Thematic Emphases

Recognizing that there are no prescriptive formulas, we might still be able to use the insights derived from the Trans-rational Quadrant in combination with the Peace Families’ characteristics in order to recognize more easily the thematic emphasis in the conflict narrative. For this purpose, we have created a basic table of unmet needs, since we have found in their expression important clues as to where the energy of the episode is pulling from. Together with the consideration of different conflict actors, the following can be helpful to identify which theme can be perceived as primary and thus mark the point of entry into the conflict.


Unmet needs in the episode



Defense against attacks or invasions from perceived enemies, control over encounters, protected areas, demilitarized zones, disarmament, and border control, among others. At the grassroots level, is often expressed in the call for police patrols, safe houses, shelters for asylum seekers, demining of lands, to name a few.



Demand for food, housing, clothing, medical care, as well as access to sources of income, farmland, water, trade routes, resources, information, and similar.



Demand for educational and political institutions, trade unions and prayer facilities, among many others. These expressions have a tendency to be rationally selected interpretations of the world, such as ethics, religion, science, nationality, ideology, and others.



Complaint about the defects of others: as consequence of a hermetic construction of the ‘we’, ‘others’ (they) are perceived as a wrong, evil and disturbing group – whether or not ‘they’ identify themselves as one group or not, ‘they’ are perceived as such by ‘us’. The physically excluded ‘others’ are categorized in such a closed manner, that they cannot escape, for example ‘the youth’, ‘the migrants’, ‘the women’, and so on.

Active Listening

If the main topic is not evident, the conflict worker has a large pool of tools and skills that might help him/her identify that primary theme.

First, Active Listening in the spirit of Carl Rogers is a highly recommendable communication exercise in order to make visible that main topic that is keeping the parties busy with the conflict.


By bringing in the four different steps of NonViolent Communication as coined by Marshall Rosenberg, namely observations, feelings, needs and requests, the elicitive worker might be able to identify the main theme when the needs come to light.

Whether listening actively or communicating in a nonviolent manner, it is important to bring to mind the three principles of correspondence, resonance and homeostasis, which allow the elicitive worker to have a more comprehensive picture of the conflict dynamics. For example, following the principle of resonance, in a concrete relation at least there might be one primary theme whose ‘leading-tone’ can be heard, which signals the desire for change in the whole system in a particular direction. A beginning is made with the location of this ‘leading-tone’ or conflict theme, whose importance is determined by the perception of the elicitive worker him/herself.

The common pyramid indicates that all themes are related. This is why one of the first challenges for the elicitive worker will be to make the decision on which topic to choose as point of entry into the conflict work. This decision has consequences, since it defines the perspective from which the worker will be integrated into the conflict, the angle from which he/she observes the conflict, it also determines the point from which he/she will enter the dysfunctional system and thus will be perceived by the parties.


To illustrate this first step of ECM, let us think of the common ways in which the big conflicts of the twenty-first century have been largely framed, by the parties involved as well as by third parties, by the primary theme of security. This excessive weight given to the topic of security often was detrimental for the attention to and even the perception of the topic of harmony. Likewise, the overemphasis placed on security concerns has ‘securitized’ questions of justice, e.g., economic, social, climate and development policies, as well as issues of truth, e.g., ideologies and religion. 

HarmonyWhile approximating a conflict through the primary theme of security is viable and might be appropriate in many circumstances, from an elicitive perspective the type of intervention ought to not give the topic of security additional weight, but to relativize security’s meanings, to bring back to awareness the question of harmony and so bring the system back to balance. This is also a tactical decision, since the call for harmony might awaken certain suspicion that could lead to the disqualification of the intervention. In certain contexts, such a call for harmony can be positively embraced by the parties to the conflict, which is also closely related to the position of the elicitive worker: his/her personal, material and institutional profile, the possibilities available to the facilitators’ team and its mission and its relation to the parties. The facts told about the conflict episode are of importance only in a secondary line. In each situation, the decision of which point of entry to choose ought to be pondered in relation to the methodical consequences that in the concrete context of the episode will follow for the intervening actors. 

Once more, the principles of ECM work will be of further use here, remembering that correspondence, resonance and homeostasis can continuously help orienting the elicitive worker on his/her quest. Elicitive workers know that the episode, in which they will move themselves, constitutes only the surface of the epicenter of the conflict. 

Once the point of entry into the conflict has been determined by the primary theme identified, the elicitive worker is already party to the conflict or, as is commonly named in Peace Studies, he/she is already a third party in the episode. This is then a good moment to take a breath and conduct a reality check from a bird’s eye perspective:

  • ClarityConsidering the conflict narrative and my own possibilities, do I find myself correctly located on the primary theme and at the appropriate level as point of entry?
  • Standing already in the episode, can I recognize what was initially said about it?
  • Is there a match between my facilitators’ team (as holon) and my relations to each of the members and the tasks for which we had been called in the first place? 

By the very presence of the elicitive worker, the system will be changed. However, this change might not be of such proportion that the conflict episode is no longer recognizable. If this is the case, i.e. if there is a mismatch or a lack of correspondence between the initial episode and that which is lived and perceived by the elicitive worker once in the conflict setting, it is of extreme importance to revise the narrative and its interpretation. On the other hand, if there is a certain coincidence between the initial appreciation of the episode and the lived reality, just as in prescriptive conflict transformation models, it is necessary to once more check the legal situation, the equipment and logistics, the competences of the members of the facilitators’ team, among other crucial mission aspects.

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