Jim Bayer: Conflict Analysis & Resolution
Royal Roads University recently won the Thai-Canadian Linkages Award at the 12th annual Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards. The honor goes to an institution, which furthers the interests of Thai-Canadian relations in the social sector, has been active in Thailand for a number of years, and has made a significant contribution to the promotion of the business relations between Thailand and Canada. Jim Bayer is Dean of the Faculty of Social &Applied Sciences at Royal Roads University. Scott Murray recently caught with him as he passed through Bangkok.
Why would the TCCC give Royal Roads this honor? “Royal Roads has promoted programs in conflict analysis and management over the last ten years,” Jim says. “The program helps promote the conditions for trade, which are stability, harmony, and predictability, without which trade cannot be optimized. So it’s not a direct link, but it does have a tremendous potential impact.
“We’ve seen this already with graduates of our program who are doing applied work in the area of citizens’ dialogue and managing conflict. The problem with programs like ours is that it’s difficult to measure success. You only measure success when nothing happens, when there is no conflict. And how do you measure something like that? So very often the importance of it slips away from the minds of those who on a day-to-day basis are more focused on immediate issues.”
Long-time TCCC member Isabel Lloyd knew Jim Bayer for years, so when she started working for SEAFILD a decade ago, she was curious as to how Canadian expertise could help developing institutions in the region working on conflict management either in terms of academic research, teaching or practice. In 1999, she asked Jim to come to the region on a scoping mission to see where this expertise would be helpful. He visited Khon Kaen University in 1999, and this is where he met Dr. Vanchai Vatanasapt, one of the few budding experts in the field. (Vanchai was president of Khon Kaen University, and later he started the university’s Institute for Dispute Resolution to train Thais and other Southeast Asians on new approaches to conflict resolution.)
Vanchai was eager to continue dialogue with Royal Roads. He eventually became head of the Centre for Peace & Conflict at King Prajadhipok Institute (KPI), whose mandate is to promote the governance of democracy with the help of conflict management.
This led to an MoU being signed between Royal Roads and KPI in 2003, which resulted in a program of executive development for Thai Parliamentarians and Thai judges. It also provided resources for dealing with problems in southern Thailand, and Royal Roads recently hosted administrators from the city of Bangkok to talk about emergency planning management.
The MoU evolved into an agreement with Thai universities in 2005 to offer a program in conflict analysis and management. The purpose was to develop capacity so that Thais can offer their own degree programs and become more effective in the use of conflict resolution techniques.
But what is conflict resolution? “The resolution of conflict through non-violent peaceful means so that all sides in a dispute are winners,” says Jim. “As opposed to the alternatives: where you go out on the street and beat each other over the head, or you go to the courts, spend millions of baht, and eventually have a judge had down a ruling, that favours one party and leaves the other unhappy, so the dispute continues. (Binding arbitration can be equally unsatisfactory as an arbitrator will hear evidence, for and against, and then hand down a decision, again favouring one side, but this time just not in a courtroom).
“Conflict management, through mediation, tends to be a system whereby the parties involved in the dispute sit down and work out a solution. And by doing this, the parties involved might not get everything they want, but all parties get a piece of what they want, so they buy into the conclusion and everyone walks away supporting the result, as opposed to having it imposed on them by a court, or arbitrator. And that tends to be a lot more permanent in terms of acceptance from all parties.”
What does a good mediator do? “A good mediator begins by a.) listening to all parties; b) trying to identify situations where there is a commonality of interest; and c.) trying to see where those commonalities of interest won’t diminish the pie, but broaden the pie, so that everyone’s interests are met.”
Jim says a good mediator is a key factor, but all parties must be willing to sit down and discuss various issues, or it won’t work. The process can take from six months to a year, depending on the complexity of the issue.
Mediation can involve a combination of government groups, NGOs and interest groups. Jim cites a mining conflict as an example. “In this dispute, you had government agencies that were directly involved in the administration and management of the particular area; you had owners of the natural resources, the employees of the owners, individuals who lived in the area and various interest groups. The mediation had to involve everyone, as everyone has a stake as to how the natural resources were, or were not, to be developed. It wasn’t just the mining industry, and the people who worked there. And the key was to come to a resolution that satisfied everyone’s interests.
