Listening Project Highlights


During the summer and fall of 2017, we interviewed 26 leading thinkers, innovators, funders, and practitioners in the conflict transformation arena. We asked these experts – primarily in small group video conferences – the same set of carefully crafted questions. We also had less formal conversations with a dozen other experts and progressive movement leaders, covering similar topics. Interviewees included mediators, facilitators, authors, trainers, community organizers, journalists, faith-based leaders, academics, researchers and activists. The process took place prior to us honing our focus to be progressive movements. 

One of our aims was to identify the best tools, methods and learning environments for developing conflict literacy. We also wanted to get a clear picture of the opportunities and challenges we would face as we sought to increase conflict literacy in the US.

What We Heard

Below is a very brief summary of some of the key takeaways, organized around the topics and questions that we posed to each of the Listening Project participants. We want to thank all of the participants for sharing their time and wisdom with us.

Topic #1 Essential Skills & Tools

We began by asking:

What key concepts or contexts are most essential for successful conflict transformation?

What do you consider to be the most important teachable skills, tools and processes for resolving/transforming interpersonal and community conflict?

Which of these are most applicable in culturally diverse situations?

What would you include in an essential toolkit for the general public?

We distilled the responses to these questions into the 10 Core Competencies of Conflict Literacy, which include everything from self-awareness to empathy to skillful communication to healing and restoration after a conflict has occurred. For descriptions of each of the 10 elements, please visit our Core Competencies page.

Topic #2 - Learning Methods & Barriers

What learning environments and methodologies are most effective in helping people to embody and integrate conflict literacy skills into their lives?

  • Establish agreements that create safe spaces/brave spaces in which disagreements are allowed, but we treat each other with respect.
  • Build trust before attempting to surface and engage with conflict.
  • Prioritize in-person group learning – ideally with an ongoing way to practice together.
  • Train multiple people from the same organization or community. They will be more likely to put new learnings into practice.
  • Choose trainers and facilitators who have done their own work around identity and triggers, and who can skillfully speak about systemic biases and power dynamics.
  • Ensure cultural humility/competency throughout teaching/learning process.
  • Incorporate experiential learning – such as role plays, skits, and games – not just lecturing.
  • Use popular education models which draw out the wisdom and experience of participants.
  • Engage with storytelling – teaching and learning through story.
  • Create clear processes with tangible, easy to remember steps. This helps with recalling steps when in an actual conflict.
  • Use acronyms to assist with recall under pressure. For example, the CLARA model for conflict de-escalation: Center, Listen, Affirm, Respond and then Add information.
  • Establish low bar entry points, so that anyone can learn the basics.
  • Remember that environment matters – quiet space and nature can support the learning process.

The most effective ways to help people learn are through mentoring, one-on-one, peer-to-peer and in community. The learning should be non-didactic, non-Socratic, but rather an andragogical way of learning. Create and sustain inquiry-based learning, providing a field of play, a space in which shared expression may be utilized as a process for self-exploration.

Lots of people haven’t looked at their own social identities, how social constructs shape and impact their understanding of who they are and their experience with power, inequity and systemic privilege. If you don’t have a level of self-awareness about your experience and biases and social identities, it will be difficult to empathize, shift perspectives and open up.

What are the common barriers to people applying what they have learned, and what are ways around these barriers?

  • Not having a shared language about conflict or shared skill set. (Solution: provide a common framework, shared language and tools/processes to use)
  • Lack of opportunity to practice new skills and understandings. (Solution: build in practice during trainings and establish communities of practice to continue after)
  • People won’t take a risk for fear of being shamed or punished. (Solution: build trust first, and establish agreements to ensure a safe space)
  • Lack of agreements about how to engage with conflict. (Solution: create agreements and hold participants accountable to them)
  • Our own inner critic can keep us from showing up authentically and being willing to try new things. (Solution: name it, normalize it and show people it’s safe to make mistakes)
  • See the Core Competencies of Conflict Literacy for other best practices and ways of working around common barriers.

