By David J. Smith, June 21, 2016
I just returned from the 10th International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education in Columbus, Ohio. It brought together U.S. and global educators to share ideas and improve education outcomes. Though it’s an important gathering and I look forward to attending every year, I recognized that there are a number of other peace and conflict related groups that look at education, as well as practice and policy issues. A few weeks before, I was at
the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) meeting in Washington, DC. Those in attendance mostly operate “inside the beltway” representing organizations and agencies focusing on peacebuilding practice and policy. But there was also a smaller group meeting that represented educational professionals, mostly at the graduate level. We met at George Mason University at the end of the AfP event. In September, I will be attending the Peace and Justice Studies Association meeting, a mostly U.S. based group, that advances education and social change, often from an activism perspective. And in late September/early October the Association for Conflict Resolution, which is made up predominately of practitioners, is meeting in Baltimore. It also supports an education section. I will be there too.
When I attend conferences, and as you can see, I do my fair share, I am often puzzled that professionals doing very similar work but participating in different groups are not connected. Certainly there is value in an organic approach to our work: all of us operating in lock step would be bad for peacebuilding and conflict resolution practice and policy. All ideas need to be considered and explored, and different forums provide that opportunity.
However, the lack of linkages or even communication between various organizations and their members present complications and roadblocks to advancing important social and policy change. Consider extremism and gun violence, once again brought into our conversations because of the tragedy in Orlando.
In an era of limited funding coupled with the difficultly of finding time to participate in professional associations, would not the entire field benefit from knowing more about each other’s work, and thereby, find commonality that could advance practice, research, education, and policy outcomes? We are living in an era of hyper polarization, be it in the current U.S. political context, or in terms of perceptions of immigrants and the rise of extremism. As such our work is more important than ever. Working together when there is a strategic advantage just makes good sense.
A “conclave” might be considered a meeting or process by which leaders from various groups come to together to share ideas and advance mutual goals. It also provides a chance to create channels of communication between leadership that can advance projects among members. The group might meet on a yearly basis.
I can imagine the benefits of a meeting of the top leadership of the major organizations that represent the conflict resolution and peacebuilding fields. The meeting might be hosted by an academic institution that has provided leadership in the field. Schools like George Mason University (where I teach), Eastern Mennonite University, or the University of Notre Dame, come to mind. Leaders from the Alliance for Peacebuilding, Peace and Justice Studies Association, Association for Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society, and other national and international groups focusing on understanding the roots of conflict and promoting ways of advancing peace coming together could continue to communicate and promote common purposes.
The groups meeting would not lose their individual identities or purposes. Rather by better considering the work of other groups, more focus can be brought to their own efforts and missions, voids can be identified, and new strategies advanced in a world that is increasingly divided by differences. The outcomes would be better policy, practice, research, and education in a world rife with conflict and needing peace.