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One facilitation model is the conference model.
Traditionally, these have involved groups of academics or professionals, who meet on a yearly basis, for several days to a week, for conferences on issues they share in common. For example, the Pugwash conferences (named after Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada), involved officials and physical scientists from both sides of the iron curtain. The conferences eventually became one more international professional association.
Similar conferences have been started for attorneys from various countries and regional identities (e.g. the Ukraine), doctors, nursing societies, and social scientists.
Beyond "Just Meeting"
Conferences can serve a legitimate purpose in supplementing the dispute resolution process. For example, a conference of mayors can transcend racial, regional, and political boundaries in seeking common goals.
The process is relatively simple.
An area in conflict is identified. A professional or academic group that crosses the borders in the area is identified. A yearly conference program is started that invites all of the members of the identified group to participate. Standing committees of group members are created (to support and plan future conferences) and after three to five years (the sooner, the better) the group is spun off on its own as self-sustaining.
The initial conferences do not address the conflict that separates the participants, but instead address the professional or political calling that brings them together. Further, the initial groups should be either "hard" (physical) scientists, professionals (e.g. lawyers, doctors, judges, nurses) or local entity politicians (such as mayors).
For example, a conference of mayors might address new developments in urban planning, road maintenance and repair technology, farmer's markets and regional tourism initiatives. The next year's conference might address sewer systems, zoning and non-zoning theories, and pragmatic reports by various mayors on projects and programs they participated during the last several years. The third (and final PADR sponsored) conference might address rural/urban issues, water supply and delivery, updates on tourism and road system issues, and political initiatives of mayors vis a vis larger entities (not ethnic group A vs. ethnic group B, but political interest group A [mayors] vs. interest group B -- without regard to party lines, etc.).
The initial conference would be three days, sponsored by the PADR and a university or the PADR and a foundation, and held at the university or at a hotel. A simple agenda, speakers, and substantial "social" time would be planned, as well as a few group training sessions. A representative counsel of "pro tem" officers would be selected, to serve until the next meeting (at which officers would be selected).
During the first year, the pro tem officers would have three meetings with the PADR personnel and would have three or four regional training meetings (outreach activities teaching the various mayors how to network with each other and how to share information). A consensus would be worked out on a "fair" and appropriate way to elect the officers at the second meeting and agenda items for the second meeting would be worked out.
The second meeting would feature four days of meetings and materials, and would include a broader range of speakers and topics. It would also include convention planning classes (for "regional conventions"), elections, and substantial moderated social time and interaction (including some modified t-group experiences). During the second year, additional training and regional meetings would be held, and a continuing education program set up that did not rely on PADR personnel to maintain.
The third meeting would be moderated by the PADR, but not controlled by it (the PADR personnel would provide shadow leadership -- that is, they would be available to answer questions and to support, but they would not be in charge). Following the second set of elections, they would provide a training seminar.
After the third conference, the PADR's only involvement would be in providing training seminars once a year for the newly elected officers.
A conference program for a professional or scientific group is a low risk, mild yield, facilitation initiative. World wide there are many professional associations and conferences that are very successful and self-sustaining in spite of substantial conflicts between their members.
By initiating a conference program, connections and communication between the various groups in conflict can be created, nurtured and expanded. These lines of communication are useful in supporting dispute resolution initiatives and in creating common ground between those who are otherwise separated.
It is important to remember that the yield is mild and that the process is slow. It does, however, offer benefits and improvements that justify the effort.
This sort of conference structure is usually funded by an outside foundation or a governmental group. Once the conference is self-sustaining, it is funded by membership fees. With proper attention to controlling costs, the actual expense per participant can be kept well controlled (less than a week's stay at a hotel).
The yearly training sessions keep the connection open between the PADR and the group and provide for an extensive network of contacts and good will for the PADR.
All in all, conference initiatives are well considered by any PADR located in an area with significant and intractable conflicts.
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