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The Resource Conflict Triangle

The idea behind the Resource-conflict Triangle (RCT) is that to effectively work with a community resource-based conflict there are 3 important interrelated elements that have to be looked at: space, time and relations and the way they relate to conflict issues.

To be able to analyze their connections, analysis should consider the views, perceptions, feelings and experience of all conflicting parties.

- Space

The SPACE element is the physical aspect of a resource that is subject to overlapping or conflicting claims or use. It is the spatial context of the conflict. Its analysis shows a visual overview of the specific conflict over a resource and who are the conflict parties.

The visualization of a resource conflict is important for understanding the conflict. Taking into consideration the space aspect of a resource conflict may help simplify the seemingly complex resource-based conflict. Analysis also includes the relationship between conflicting parties to the resource in question.

Space analysis may finally need to consider the differing concepts of resource ownership or basis of claims of the conflicting parties.

- Time

To enable a conflict transformation process, it has to consider the particular context of the conflict, how it developed, its causes, how it progressed. Also, any conflict which we encounter in the present has its roots in something that has happened in the past. The longer ago the conflict started, the higher the chance chance that the origin got distorted in the memory of the people. Because of a lack of proper documentation, facts change through continuous narration and become new realities. Looking at the history therefore is not about truth or lies. It is about the perception people have of certain events in the past happening within a certain space.

According to Fisher, and Al., “groups of people in conflict often have completely different experiences and perceptions: they see and understand the conflict in quite distinct ways. They often have different histories. People on opposing sides of the conflict may note or emphasize different events, describe them differently, and attach contrasting emotions to them”. For this reason, Fisher, and.Al, state that different events described by opposing groups are an important element in understanding the conflict.

The TIME element looks at the historical events that happened over time in a certain space and have contributed to the development of conflicting relations of people over particular resource. Its analysis could surface the factors that have contributed to the escalation or de-escalation of the conflict.

- Relations

The RELATION element includes the issue of power relations, and the varying positions, interests, needs and perspectives of direct and indirect stakeholders in a resource conflict. Its analysis should result in the identification of the direct and indirect actors of conflict and the third parties that have an interest in the peaceful resolution of the conflict.

In short, the triangulation of the three elements SPACE, TIME and RELATIONS, should provide insight in the way relationships between and among people within a particular area change over time.

It aslo informs how social context influences the positions, interests and needs of stakeholders. Deep-rooted and long-standing animosities are for example reinforced by high levels of violence. Direct experiences of atrocities result in psychological and even cultural features and they often motivate and sustain the conflict. People, when threatened, seek security in narrower, more localized identity groups which may lead to their conflicts being labelled “ethnic” or “religious”. Fisher, and Al, remind us that identity is heavily influenced by relationships with others and by the dominant culture. Different aspects of identity are given greater emphasis in different contexts. We therefore stress on the fluid nature of relationships and their link to material aspects as space and resources.

- How to apply the tool?

Each resource conflict element, namely, Space, Time and Relation, could be analyzed using different tools of analysis that best be utilized with the participation of the conflict stakeholders. Results of this analysis could then help determine the appropriate approach in the facilitation for conflict transformation.

  • Analyzing the Space element:

Bringing conflicting parties immediately to a dialogue may not be helpful in de-escalating the conflict. For a natural resource conflict especially, the visualization of the conflict through the tools described below is helpful in facilitating the resolution of the conflict. But, the bigger the conflict area, the more difficult it is to visualize the conflicting claims. Immediate verification on the ground may not be possible either. A participatory 3-Dimensional Mapping (P3DM) tool may be helpful in this process.

— Tool 1: P3DM – a tool for conflict mapping

P3DM is especially helpful in facilitating conflict mapping at a community level. It could help determine the overlapping claims and boundaries. This could be helpful if conflict parties could not come together immediately to identify claims on the ground.
Participatory 3D-Mapping is a tool that could be used for Spatial Analysis of land claim conflicts by providing an overview of the conflicting claims and claimants over parcel of lands, the boundaries of land claims, and the land marks within or near the space being contested. Since the activity could be done outside the conflict land area and identification of claims only done on a miniature map and not on the actual land area, a more relaxed environment is then provided to encourage the conflicting parties to engage in a dialogue. And if it is not possible for all parties to gather and identify claims at the same time, this could also be done one after the other until they would be ready to enter a face-to-face dialogue.
This could then facilitate a dialogue process that will lead to a participatory analysis of other conflict elements such as TIME and RELATION. When accurate boundary demarcation of overlapping claim is necessary as part of conflict resolution, P3DM could prepare and help facilitate faster conduct of a ground survey.

— Tool 2: Conventional Ground Survey – A tool for accurate Conflict Mapping

If accuracy is necessary in the ground survey, a conventional survey should be carried out with the aid of professional Geodetic Engineers. This could best be done in collaboration with an agency authorized in land mapping. In addition, the use of GIS technology alongside the acceptable conventional surveying could also help to better visualize the conflict at a community level.