“But if a judge had been tasked with handling that dispute, the judge would have said, ‘I’ve heard the evidence and I feel the decision should favour the company, so the company goes away and says, ‘Hurrah we won’, but the miners are still absolutely dissatisfied, possibly resulting in civil disobedience, and the conflict continues.”
In the mid 1980s, there was the so-called “War in the Woods” in British Columbia, when special interests and members of the logging community were virtually at war with each other. This mediation, headed by Steven Owen, which dealt with the dispute, took all the complexities, and slowly worked through them with all the groups collectively and eventually came to a “Peace in the Woods”, which holds today.
Jim says that conflict resolution is fine, but more important is conflict management, because there are a lot of issues and problems in the world that can’t be resolved, but they can be managed at lower levels of conflict.
He notes that in southern Thailand, there have long been tensions between the Muslim population and the population of Thailand in general, which haven’t always resulted in tension, violence and killing. The heart of the problem has always been there, but it’s escalated at times and boiled over into conflict.
So what’s the difference between the situation today and the situation ten years ago? What systems were in place ten years ago to allow the Thais to manage the differences between the general Buddhist population and the local Muslims, so that the tensions would continue but at a level acceptable to both sides? Conflicts that are based on values such as religion and ethnicity never go away. But conditions within the country somehow allowed the problem to escalate to the point that the indigenous population was becoming so alienated that it sought outside help.
“What is the fundamental internal problem in Thailand today? The South; you have all these political parties vying for attention, all wanting to rule Thailand. Yet, not one of them has any kind of platform on how to deal with the South.
” Why can’t we all just get along? “Well, we all have different interests, values, institutions, perceptions and power bases. So we have to create institutions that allow for the mediation of these various interests, so you can have your differences, and you can be annoyed at the various religious and ethnic groups in your community without resorting to violence and killing them.
“Canada is a perfect example; had the federal government, back in the 1960s, not gone with its policy of bilingualism and equality for Quebec, we would have found ourselves in a situation by the 1980s where the people of Quebec, who were becoming increasingly nationalistic, would have had to resort to violence to achieve their objectives. But because of the bilingualism policies (which were started by Lester Pearson, and continued by Pierre Elliot Trudeau), Quebec nationalism was given the opportunity to express itself, and achieve its objectives.
“There has always been the potential for tension between English and French Canada as long as these two cultures and value systems have lived side by side. Lester Pearson should be applauded for recognizing that Canada was moving in a different direction, in terms of the rise of nationalism, and that he could not sustain the country as a united political entity if he continued with the policies of Dominion run by an English-dominated federal government. He put in place the foundations for modern Canada. He also gave us Canadian symbols, the most obvious of which was the flag.”
Canadians and Thais are very similar in that they are both master peacekeepers and negotiators. And the agreement between the King Prajadhipok’s Institute and Royal Roads University commits the two to cooperate in a programme that promotes peace and democracy. That’s something that Lester B. Pearson would have been proud of. www.royalroads.ca
The Royal Roads University connection to Thailand began in 1999 when a link was established with Khon Kaen University Institute for Conflict Resolution, This link has grown to encompass a consortium of seven Thai Universities and a strong relationship with the Thai Parliament through the King Prajadhipok’s Institute. Institutional links have been established and formal agreements are in place for the delivery of joint programs and transfer of technology and a learning platform targeting faculty and practitioners in the field of conflict management and a joint Masters Degree programme has Thai and Canadian learners studying together in Thailand and Canada. Canadian and Thai Parliamentarians (Senators and MPs), officials and academics exchange views and information during study visits, symposia and seminars in Canada and in Thailand. The linkage could be seen to have come full circle with the appointment in 2007 of a graduate of the Royal Roads University Masters degree in Conflict management and analysis to the position of Director of the KKU Institute of Conflict Resolution.
Established in 1995 by the province of British Columbia as a Special Purpose University aimed at mid-career professionals, Royal Roads University offers applied professional degrees for those seeking to advance in the workplace.
Royal Roads University sits on more than 500 acres of protected forests and wetlands called Hatley Park National Historic Site. Originally the site was an estate developed in the Edwardian style in 1908 by James Dunsmuir, former premier and lieutenant governor of British Columbia. Between 1940 and 1995 it was a military college operated by the Department of National Defense. Royal Roads University continues to be the steward of the property which is owned by the Canadian Department of National Defense.
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Last Updated (Monday, 13 June 2011 14:39)