In Kingian Nonviolence we talk a lot about the importance of institutionalizing these practices. Nonviolence is like a martial art. If you practice a martial art and you’re not going to class and practicing 3 or 4 times a week, you’re not going to improve.  Too often people go to a two-day workshop on conflict transformation or restorative justice and think they ‘get it.’ It’s not a thing you ‘get.’ It’s a practice to continually engage in building these muscles. People need consistent opportunities to practice engaging with conflict.               


Topic #3 - Bright Spots & Dissemination

What “brights spots” do you see in conflict literacy?

What conflict resolution tools and processes have been most effectively or widely disseminated and popularized?

Bright Spots, Tools & Practices (a sampling of the several dozens mentioned)

Reflective Structured Dialogue is a way of being with each other…it’s a way of being open and curious, it’s a set of skills that allows a community to shift how they respond to a moment of stress, conflict,  or threat. We want to give a community both the skills and the capacity to facilitate these conversations but also to think of these as being habits of the heart.

I have been grappling with some tensions that are inherent in the structure of Nonviolent Communication. There is a tension between wanting to communicate in a way where you will be heard and empathized with, but at the same time avoiding tone policing someone who is already feeling oppressed or marginalized. It’s a fine line between being able to speak your truth and being told you need to communicate with your oppressor in a way that is comfortable for them to hear you.

Topic #4 - Online Hubs & Learning

If there were one or more centralized online platforms that could serve as a hub for inspiration, learning, and dissemination of conflict literacy skills, tools, and processes – what would ensure it was successful?

What would you want to make sure it includes?

What would make it so useful that you would use it and recommend it to others?

Online Learning – Best Practices

  • Compelling content and delivery
  • Short videos, less than 5 minutes
  • Case studies – seeing what works and what doesn’t work
  • Audio/video storytelling can show nuance and complexity
  • Interactivity – being able to see each other (like Zoom)
  • Smaller cohorts for connection and practice
  • Link online learning to in-person practice opportunities

Online Learning – Pitfalls/Solutions

What pitfalls around online learning should be avoided?

  • Active coaching or teaching is helpful when a learner has doubts or isn’t sure what to do next. You can’t get that from a self-guided online course. (Solution: Have an additional live component, or personalized coaching available for students.)  
  • It can be challenging to build trust and a safe container in an online learning space when participants don’t know each other. (Solution: Create group agreements, include trust-building exercises and small group work. Use online learning for follow-up engagement and ongoing support after people have already met in person.)
  • Online learning can be passive and not conducive to putting new learnings into practice. (Solution: Support smaller interactive cohorts and provide a mechanism for students to create or join a community of practice.)

The most impactful learning comes when we have direct contact in a facilitated environment with those whose values and histories contradict our own. That is the way we can work on our own prejudices and stereotypes, and develop our peacebuilding skills. Ideally, dialogue and conflict transformation groups meet in person, but we need technology to build common ground on a global level. We need to be reaching far greater numbers of people than we can reach in a workshop setting.


I’ve seen people use technology as a way to escape from conflict much more than use it to shift the way they engage with conflict. People can become literate about a model or an idea through online dissemination. That’s powerful, for sure. And, I feel it’s the efforts of honest conversations, story-sharing, and embodied practice that actually translates into changes in behavior and ways of viewing the world.

Topic #5 - Leveraging Technology

Where do you see creative and effective use of technology in learning about and/or engaging in conflict transformation?

What are additional unexplored possibilities?

How could technology best support conflict literacy?

  • Online Education. From awareness-level introductory units on a specific topic (e.g. Hollaback’s bystander intervention webinar) to in-depth seminars such as those offered at  
  • Possibility and Inspiration. Games/apps/videos that show people that what is possible and inspire them to engage. For example, Battle for Humanity.
  • Documentation and Dissemination of innovations, possibilities and success stories through social media & mainstream outlets.
  • Information Technology (IT) in Practice. Tools and platforms to be used in the practice of conflict transformation.
    • Examples:
      Crowdsourced conflict mapping and assessment tools
      Online tools to convene/facilitate small or large-scale dialogues
      Employing tech in a witness role, for example, Hollaback’s HeartMob or ACLU’s Mobile Justice app

Unless it’s really clued into how race and class function, more middle class, patriarchal, Western-centric media and tech will be reproduced. We need more technology that’s sensitive to race and class.
Sarah ThompsonSARAH NAHAR


Technology is a powerful tool to bring solutions to conflict resolution to scale. We don’t all have access to wise elders, or therapist, or conflict resolution training — but all of us have conflict, and the future of our movements depends on our ability to manage it well.

