Impending Publication: “Best Practices” in Track Two diplomacy, International Negotiation (2021)

The scholarly journal International Negotiation will shortly publish its volume 26, no. 1.  This is a special edition on the theme of “Best Practices” in Track Two diplomacy and features six original papers.

The paper by Tamra Pearson d’Estree and Benjamin Fox considers the critical issue of how the results of a Track Two project are ‘transferred’ to their intended audience.  It looks at how thinking in the field has significantly evolved over the decades, before identifying and analyzing the best practices which have emerged from this experience.  The paper develops a ‘checklist’ of key issues pertaining to transfer which has arisen from practice over many decades.  This checklist will be a boon to those active in the field in their attempts to improve practice, and also to those who seek to understand it better.

Peter Jones explores the question of the ethics of Track Two, seeking to identify best practices in this area.  While most practitioners in the field see their work as intrinsically ethical and moral, Jones notes that there are some key ethical issues which need to be considered by those who would insert themselves into conflict situations, especially those from the outside.  He concludes that the field, both individuals involved in specific interventions and as a whole, needs to devote more reflection and effort to these questions and to establish some sort of a mechanism whereby practitioners can reach out to each other for assistance and advice in dealing with their ethical conundrums.

Susan Allen explores best practices around the issue of the ‘local ownership’ of Track Two interventions, as opposed to reliance on outside intervenors to facilitate such interactions.  While a bias has developed over the years in the literature in favor local ownership of dialogues as an intrinsic good, one which Allen supports on the whole, she finds that it is not so simple in practice.  Each has its benefits and drawbacks.  Drawing on her own extensive experience of facilitating such dialogues, especially in the Caucasus region, Allen proposes a model which builds on the strengths of each approach through cooperation and evolution over time.

Elizabeth Shillings and Peter Jones propose a model to tackle one of the most vexing questions in the field: how to ‘measure’ or evaluate the impact of a Track Two dialogue.  Their model provides a framework which encourages those interested in making such an evaluation to reflect upon the key questions and input their responses on a chart which provides a visual reference point as to how much of an impact their work had, and what kind of impact.  Key to the proper use of the model is the understanding that it is not meant to provide hard and fast ‘answers,’ as such are likely not available given the imprecise nature of the issue.  Rather, the model is a tool to encourage much greater reflection on the part of practitioners and others as to how the intervention affected the situation, both at the time and over time.

Esra Cuhadar carefully unpacks the cognitive frames which Track Two practitioners bring to their interventions, often unconsciously.  These frames bias practitioners towards certain types of interventions and methodologies.  Relying on extensive interviews with a wide range of practitioners, Cuhadar identifies the most common cognitive frames adopted by practitioners and subjects each to rigorous analysis to determine which types of conflicts it is best suited to and why.

Finally, Philip Gamaghelyan steps back and seeks to address the debate in the field over whether such interventions should try to ‘manage,’ ‘resolve’ or ‘transform’ conflicts.  Though this is not a new debate, his discussion of its development is both illuminating and thoughtful.  Gamaghelyan, drawing on his own experience as a practitioner, has much to say about the, often unspoken, assumptions which underpin the conflict ‘management’ and ‘resolution’ approaches and firmly argues in favor of greater attention to, and development of, the ‘transformation’ agenda.  Even here, however, he is cognizant that best practices leave much to be desired and require further thought and development.