How can we work with our differences to build and sustain peace and democracy?
For 30 years, Reos Partners has been forging innovative approaches to peace, democracy, and good governance, including in deeply conflicted places. We don’t work as conventional peace negotiators or mediators, but rather as guides. Our multicultural teams are practiced in being with polarities and tensions, and in helping people find a peaceful way forward together — not necessarily by resolving their differences, but despite these. And we have repeatedly seen that even in complex, entrenched conflicts, real progress toward reconciliation and renewal is possible.
Here is what we believe is a good way to transform conflict situations and find a path towards a better future for all:
One of our most powerful tools for transformation is the transformative scenarios process. It’s an example of what we call a “purposeful detour.” A structured yet open-ended process that combines rigour and imagination, it calls on diverse stakeholders to do nothing more or less than construct multiple narratives of possible futures for their situation. These in turn suggest strategies and initiatives for creating a better future.
Less concretely, but as or more important, scenarios can help people begin telling a new, more hopeful story about themselves — and perhaps begin living it. Once people shift their thinking about what’s possible, they begin to shift their actions. The ripple effects can’t always be measured, but neither should they be underestimated.
Consider the Destino Colombia scenarios, which we facilitated in 1996. After decades of war, many Colombians thought that their future was hopeless. But through the scenario process, they took a fresh look at their situation. What paths might the country take? Where might each one lead? The resulting stories helped renew their sense of possibility and responsibility.
Twenty years later, the scenarios persist in the public narrative as the country continues its halting but hopeful journey toward peace. In October of 2016, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the progress he’s made. He referred to his initial meeting with Adam Kahane, a director at Reos Partners, two decades earlier as “one of the most significant events in the country’s search for peace.”
It’s not always easy to collaborate, even with people we agree with. Issues of peace, democracy, and governance often ask yet more of us: to collaborate with people we don’t agree with, like, or trust. The parties may never agree, but if they want to shift the status quo, they must find ways to move forward together anyway.
We call this “stretch collaboration.” As Adam Kahane describes in his book Collaborating with the Enemy, we have learned how to help diverse, competing stakeholders move forward with no expectation of harmony or even any definitive agreement on the problem, never mind the solution. It’s the hallmark of our work. The transformative scenarios process, as an open-ended act of imagination, can enable collaboration even in cases of extreme tension and demonization, such as in Colombia.
A primary objective of Destino Colombia was to enable opponents to talk with one another directly, and they did: remarkably, both of the active left-wing guerrilla groups participated, by phone, together with right-wing paramilitaries, politicians, businesspeople, and other actors.
“It is very difficult to bring into the same process the extremes that are tearing apart the country and who beforehand had made it clear that they would not have any dealings with one another,” one team member later said. “We succeeded in this process of dialogue, of respecting the rules of the game, and of improving the way we treat one another, our manner of conversing, and the quality of our long-term thinking.”
Conflict will always be with us, especially in an increasingly complex and crowded world. So we and our partners are learning to manage it better — and even harness it as a creative force. South Africa stands out for its efforts to take a generative path in the face of continuing tensions.
The 1991 Mont Fleur Scenarios were constructed by a multistakeholder team of influential South Africans less than two years into the post-apartheid transition. It was a time of incredible excitement, confusion, and instability. One of the four stories was a shared vision of the better future South Africa could create if it avoided the mistakes illustrated by the other three. While that vision faced critique and has yet to materialize fully, it marked a hopeful beginning onto a new path.
In 2008, the country seemed at risk of unraveling. The governing party was plagued by factional battles, the economy was weak, and basic public services were in crisis. Could the national transformation get back on track? South Africans chose to continue collaborating, and Reos Partners guided a second national scenarios process.
