The Armenia-Azerbaijan Initiative > Five Stages of the Public Peace Process

Five Stages of the Public Peace Process



The public peace process is based on the assumption that there are things governments can do that people cannot; and there are things people can do that governments cannot.

The Armenia/Azerbaijan Initiative is based on the assumption that citizens have the freedom to be innovative and to create new, deeper relationships. While governments are the official bodies that make peace agreements, newer ideas and sustainable implementation depend on public consent and involvement. Thus citizens have a critical role in peacemaking, sometimes called "citizen"- or "track two" -diplomacy.

Project facilitator Dr. Harold Saunders, former Assistant Secretary of State under President Carter, has had extensive experience in both citizen dialogue and in official diplomacy, as with the Camp David Accords. He first described citizen involvement as the "public peace process." With former Russian diplomat Gennady Chufrin, he delineated the interconnected Five Stages of a Dialogue Process leading to reconciliation and collaboration.

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The decision to engage is the first requisite to the public peace process. Sensitive to political or even physical risks, citizens may be reluctant to talk with "the enemy." The most likely participants are those who have courage, and who recognize that current methods are not working and could lead to future failure, even disaster. Potential participants will look for a trustworthy, competent convenor and a safe, neutral location. Helpful groundrules will include participants representing themselves, not organizations; sensitive listening; and confidientiality.

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Stage Two: Mapping the Relationship Together

The dialogue opens with a period of expressing and exploring each party's interests, defining the context and scope of the relationship. The central task is to map the relationship together, and starting to understand how specific problems and underlying interests define the relationship.

In time, the nature of the discourse must be changed to unload and transform the dehumanization and demonization that has marked the past. Dealing with feelings is important. There may be feelings of gratitude for the opportunity of finally being together face to face, or fear of failure. In the relationship, the earliest feelings to emerge might be anger, resentment, and blame. Hurt, sadness, and guilt could be less forthcoming in the beginning. From the expression of strong feelings, participants can learn to probe for deeper causes or needs rather than letting blame block further discussion.

Dialogue is different from traditional negotiation, which deals with exchanging formal positions and technically defined issues. Dialogue focuses on the state of the relationship and its potential for change. It requires that participants (1) value the relationship and studying it, and (2) will ask themselves, and each other, what underlies the expressed emotions and positions evoked by an issue. They thus learn about underlying needs, and discover essential dynamics of the relationship. Too often groups skip over this critical work by looking for "solutions" before they have experienced the realities of the relationship.

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Stage Three: Probing the Dynamics of the Relationship Together

The purpose of each side in Stage Three is not to present or persuade but to understand and reflect back fully how the other's mind works, the other's frame of reference. In addition to the discoveries about the relationship from Stage Two, the diversity of experiences and perceptions that make up the relationship are better understood.

The parties begin to identify with each other. As they expand their own identifications to include one another, they are laying the foundation for problem-solving together. Again, it is essential to take this time to understand the relationship, and overcome the old tendency to "not waste time."

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Stage Four: Experiencing the Relationship by Thinking Together

The fourth stage has the participants examining together how to deal with a practical problem. In this process, they further experience the relationship itself. One approach could be to divide into subgroups to create scenarios and their stepwise implementation, describing how each party's interests would be affected, and how resolution and reconciliation would be served. The group could then choose its favorite scenario and course of action.

This collective thinking can lead the group as a whole to change systemic flaws or get around obstacles. Perhaps only one step can be taken, but in time that may make further steps possible. But now a new relationship and process is in place for further progress.

Many dialogues stop at this point if they get this far. Some group participants may share their insights with policy makers; others take fresh understandings into their own constituencies; still others see their work together as establishing a model for others.

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The ultimate group experience would be to move out from such meetings and act together to have a concrete impact - to change the relationship and effect a visible social outcome. They could carry out scenarios proposed in Stage Four; take their fresh understandings to community institutions; creatively interact with government officials; or implement the Five Step Public Peace Process with an expanded group of new citizens. The parties, to some degree, have now experienced transforming blame into responsibility, enemies into partners. They have modeled the process of dialogue and reconciliation, thus dispersing this practice into their evolving, diverse culture.

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