Principle 4 – Deal with Conflict

Conflict is a fact of life and inevitable in any multi stakeholder partnership. It is not necessarily a bad thing; conflicts are often an important stimulus for change. A principle for effective MSPs is that conflict must not be ignored or kept aside, but needs to be addressed openly and handled constructively.

There are two main dimensions to conflicts in an MSP. One is where conflicts are a key reason for the MSP in the first place. For example, conflict between environmental and economic interests in how natural resources are used, the so called competing claims on resources. The second dimension are the conflicts that emerge when different stakeholders try to work together. 

In order to come to an effective conflict transformation strategy, the attitudes, the behaviour, the perceptions, the context and the underlying structures of the conflicts need to be carefully analysed. Ultimately, insight is needed in whether a conflict is at a point in which interventions may be accepted and produce positive outcomes.

When it comes to identifying the appropriate approach, one should keep in mind that different underlying conflict causes might require different approaches to contribute to solutions. Some of these causes of a given MSP may be able to be addressed directly or indirectly. At the same time, different approaches might be needed at different stages of a conflict situation. Depending on the case and the time frame, dialogue (informal or organized), (principled) negotiation, interest based bargaining or mediation are just a few of the approaches possible.

Finally, any carefully selected approach can’t deliver without a detailed analysis of the most important actors for dealing with or transforming the conflict at hand, and those for exacerbating it.