These Dinokeng Scenarios, which crystallized a critical debate about what role the state should play in national development, became part of the national discourse. The scenario team did not agree on the way forward, but they did agree that citizens and leaders across the board needed to reengage in shaping South Africa’s future. Said Vincent Maphai, an intellectual and businessman who helped convene both Mont Fleur and Dinokeng, “The biggest contribution we made with Dinokeng was changing the mindset and forcing people to take responsibility.” Indeed, Dinokeng inspired new citizens’ movements.
Most recently in South Africa, the specific post-apartheid issue of land reform has been coming to a head. In 2017 we facilitated yet another transformative scenarios process: the Land Reform Futures. These scenarios are providing a common framework for renewed, informed national debate and decision making on a politically potent and conflictual issue.
By learning to manage conflict, people can prevent their system — whether an organization or an entire country — from reaching a breaking point. Latin America offers an example of a striking opportunity for people to learn from each other, shape their future, and head off degenerative conflict.
Comprising 20 countries and more than 600 million people, the region is diverse and complex. But one important commonality is that its democracies are still under construction. Often they are fragile. We see crises of representation, vulnerable political systems, corruption, persistent inequality, high levels of violence and criminality, and fundamentalism.
What might become of democracy in the region? What do Latin Americans want from it? What can each country learn from the successes and failures of the others? To help guide a regional dialogue, we again turned to transformative scenarios. The Alerta Democratica scenarios offer a common language and a focal point for reflection, discussion, and action.
“We need greater capacity to talk about larger issues that cannot be solved within the confines of nation-states,” said team member Rossana Fuentes-Berain, founder of the Mexico Media Lab S21 and the journal Foreign Affairs en Español. “Even if you have the best government in the world (which in general we don’t have in Latin America), you can’t come up with good solutions without the kind of dialogue that we had in that room.”
It’s a simple principle: only with a multistakeholder approach can we hope to see the full picture of a complex system. This approach is all the more salient in view of global trends toward pluralism and individual, identity-based rights — and of the fact that exclusion increases the likelihood of violent uprisings.
Mont Fleur and Dinokeng brought together politicians, businesspeople, trade unionists, academics, community activists, black and white, left and right, opposition and establishment. The Destino Colombia team comprised guerrillas, paramilitaries, academics, activists, businesspeople, journalists, military officers, peasants, politicians, trade unionists, young people, and media. The Alerta Democratica team’s academics, policy makers, public servants, youths, indigenous peoples, activists, businesspeople, and people from the media, religious institutions, and foundations represented 13 countries.
Fuentes-Berain, speaking about democracy, said that in this way transformative scenarios “are far more honest … than some other ways of approaching it, where politicians appropriate the discussion. The politicians are not looking into the eyes of the people.”
In addition to enabling new relationships and new stories, a multistakeholder process like transformative scenarios can establish a platform for sustained work. Our work in Thailand offers another example.
We embarked on Scenario Thailand in 2010, on the heels of two years of bloody political conflict there. The project brought together 35 political, civil service, business, trade union, and NGO leaders to think through what might happen in their country over the next 25 years. How would Thailand manage its complex, interrelated social and cultural tensions, economic and environmental pressures, and political and institutional constraints?
The team concluded that top-down solutions would fail and subsequently launched a national movement to build Thais’ capacity to collaborate. However, the country’s factions proceeded to do anything but that. Conflicts flared anew in 2014, in the parliament, the courts, and the streets.
Nevertheless, building on the understandings and relationships constructed during the 2010 project, we and our partners in Thailand continue to make progress there with a series of systemic change initiatives related to agriculture, education, and corruption. We persist — as will a whole new set of ripple effects.
Thinking and working in new ways, collaborating despite discomfort or fear, finding the inspiration to persist. People at every level of a system can find all this difficult, confusing, even distressing at times. But as practiced guides, we design our processes to give everyone the support and the time they need to feel their way through. On the other side, as we have seen again and again, is a more successful response to the complex challenges we face.
