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Selection of Participants

To make sure that the best candidates are chosen from a large pool, it is important to rely on objective criteria and to avoid personal preferences. Before the selection process, consider what would be the optimum group composition, including “mirror” types from the two sides and the best balance of age, experience, gender, etc. of potential participants. Care is needed with ethnopolitical conflicts where there may be different cultural norms regarding roles of gender, age or occupation groups. Ensuring equal status and the ability of participants to meet over extended periods and under difficult circumstances are vitally important.

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Particularly in cases where Partners are brought from areas of conflict to workshops held in affluent societies, additional motives for their traveling—such as sightseeing, shopping, and saving per diem stipends for families in precarious circumstances—cannot be ignored. To a large extent, these are legitimate secondary motives, and organizers may need to allow some free time for sightseeing, etc., before or after the workshop. At the same time, the facilitators must be sure that participants understand and are committed to the real purpose behind the workshop. They are not expected to attend a regular conference with papers and discussions, but they are expected to be open to new ideas, personal growth, and possible changes in their points of view. When selecting participants, it is difficult to evaluate attitudes and personalities via correspondence or telephone interviews. One “wrong” person can spoil an entire group. The best way to reduce this risk is through a personal, in-depth interview on location after a spoken and/or written presentation. Another advantage of face-to-face communication is that it is easier to obtain binding commitments from participants and to achieve personal relationships with them that will enhance facilitators’ credibility (Cohen et al., 1977). If relevant organizations see third-party involvement in choosing participants as infringing their autonomy and insist on nominating the candidates, there should be careful discussion of criteria.

Rouhana and Kelman suggest several additional criteria for the choice of participants. First, those being selected should enjoy credibility in their own society or group. This allows them to pass on what they have learned to the communities they represent, thus giving the workshop legitimacy and impact. If Partners are to achieve such trustworthiness, they must share mainstream political views with their groups or societies. Within this range, it is advantageous to have a broad spectrum of outlooks, to enhance the realism of the workshop, while avoiding candidates who hold strong political or personal antagonisms toward each other. The organizers should strive to also secure participants whose knowledge, experience, and personal integrity will help them respect the other side (Rouhana and Kelman, 1994; Kelman, this volume; Cohen et al., 1977). While we find it more important to help rebuild the “negotiating middle,” workshops including more enlightened representatives of two more polarized parties may work within these criteria.

We have stressed the need to select candidates who are in a sense already Partners in spite of the divide between them, in that they share one attribute already. We have also been successful bringing together matched sets of Partners from different professions or vocations. For example, a group of ten Ecuadorians and ten Peruvians we convened to deal with their border dispute included two environ-mentalists, two human rights activists, two heads of business organizations, two journalists, and two leading members of universities. Fairly early in the workshop they started to work across their divide in “affinity groups,” which were later very valuable in the brainstorming and reentry stages of the project. The potential contribution of the Partners was recognized by both governments when five out of the twenty members of “Group Maryland” were “co-opted” into the official negotiations. Once the peace accords were concluded, some returned to our track two efforts to build sustained support for the implementation of the agreements.

Number of Participants

The ideal number depends on many factors. In general, a small group of between ten and twenty members works best, including equal numbers from each side – if numbers are unequal then it is best to have the “underdog” over-represented. If there are three or more parties, some other criteria for balance may be important. For instance, in an international waterway dispute over the Nile River basin, with ten riparian states, it may be better to have a higher number of participants representing the key players, with percentages allocated based on the importance of the resource to each country. The total number of participants should not be lower than eight or greater than thirty. If the participants are together for an optimal period (fifteen days to a month or more) the facilitators can work more intensively with a core group and enlarge the number of Partners for special activities.

Despite any differences in the number of representatives, the consensus-building nature of the process ensures that all parties carry equal weight. No solutions are to be imposed on the weaker parties. At the same time, when brainstorming for policy-relevant solutions, participants are encouraged to take into account power politics and the real asymmetry of forces outside the workshop which are normal in confl

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