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Cultural Treasure Hunting

This icebreaker allows fifteen to twenty minutes for each person to wander around the room, talking to the others, and drawing out commonalities (hobbies, musical preferences or playing abilities, month of birthday). A gratifying outcome of the use of this exercise occurred when a Palestinian participant discovered he shared the same birthday as an Israeli woman. The resulting bond became very special, with the woman later offering the man home hospitality over a couple of days when he had to postpone his flight back home because of sudden heart problems. A second illustration of the success of this technique came out of a workshop near Quito, wherein two leaders of indigenous groups on both sides of the Peruvian/Ecuadorian disputed area met for the first time. When the two presented their seventh shared commonalty, they said, “We both feel that if, instead of the central governments, we were to have been asked to resolve the conflict, we would have done it long ago and at a much lesser price.”

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Name and Hobby

Fun for young people: we stand in a circle, and the first person gives his/her first name and illustrates with a movement his/her hobby (basketball, piano, reading, etc.). The second repeats the name and hobby of the first and adds his/her name and hobby, the third includes the previous two and adds his/her own. The more we move on, the more difficult it is to remember; the other participants help the introducing person to remind him/her with their signs and body language. It is a nice, unplanned team effort.


In some extroverted cultures it may be worth suggesting an evening sharing jokes, humor being potentially a powerful means to overcome inhibitions and deal with stereotypes. In the Latin American context, I was amazed to see the degree of openness and self-exposure involved in the national, ethnic and gender jokes shared.

Presentation of the Program

Objective and Rationale

The introduction to the program should be detailed and include discussion, making sure the ground rules are fully comprehended and accepted. Sharing the rationale behind the agenda is crucial for setting the right mood behind each activity, and it should be repeated as often as necessary. The need to be engaged in a learning mode prior to beginning the actual problem solving must be stressed. The approach to introducing the subject ought to promote a predisposition in the participants to open up to new ideas in the field, as well as to personal growth. At this stage, a few minutes should be put aside to acquaint the Partners with the basics of collaborative problem solving, the rules for consensus, and the adaptation of dissenters (all are explained below).

Why Do It?

The Partners may be wondering what they will gain from this workshop. We suggest listing the following five expected short-term outcomes. Firstly, they will be learning new skills which can be advantageous in private and/or public life. Secondly, links will be strengthened with others across conflict lines. Thirdly, the experimentation with problem solving will lead to the search for solutions, which ideally can be conveyed to policy makers and/or to the public at large. Fourthly, at a more intimate level, this may lead to personal transformation and new perceptions or attitudes toward the present adversary and toward conflict in general. Fifthly, the follow-up after reentry allows options for new activities that may open up new possibilities in professional lives and voluntary activities.

In general, a useful way to present the material is to request cooperation from the Partners for learning beneficial life skills and in giving the facilitators feedback on whether this process could be made to work in their own societies and environments, and on whether they want to, or may be able to, use this in their own right as educators or facilitators. For purposes of evaluating the achievements of the workshop at the concluding stage (day fifteen) we can also encourage the Partners to write for themselves their revised expectations from the workshop, now that the “deal” is clearer in their mind. An even better way to get the participants involved in the process is through the use of “action evaluation,” a method conceived by Ross and Rothman (1999; Rothman and Friedman, this volume), where the goals are interactively determined and articulated together with the participants, as they evolve during the workshop and longer-term follow-up activities.

This may also be a time to say a few inspirational words, making all aware of the uniqueness of the opportunity as well as its timeliness. Though culturally bounded, and perhaps superfluous in some low-context societies, it is always good to find some metaphors or expressions in the local language or traditions that can help the facilitators to reach out from the beginning.

A Note on Facilitation

One should not explain all the logic of the exercises before they are done, so as to prevent the participants being influenced by expectations and to allow them to discover how they act on their own. A post-facto examination is necessary, since we are working with people who are potential multipliers of these techniques. The premium time for this is briefly at the end of each day. In terms of personal transformation, introspection and self-assessment is left to individuals, although they may be encouraged to reflect out loud at a summing-up and evaluation session at the end of the entire program.

Often, participants will ask when discussion of their own conflict will begin. Only once the whole group is impatient is it time to move to the next phase. We avoid focusing prematurely on the Partners’ conflict, by making the transition gradual. Facilitators can give examples from their experiences in other workshops. If it is not yet time to start the search for consensus on innovative solutions, one way of bringing the discussion home is by asking participants to give examples from their own conflict while still in the trust-building or skills-building stages of the IPSW. The idea here is to avoid premature closure, or exposing Partners to more challenging situations without first obtaining deeper knowledge of the principles and techniques of conflict resolution. The move from conceptual understanding of the field to working together tow

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