The results of this more accurate conflict mapping then serve as basis for the final negotiation between conflict parties over parcels of land. This process helps each conflict party to realize the spatial claim of the other and where specifically they overlap. In order to further analyze the background of the conflicting claims, the TIME element needs to be analysed as well.

  • Analizing Time element:

— Tool 3: Timeline – Analyzing the progression of the resource conflict over time and the factors of escalation and de-escalation of the conflict

For the TIME element, the Timeline is a simple yet helpful tool for analyzing the historical development of the conflict. Conflict parties have a different perceptions and interpretations of the same historic events. Thus, separate activity for each conflict party may be necessary before gathering all parties to share perspectives and listen to the views of others.

The Timeline chronologically lists the major events of a conflict. Follow-up information then may be gathered, like the perceived impact of the event, factors contributing to the happening of that particular event and the person or group responsible for it. Conflicting parties often remember events, and can explain developments that may have contributed to the conflict escalation or de-escalation. Examples are incidences of violence, harassments, political interventions and propaganda, displacement, threats as well peace initiatives. The timeline will reflect the subjective perception of the group giving the information.

A more challenging part is on how to make each conflict party appreciate the need to consider the historical view of the other party to make conflict resolution possible. The historical events over time in relation to the conflicting resource claim do impact the relationship of the conflict parties that also need to be considered in the processes and approaches to undertake conflict transformation.

What we aim here is to reach a point where the parties in a conflict can accept that others may have valid perceptions, even if these are opposed to one’s own.

  • Analizing the Relation element:

The third element - the RELATION - includes the relationship between the conflicting parties and other stakeholders of the conflict. This needs to be analyzed to help in identifying what particular process may be appropriate for conflict transformation to take place. This basically analyses the current relationship status of the conflict parties.

One may use a number of tools such as the Pyramid, Conflict Map, and the Onion. Another tool that may also help is Genealogy. The genealogy tool provides information about the relationship of present conflict parties to earlier generations to which the roots of the conflict may be traced.

Especially for a conflict that has already reached a violent phase, analysis may best be carried out in a separate session for each party. Results could then be used as basis for the dialogue process.

— Tool 4: Conflict Map (mapping relationship)

In conflict mapping, the actors in the conflict, their relations and the conflict issues are presented in illustrative forms. Other groups are also taken into account alongside the primary conflict parties. Allies among parties could be identified as well as who influences whom. This can be used to reveal the power balance, alliances, neutral third parties, possible cooperation among partners and potential options to facilitate the transformation process.

Conflict mapping is a technique used to represent a conflict graphically, placing the parties in relation both to the problem and to each other. When people with different viewpoints map their situation together, they learn about each other’s experiences and perceptions.

— Tool 5: The Onion

The conflict onion comprises of concentric circles which demonstrate the positions (uppermost layer circle), interests (middle layer circle) and needs (the core circle). This tool could help parties of the conflict to review their own position, understand better their interests, and needs in relation to the conflict. The dialogue process could then help one party to understand the other party’s position, interest and needs. This can effectively facilitate a process towards a negotiated settlement or resolution of the conflict.

— Tool 6: Conflict Pyramid

To help identify conflict actors as well as those that influence peace action, the Conflict Pyramid could be a tool to use in addition to the conflict map. The pyramid allows the identification of major conflict actors as well as influencing it at different levels of society: the grassroots (bottom of the pyramid), the middle level and the top level (those who are perceived to have greater influence given their status in the community or the society. It is helpful in a workshop to split the pyramid in two halves, one side for those acting in favor of peace and the other side for the actors that are perceived to fuel the conflict. Both conflict parties may identify the same actor but place them on the opposite side of the pyramid.

The results of the Pyramid could provide important information as to possible strategic actors, especially if the conflict transformation process entails a multi-track approach.

— Tool 7: Genealogy


If the conflict has important historic roots -even if they are not clear to the present generation- the Genealogy tool may provide information about relationships between current and past generations and the transformations that have taken place in the community. This tool is also effective especially when facilitating clan-based resource conflict.

— Tool 8: Ritual

As shared by Lisa Shirch in Reconciliation, Justice and Coexistence, edited by Abu-Nimer (2001:147): Since the beginning of time, ritual has held an important place in human societies. Ritual and ritual-like contexts are the age-old ways the symbolic aspects of conflict are addressed in cultures around the world. Rituals regulate relationships in communities, serving as ways of defining identity and providing the social lubricant to relate to others and to the surrounding world.

In this framework, community rituals that traditionally bring people together are to be utilized in the conflict transformation process. Making use of traditional rituals of identity groups is considered important in celebrating gains along the process and build on it in restoring community relations broken down by the conflict.

— Tool 9: Problem Solving Workshops

PSW is a venue that could be provided to enable participants to listen to several people from the “enemy” group talk about their perspectives of the conflict and how to solve it. This structure provides opportunities for participants to differentiate their enemy image. This also provides opportunities for parties to identify mutually reassuring steps that they can take to incrementally build working trust, such as issuing statements of recognition, introducing mutually favourable ideas into political discussion and writing about the other’s perspective of the conflict as legitimate.