John Paul Lederach's "Big Picture of Conflict Transformation"

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

October, 2016


You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


This video describes leading peacebuilder John Paul Lederach's theory of conflict transformation, showing how the process cycles from the "Inquiry 1": the presenting situation, through "Inquiry 2:" the horizon of the future, and then "Inquiry 3": developing and then implementing change processes to try to bring the desired future about. All parts of this cycle are complex  in and of themselves, and when put together, the interactions make the system and process more complex, but also more understandable and potentially amenable to successful peacebuilding action. 

Discussion Questions: 

(1) What other ideas from John Paul Lederach have you found to be particularly useful in your work?  Put another way, what are his core ideas that have influenced the way you work or think about conflict problems?

(2) What other people should we include in this "literature review" of the "founders" of the complexity-oriented approach to peacebuilding?  What key ideas of theirs have you found particularly useful or influential?  Can you give us citations to sources that talk about ideas?

Discuss both these questions in D12.

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Full Transcript

Hi, this is Heidi Burgess and today I want to talk about John Paul Lederach's Big Picture of Conflict Transformation. This notion came from his Little Book of Conflict Transformation which came out in 2003. And you can also read an abridged version of that on Beyond Intractability at the link shown below and also in the transcript.

The book has lots of great ideas in it, but the part I want to highlight here is what John Paul calls the big picture of conflict transformation, which is the diagram that's shown here. He divides any conflict into three --what he calls-- inquiries. The first one is the Presenting Situation, the second one the Horizon of the Future, and the third one Change Processes.

Now he uses this big picture of conflict transformation to map conflicts. And indeed, when we have students map conflicts in our classes, this is one of the techniques that we often suggest they use. In order to understand what's going on in any conflict, you have to look first at the presenting situation. But that's not just the obvious surface level things, the issues, but it involves deeper levels of history.

How has this conflict developed over time? What dynamics have been taking place over time? What are the patterns of interaction and the patterns of relationship that have been going on over time? So he suggests a very deep look into not just issues but, also history and patterns of interaction.

After you do that, you can't figure out how you want to change until you know what you want your changed system to look like, what your goals are. Most often people think in terms of solutions, and think that they can jump directly from issues to solutions. But you'll notice, in this diagram, there is no arrow going that way. The reason is that the solutions are more complicated than one thinks, and you can't get anywhere without developing change processes.

So the big picture is a circle that goes from the presenting situations through change processes to the horizon of the future. Now note, again, that the horizon of the future has three elements. There's the obvious solution, but then there's also relationships and systems. You need to understand how people are going to relate to each other, how the dynamics of the system are going to be different from what was going on in the presenting situation that will enable this new situation, the new system to be more constructive than the current one.

In the bottom --on the development of change processes, he focuses on four different kinds of change: personal change of individuals, relational change, changes in the way people relate to each other and groups relate to each other, structural change, changes in government structure and education structure and health structures and all sorts of structural things that might be impeding more constructive ways of interacting, and cultural changes-- ways in which current cultural norms are inhibiting conflict resolution and make changes to those norms or changes to behaviors that will be more constructive in the future.

And the light colored arrow in the center shows that this is all a continuing cycle so that if you make a change that leads to new relationships and new systems, that's going to impact what you're doing, your change processes, which then cycles back to affect both the horizon of the future and the presenting situation. So like all of the different diagrams in his book, and there are many, they all are very dynamic. They show change. They show the way people and relationships and history relate to each other, how they change over time, and how any change has influence forwards and to some extent backwards. You can't go backwards in history, but you can go backwards in terms of the way you think about or interpret history. So this is one way of mapping a conflict that I find very useful and has contributed to the way we do mapping currently. 

Referenced Resources

John Paul Lederach, The Little Book of Conflict Transformation, Goodbooks 2003. An abridged version is available at John Paul Lederach, "Conflict Transformation" on Beyond Intractability

Picture Credits

Slide 2 and 3: Lederach: by On Being.   CC by-NC_SA_2.0 

Slide 3: Circle diagram from John Paul Lederach. The Little Book of Conflict Transformation, p. 35, and John Paul Lederach "Conflict Transformation" on Beyond Intractability.