Topic #6: Overall Cautions & Advice

Do you have any cautions or advice for us as we develop our strategy for funding conflict literacy work?

  • If systemic causes of conflict are not addressed, more conflict will be generated. It is hard to resolve conflicts inside a system that continually reproduces them. Topics of economic inequality, racial injustice, and power imbalances need to be incorporated into conflict literacy teaching, not avoided.
  • Conflict transformation can be spiritual work, but bringing in the spiritual with groups can be tricky.
  • Poor facilitation of processes can cause harm and make things worse.
  • Effective conflict transformation work is based in relationships. Building trust is essential for success.
  • It’s better to focus on quality over quantity (and speed).
  • Don’t oversimplify.
  • But don’t over-complicate.
  • The term “conflict literacy” could be problematic.

The set of tools that you need depends very much on the settings you are coming from. We need to cultivate a wide range of tools appropriate for different groups of people. This makes the notion of conflict literacy dangerous because it implies that ‘these are the right tools and if you don’t have them, you are illiterate.


If you want to pursue innovation and create change, you have to navigate uncomfortable, unfamiliar territory. If you are feeling disoriented, then you’re probably doing something right. You have to go through disorientation to gain a new orientation. Enjoy the journey and find your dignity as you move through the disorientating process.


In the US, with individuals and groups, much of what underlies anger, rage, and violence is grief. A sense of loss upon loss upon loss. But in our culture, we don’t have much space for grief. Grief when unaddressed becomes grievance. We are in a culture of grievance. Grief being expressed as blaming the other. We have to address deep grief.


Topic #7 - Conflict Literacy Funding Suggestions

If you were in a position to fund strategies to increase conflict literacy in the US, what would you support? Where could a relatively small amount of money be leveraged for big impact?

Funding Approach Ideas

  • Build on what is working – strengthen existing pathways
  • Take the risks & support start-ups
  • Look for multiplier effects & how work can be replicated & sustained
  • Inspire & organize other funders – increase the funding pool for this work

Field-Building Ideas

  • Convene conflict professionals and leaders, old and new, to explore how to disrupt the field
  • Research and map what foundations could be doing to support development and success of the field
  • Get tech leaders on board to support CT innovation
  • Attract new talent to the field
  • Publicize what’s working

Specific Constituency Ideas

  • Progressive organizations
  • Transpartisan groups
  • Faith-based communities & religious groups (In 2010, it was estimated there are roughly 350,000 in the US.)
  • Young people & students (Academic decathlon on Conflict Transformation, Restorative Justice)
  • Curricula for families (Families are where we often learn bad conflict habits.)
  • Choral groups (In 2011, it was estimated there are more than 270,000 in the US.)

Progressive Movements & Activist Ideas

  • Bridging divides within and between progressive movements
  • Uplifting progressive leaders who model healthy ways of working with conflict
  • Partnering with national networks that have local chapters – communities of purpose become communities of practice
  • Skills for navigating identity-based and strategy-based conflicts
  • Peacemaking skills for frontline activists  (nonviolent direct action, marches)

Transpartisan/Bridge Building Ideas

  • Support/train influencers from the left, center and right – who can model healthy ways to be in dialogue & conflict
  • Organize national convention on bridging divides, promoting a ‘third story’
  • Support media sources elevating ‘all sides’

Technology & Media Ideas

  • Inspiring videos showing what is possible
  • “BuzzFeed” for Conflict Transformation stories
  • Ask an Expert – Live CT hotline
  • Games/apps that teach empathy, implicit bias, model CT skills
  • Online conflict resolution skills training – a collection of existing tools and processes