultural context and views cultural knowledge as the foundation on which model development is grounded. It recognizes that participants' common knowledge of their immediate situation is a crucial resource for designing the training models that emerge. Trainees' participation grants them an increased voice in the training process, which is experienced as empowering.

The elicitive approach in its pure form, however, may miss important opportunities for cross-cultural exchange, learning, and growth. [11] People often attend training sessions because they want to move beyond current practices. When outside input is restricted, this limits opportunities for participants to compare and contrast their own methods with those from other settings. In addition, the elicitive approach takes time and involves considerable commitment. It does not provide formulas or answers, and its proposed outcomes are not easily measured. These ambiguities can lead to a sense of frustration and impatience on the part of participants.

In Lederach's view, most training processes would benefit from a combination of these two approaches. [12] On the one hand, there are a series of issues that are in some sense universal. For example, the question of who will emerge as an acceptable third party, how to create a space where people can air their grievances, and how to create paths leading to resolution will likely be dealt with in any conflict resolution process. This points to the usefulness of a prescriptive approach that emphasizes shared and transferable ideas. However, because these tasks are handled in different ways in particular settings and cultures, an elicitive approach may also prove helpful. Therefore, in cases where training models are overly prescriptive, trainers' repertoire must be expanded. When a given approach to conflict is prescribed as the model and no efforts are made to build on cultural resources found in a setting, training may become dominated by a narrow vision and even arrogance. A move toward an elicitive approach invites trainers to move away from the residue of imperialism embedded in the prescriptive framework and instead emphasize cultural empowerment and mutuality.

Methods of Elicitive Training

But what will an elicitive approach to training look like? The elicitive approach suggests that it should be possible to build a mediation model through the training process. As noted, this process must draw from people's common understanding about how to deal with conflict. Rather than engaging with a predefined process, participants are invited to look to their own experiences to identify the elements that are relevant in seeking and providing help.

Elicitive training typically involves five interrelated kinds of activities:

1. discovery,

2. naming,

3. evaluation,

4. adaptation, and

5. practical application. [13]

Discovery: First, there is a set of activities that encourage participants to consider how people wage and respond to conflict within their setting. These activities are meant to serve as a catalyst for discovery and description. Participants are asked questions such as: "What do we do?" and "How do we do it?"

Naming: Next, participants are encouraged to define and name their own understandings of conflict. This means more clearly identifying and categorizing the approaches and conflict management techniques used in their setting.

Evaluation: Third, participants engage in contextualized evaluation. Now that they are more aware of how conflict is handled in their settling, they can consider what works and what does not. They explore questions such as: "What is helpful and good that we do?" and "What needs to be changed?"

Adaptation: The fourth step is for participants to consider new ways to handle conflict and adapt and improve old approaches. As they consider how to strengthen old approaches, proposals for change emerge.

Application: Lastly, the training process gives participants a chance to experiment with and refine the models they have created. This can involve both simulated application and trying it out in real-life circumstances.

Any given proverb carries with it certain images and ways of understanding conflict. In mediation and diplomacy, for example, the peacemaking process revolves around images of order and organization: for example, the ?table.? Compare that with a proverb from East Africa, which says, ?What old people see seated at the base of the tree, young people cannot see from the braches.? This points to the importance of elders in conflict resolution.

- John Paul Lederach, Preparing For Peace; 79.

Several concrete techniques are aimed specifically at building a model that taps cultural knowledge to construct appropriate conflict resolution methods. First, rather than beginning training seminars with a definition of conflict, trainers should gather participants together in small groups to list everyday words and phrases related to conflict. [14] Groups can then discuss the dominant images and categories and identify the words and phrases that capture their experience of conflict. The terms that form part of local vocabulary provide significant insight into what conflict means in a particular setting. This is an important first step in developing productive approaches to conflict.

Similarly, proverbs can reveal traditional ways of approaching conflict and understanding the conflict-resolution process. Using well-known proverbial wisdom, rather than teaching people a new language, can help to convey conflict resolution methods. Story telling likewise plays an important role in the training process. Stories help to illustrate useful techniques and provide a holistic approach to understanding conflict resolution.

An opening training exercise might follow the following steps: [15]

1. Encourage participants to think back to a time when they found themselves experiencing problems with someone else. Then, the following questions are posed: If things got difficult, to whom would you go for help? Why did you choose this person? What characteristics does he or she have?

2. Invite participants to think on their own for a while, and then join a small group to discuss their various answers and compile a list to share with the larger group.

3. Record the responses that are reported. Mark ideas that are repeated.

4. Summarize and interpret the results.

If time permits, storyboarding can also be used to draw out resolution models that may be implicit in the culture. This might involve the following process. [16]

1. First, each significant idea from the above-mentioned discussion is written on an index card.

2. A complete set of the index cards is given back to each small working group. Each group works with the card and attempts to link and group them together by commonality or sequence.

3. Each group reports back on how it has arranged the cards and names the key groupings that have been identified.

From this long process emerge understandings about the key characteristics of conflict and ideas about mediation. This model-building exercise roots resolution process within the culture and encourages participants to name these processes so that they can be used as building blocks in future models.

Finally, encouraging participants to create their own role-plays can be used as a means to develop mediation models. This involves a process in which participants gather in small groups to describe a conflict situation and then dramatize some aspect of it for the larger group. [17] Groups are given complete freedom to stage the conflict and establish the setting, the roles and attitudes of the parties, and the relevant issues. Constructing the role-play serves as a recreation of their realities and illustrates how conflict operates in their setting. In addition, a member from another group can enter the role-play as a third party who constructively intervenes. These "helpers" should have full freedom to decide how to approach the situation, including whom to bring together, how to define the issues, and where to meet. Following the enactment of the role-play, the larger group can identify conflict dynamics and discuss what happened, what techniques worked, and what key obstacles "helpers" faced.

These techniques are grounded in an interactive environment in which participants draw from their cultural heritage and commonsense knowledge to develop their own training model. Such a process helps to create mutual respect between trainers and trainees and makes use of vital cultural knowledge. Incorporating such methods would allow for more comprehensive training projects across cultures. This is not to say, however, that the elicitive model should be chosen over the prescriptive model. Rather, Lederach suggests that the expansion of the trainer's repertoire to include both models would allow for successful training projects that meet the needs of a wide variety of cultures.


[1] This discussion was drawn heavily from John Paul Lederach, Preparing For Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures, (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1995

[2] John Paul Lederach, 31.

[3] "Culture and Conflict Resolution," Centre for Conflict Resolution, http://www.bradford.ac.uk/acad/confres/dislearn/3-part3.html

[4] Lederach, 39.

[5] ibid., 44.

[6] ibid., 47.

[7] ibid., 55.

[8] Luc Reychler "Field Diplomacy: A New Conflict Resolution Paradigm," http://www.gmu.edu/academic/pcs/reychler.htm

[9] Lederach, 64.

[10] ibid., 68.

[11] ibid., 67.

[12] ibid., 69-70.

[13] ibid., 58-61

[14] ibid., 75.

[15] ibid., 86.

[16] ibid., 87.

[17] ibid., 102.

Use the following to cite this article:
Maiese, Michelle. "Elicitive Training." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2004 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/prescriptive-elicitive-training>.

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