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Concept file Dossier : Conflict Transformation

Grenoble, May 2009

Stage of Conflict

An analytical model to assess when intervention is opportune.

The stages of conflict model is developed by the British conflict resolution organisation « Responding to Conflict » and helps to situate a current moment in a longer time frame and thereby to choose an appropriate moment for action.

Conflicts change over times and go through different stages of activity, intensity, tension and violence. In fact each conflict exists of several smaller conflicts and independent histories. If you look for example at the files of the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission, you will find out that the greater problem of repression under the apartheid regime is split up in many different cases like The Cradock Four, The Moroka three and many others. These isolated cases make all part of “The Struggle”. In reality, resistance against apartheid went up and down in intensity and interacted with the repression by the regime. Recognising these stages helps to better understand the conflict but also to seize opportunities to intervene.

The tool should be used in the beginning of the analytical phase. Some moments are more opportune than others for intervention. At times when a power vacuum arises invite reactions from many different actors in order to fill the gap. An example is the message of the death of Laurent-Désiré Kabila in the DRC 2001. This message created a new dynamic for peace and many a conflict resolution organisation made long over hours to make sure that this opportunity was used (1). A power gap had been opened and the situation could move in different ways. The option of negotiations between fighting factions was opened, with as result a new peace agreement. Another example comes from South Africa, when de Klerk had won the elections a new political wind began to blow. Inverse situations can also be found like in when French embassies were closed in Rwanda and when channels for dialogue are closing. When one phase goes to the other, conflicts are either badly managed (worsening) or resolves (ameliorating)

RTC makes a distinction between the following stages:

  • Build-up

Incompatibility of goals between two or more parties which could lead to open conflict. Conflict is not part yet of the general view but is building up in the marge. One of the parties at least is aware of potential for confrontation. Tension in relations between parties and/or desire to avoid contact.

  • Confrontation

The conflict has become more out in the open. At least one side feels there is a problem supporters may begin to engage in demonstrations or other confrontational behaviour. Occasional fighting/low levels of violence. Each side gathering resources/finding allies with expectation of increasing confrontation and violence.Relationships strained, polarisation between supporters of each side => stereotyping

  • Crisis

Peak of the conflict, tension/violence most intense. Normal communication between all sides has probably ceased. Public statements take form of accusations (link positions interests, needs)

  • Outcome

One way or other the conflict will come to an outcome either by military victory or settlement for example as result of the intervention of a mediator or negotiations. One party might give in to demands of other party because their losses are too important. Other option is that authority or third party imposes end to fighting (peacemaking, peacekeeping, peace enforcement UN). Levels of tension, confrontation and violence decrease somewhat with possibility of settlement. Whether we go into post-conflict stage or into new cycle depends to what extent both parties are satisfied with the solution.

  • Post-conflict

Decrease in tensions and more normal relationship. Transition or transformation of relationships ? If issues/problems arising from incompatible goals ave not been adequately addressed, stage goes back into another pre-conflict stage.

An advantages of this conflict analysis tools is that it helps to visualise conflict dynamics. They help to situate a current moment in a longer time frame and thereby to choose an appropriate moment for action. They also help to identify reoccurring events, allowing prevention by anticipating to already observed scenarios. The tool finally allows establishing some relationships between causes and consequences. You see for example that after the Sharpeville in South Africa in 1976, violence went up dramatically.

A disadvantage of this tool is that the perception of events is never neutral but instead subjective.


  • 1. Source: Fischer, S. et al. Working with Conflict, skills and strategies for action, Zed books 2000

  • 2. Claske Dijkema discusses the “Stages of conflict” tool in the course “Conflict Analysis” as part of the master’s program “Coopération Internationale et Communication Multilingue”. at the at the University of Stendhal in the Grenoble.