Examples of our work on Peace and Democracy
Transformative scenarios aren’t about predicting the future, they’re about creating it. While most scenario planning methodologies focus on adaptation, transformative scenarios seek to not only understand or adapt to the future but also to shape it. This structured yet creative process helps diverse actors to see the different futures that are possible and discover what they can and must do, enabling them to construct shared understandings, stronger relationships, and clearer intentions, thereby creating the potential for action that will shape a better future.
Below are some examples of transformative scenarios processes Reos Partners have been involved for the past 30 years. Navigate to learn more:
Chile to 2030
Building a collaborative platform to foster cohesion and the construction of a country roadmap.
Creating a better life for Manitoba First Nations.
Fighting illegality, inequality, and insecurity with plural spaces and dialogues.
We Adapt, We Force, and We Collaborate – the future depends on how we act.
Building collaborative strategies to think about the future of democracies in Latin America.
Brazilian Civil Society Scenarios
Creating transformative scenarios to inspire, challenge and encourage the future of Brazilian Civil Society.
Creating a space and language for open, reflective and reasoned strategic conversation among South Africans.
Contributing to national and international thinking about Colombia’s future.
Mont Fleur Scenarios
Using the scenarios to effect a successful transition to democracy in South Africa.
Fostering Reflection and Supporting Change
Throughout the years, our team of experienced professionals have developed a wide range of thought leadership content on peace and democracy, including articles, studies, books and webinars. Here you will find a compilation of their work. We invite you to explore it and hope they are useful tools to foster reflection and support change-making.
In 2016, Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end.” Adam and Santos worked together in 1995, in the depths of this war, on the multi-stakeholder Destino Colombia project to imagine new possible futures for the country, and again in 2012 on a hemispheric project to find solutions to the drug problem in the Americas.
In the latest addition to the Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation, Mille Bojer’s article engages the question “what role can ‘stories of the future’ play in transforming conflicts in the present?”. In light of her decades-long experience as organizer and facilitator of social dialogue and transformative scenarios processes around the world, she draws on work in the Americas, Brazil, Colombia and South Africa, on issues ranging from drug policies across land reform to post-war peace processes to present a transformative approach to scenario planning and dialogue across divides. Read the article.
How far does the promotion of human rights help in efforts to address conflict and build peace? On this study, Reos Partners’ senior associate Michelle Parlevliet, argues that the transformation of violent conflict to sustainable peace requires insights and strategies from both the human rights and the conflict transformation fields. Considering the two together enhances analysis of the underlying causes, dynamics and manifestations of conflict.
Read the study.
Developed by world-renowned facilitator and Reos Partners’ Director Adam Kahane, this material shares insights and skills necessary to successfully lead change —in your community, your organization, and the world. Get it here.
Conducive Space for Peace (CSP) is a collaborative partnership that explores how to effectively promote sustainable peace and bring about institutional change in the international system of peacebuilding support. Learn more in Mille’s article.
In this groundbreaking and timely book, Adam Kahane provides a new approach to collaboration: one that embraces discord, experimentation, and genuine cocreation – instead of the conventional understanding of collaboration – that it requires a harmonious team that agrees on where it’s going, how it’s going to get there, and who needs to do what.
Michelle Parlevliet moves beyond the stereotyped dichotomy of “justice vs. peace” and proposes that applying a perspective of human rights brings conflict transformation closer to its aims by forcing greater emphasis on structural conditions, especially the role of the state, systems of governance and issues of power. Read the article, part of the Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation.
Transformative Scenario Planning takes the well-established methodology of adaptive scenario planning—rigorously constructing a set of stories of alternative possible futures—and turns it on its head. It uses scenarios not only to understand and adapt to the future but also to challenge and change it. It offers a way for us to transform ourselves and our relationships with one another and thereby to transform the systems of which we are part. Learn more about Adam Kahane’s book.
How can we help you make progress on your most important and intractable issues? Reos Partners takes a custom approach to every situation. To discuss yours, and how to begin to address it, please contact one of our seven offices, listed below.
We look forward to talking with you.