Conflict Resolution in the Age of Mobile Communication Technology: Can it happen?

by trenzpruca

Simulation - 8

Simulation – 8 (Photo credit: onestudentry)

Over two decades ago I had the opportunity to manage a governmental entity that, among other things, was charged with resolving conflicts between development, community and environmental concerns. We developed a process, relatively novel at the time, encouraging those involved or concerned (later to be called “stakeholders”) to solve their disagreements among themselves.

We soon discovered that in order for the process to work effectively it required a team of technicians capable of immediately turning a suggestion into a visual representation. Also included in the team was someone capable of converting the discussions as they occurred into attractive visuals and organized notes for all to see. We also drew upon a compendium of the financial and fiscal resources. Knowledge of fiscal resource limits and how to apply them created a type of gaming situation that forced the participants to consider the same type of tradeoffs that government and private interests must make when they need to decide what can be done and how long will it take. Finally, the process required an entity, in this case our agency, that could more or less on the spot, make commitments to carry out at least the initial elements of the agreed-upon program.

What surprised me most was not that we were successful in almost all cases, as we were, but that despite what was suggested by the heated rhetoric expressed before regulatory or legislative bodies or in the media, the actual content of the disagreements among the contending camps of interest were often rather slight.

Although conflict resolution techniques and design charrettes continue to be used almost everywhere, our particular intensive program eventually fell into disuse. That was because the urban areas included in our jurisdiction were limited in number, and once the specific issues in conflict were resolved in these communities, they remained solved for a decade or longer or until new conflicts arose. Also the process was management and personnel intensive and inevitably such activities in any organization eventually are replaced by a more procedural and careerist focus.

Spending on information and communications tec...

Spending on information and communications technology in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward to today. Modern communications technology and social networking appear to be transforming almost everything we do, from how and where we work to how we entertain ourselves and socialize.

In community and urban development we now have all the information we could want at our fingertips although not necessarily organized and usable. ( A deficiency that a site like the Smart+Connected Communities Institute seeks to remedy).

Simple Internet research shows that we have a plethora of online communities dedicated to community action of one kind or another. Yet what happens when these online communities conflict with one another? As anyone who has actually been involved in assisting in the resolution of significant conflicts knows, good intentions and talking things out are not always enough. Not only must thoughts and ideas be converted into a communications medium through which each participant has the same understanding as everyone else, but immediate unbiased response on the technical facts must be available if the enthusiasm and commitment to the process is not to wither and die waiting for it. Finally, the hard facts of the limits must be available in a usable form to the participants.

A diagram of the dispute resolution process, f...

A diagram of the dispute resolution process, for both content and user conduct issues. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Social media, in regards to community planning, provides an advanced platform for sharing information and ideas and encouraging coöperation and, should the participants agree, collective action.

Modern communications technology and social networks offer the promise of real resolution of community conflicts. Nevertheless, it remains a promise that needs to be addressed and nurtured.