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Case #189

Facilitated joint brainstorming leads to new level of understanding between enemies


The border dispute between Ecuador and Peru, which was one of the most protracted in the western hemisphere, dates back to 1884. Since then the two countries have been engaged in armed conflict thirty four times, most recently in 1995, when tensions escalated into a short but violent war - the most violent since the dispute began -followed by ceasefire, drawn up by the Guarantor nations. However further skirmishes in March showed that the situation remained critical.

In April 1995, in an attempt to find common ground between the two countries, the Conflict Management Group (CMG) - a non governmental organisation founded in 1984 by Professor Roger Fisher from Harvard Law School - proposed a 'facilitated joint brainstorming' session to the then Ecuadorian president and former Peruvian deputy minister of foreign affairs.

According to CMG, a key feature of facilitated joint brainstorming (FJB) is its use of training-as-intervention. Rather than bringing the two sides together to negotiate, FJB uses problem solving exercises and negotiation training itself as a vehicle to build bridges among parties in conflict. The two sides agreed, and in April 1995 eleven participants were brought together for a week-long workshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to explore ideas and techniques that might facilitate better communication and help them manage their differences more effectively.

Throughout the week the participants were sensitised to a variety of skills and techniques designed to build strong working relationships, enhance communication and develop their active listening, problem solving and empathy skills. For example, one exercise had participants think six months into the future and write a 'victory speech' for their President, which would include the major themes that the leader would like to use to explain a future hypothetical agreement.

Participants were then paired up with a team member from the other side and common themes from both speeches were discussed, with a view to redrafting both speeches to make them consistent, while highlighting those ideas that would be most compelling to their own constituency. Through this exercise participants began to identify shared interests such as economic development, trade and protecting the environment.

Following further exercises, the group then began to brainstorm options that addressed the interests that lay behind their positions and evaluated those options from their own perspective and from the perspective of the 'other side' thus becoming more aware of the importance of 'joint ownership' of any proposal.

Feedback from the workshop was overwhelmingly positive, exceeding the expectations of both the participants and CMG facilitators. According to CMG, participants were relating to each other in ways that were clearly more positive than any formal encounters to date. Perhaps most tellingly Jamil Mahuad, who became President of Ecuador in 1998 said 'That one-week session in Cambridge has had a lasting impact on the way Ecuador and Peru deal with the boundary problem and deal with each other.'


While it is unclear precisely how this workshop influenced the formal negotiations, Mahuad's statement suggests that the contribution made by CMG certainly had an impact on the nature and direction of the relationship between the two sides. In fact it wasn't until 1998 that an agreement was finally reached between the two countries, brokered by the Guarantor nations and led by Brazil. However CMG was again involved behind the scenes directly assisting President Mahuad in helping him improve both his negotiating style and the channel of communication between him and President Fujimori of Peru. This help, too, is reflected in a letter President Mahuad wrote to Roger Fisher two weeks before the signing of the final agreement in which he said 'I know of none who have done more to make this peace possible than you and the Conflict Management Group."
Location: Peru/ Ecuador
Action: Direct
Setting: Semi-Developed
Extent of Action: Multi-Country
Issues: Peace/Conflict Resolution
Year(s): 1995
Outcome partially successful
Source: War Prevention Works: 50 Stories of people resolving conflict, Oxford Research Group


For more information:
Read Beth A. Simmons paper Territorial Disputes and Their Resolution: The Case of Ecuador and Peru, United States Institute of Peace publication ?Peaceworks?. Also see www.cmgroup.org for more about the work of CMG.
Prepared By: rja, 11/01
Rating: 1
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