Features of facilitation and dialogue In facilitation (designed to tackle militia violence or stop civil war), group discussion is designed for a collective search for problem solving based on mutual understanding of the issues and sources of problems. In many intractable conflict settings, negotiations may not be easy or feasible due to the refusal of adversaries to talk to each other or wide gaps between opposing positions. In this kind of situation, facilitated meetings can be utilized as the first step to unfreeze the relationship of old animosities. Inter-group contact is designed to create favorable circumstances for dialogue with the promotion of an ability to develop procedures for change. There are a variety of objectives and procedures of facilitation. These include problem-solving workshops for influential
social actors, forums for the empowerment of women’s voices for peace, and an informal conference for the recognition and respect for different cultural traditions. The products of facilitation can be the development of an ability to understand and empathize with the other’s situations in tandem with the validation of one’s own claims. An increase in understanding is supported by various communication methods which influence group dynamics. Facilitated dialogues can support mutual understanding of each other’s concerns, building solidarity, paving moments of transition, or helping to develop transformative insights. The process has been used for shared communal decision making or relationship building in many war-torn societies. The network of women’s groups affected by brutal civil wars in Liberia (1992-1996), for instance, organized a series of meetings themselves, eventually deciding to put pressure on the warlords to stop fighting. These activities strengthened women’s role in society with the election of a woman president in the post-conflict political transition. Dialogue and other processes of facilitation differ from negotiation in that it does not involve bargaining processes nor does it promote compromise. In contrast with negotiation, facilitation is not based on evaluating ideas according to fixed criteria. The “art of the possible” is derived from bringing the adversaries to forge mutual understanding on specific issues instead of position taking (Lynch, 2005). Indeed, a facilitated process is more oriented toward developing mutual understanding prior to formal negotiations designed for the satisfaction of everyone’s interests. Various methods of facilitation (such as problemsolving workshops and dialogue projects in Colombia, Guatemala, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tajikistan, Moldova, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics) rely on the analysis of deep causes of hostile relationships for the exploration of desirable solutions. Sufficient time and commitment are essential to relationship building and sustained collaboration. In facilitated dialogues, moments of transition can be created by each party sharing the opposing party’s concerns through empathetic listening. The transitional moments can unlock or dissolve polarized positions, serving as a vehicle for developing new “insights and actions by the participants” (Isenhart and Spangle, 2000, p. 108). Transformational processes are necessary to promote the major change in conflict relationships whether they take place in private or in public. The goal of a dialogue process is to develop a framework to arrive at shared meaning and understanding along with the group ownership of the facilitative process and outcome. In a search for ending violence, elders and women’s groups representing diverse kin groups in Somalia organized communal meetings. Although they do not have the power to stop militia warfare, they came up with specific suggestions and requests for the UN and other international actors. Since solutions cannot be unilaterally imposed, the lateralization of power is vital to supporting a collaboration process. By sharing authority and accountability for the result, parties co-own more than knowledge and information. The creation of future visions and joint strategies is an effective way of working toward common goals beyond the purview of an individual party. Facilitation serves as a method of adjusting interaction in an environment conducive to flexible decision making. Owing to the group ownership of the process along with the promotion of participant involvement, outcomes (mutual understanding) cannot be unilaterally imposed. Collaboration within deeply divided communities is no longer threatening with a shift in mindset from control to learning (derived from a full examination and discussion of group issues). At the same time, giving up our preconceived ideas about solution is not a required condition for collaboration in searching for common ground.