The Resistance line
A tool for conflict analysis and understanding och conflict escalation
The Resistance Line is a tool that helps to track the development of tension and resistance in any situation. It is an analysis tool that raises awareness of resistance long before the conflict becomes visible, allowing you to take measures to reduce tension and prevent it from becoming destructive. In cases where conflict has escalated, it helps determine the necessary intervention level. Finally, it helps explain the need for dialogue as a conflict intervention for others.
Inspiration for the resistance line in its current form comes from Myrna Lewis and the Lewis Method of Deep Democracy.
A Quick overview of the Resistance Line
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The Resistance Line as an Analytic Tool
The Resistance Line presupposes that serious and damaging conflicts do not arise spontaneously but develop or escalate over time. Sometimes the escalation is rapid and dramatic and at others it is hardly noticeable.
Using the Resistance line to analyse the intensity of a conflict helps us to identify signs of tension and resistance that we otherwise might disregard.
For example, in a conflict between management and unions representing workers, the view of management was that there was very little conflict, and that the problem was that a little group of “trouble-makers” were using the media to spread a false picture of the situation. After conducting interviews with a broader group of employees it became clear that most of the employees experienced that they were clearly in the purple zone. The Unions took up their concerns and had moved into the red zone. The resistance line was useful in illustrating the level of conflict and in pointing out the signs that they were disregarding.
It is also a way of providing an early warning system. Noting that there are signs of resistance may alert us to the risks of the conflict escalating. Becoming aware of signs that the conflict is moving to the next zone help us to alert stakeholders of the need for dialogue.
An example: A regional authority was tasked by the EU and the national government to identify protection areas for migrating birds along the coastline. They involved stakeholders at a very late stage and were met with angry protests. Facilitating these meetings helped to reduce the tension momentarily. The resistance line, however, still indicated that the conflict was clearly in the purple zone. Noting the signs of escalation in that zone and indicators in the red zone, the authority can track the effectiveness of their attempts to improve their inclusion of stakeholders’ views in the implementation phases.
The resistance line is based on the premise that exclusion or marginalisation drives the escalation of conflict. It is more accurate to say that the subjective perception of exclusion or marginalisation is likely to increase the level of tension. When people feel that they are being side-lined or excluded, they are likely to resist. This may start of as an unconscious feeling, but given time, it will become more conscious.
For this reason, we advise those with the power to exclude groups and individuals to find ways of identifying and including stakeholders as a way of de-escalating tension. On the Resistance Line, this means moving from right to left – from the red zone in the direction of the green. This is not as simple as inviting an angry group to a meeting. Depending on the level of conflict, inclusion may need to take on different forms. In cases where violence is present, a cessation of violence may need to be negotiated before inclusion even becomes discussable.
An example: In an attempt to convene a round table meeting with stakeholders affected by wolves moving into an area where farmers had livestock and hunters had hunting grounds, certain stakeholders were reticent to attend. They did not answer calls and emails. There were clear signs within both the blue and purple zones. When communication has deteriorated to the extent that certain stakeholders are about to move into the red zone, personal contact needs to be established. In this case, it meant driving out to remote farms and meeting with people at home. These visits had the purpose of establishing contact and trust for both the process and the mediator. In other cases, the level of resistance was much lower, and a phone call sufficed to get someone to attend the meeting.
Finally, the Resistance Line has proved very useful when needing to convince a particular authority or group of the necessity for intervention in the form of dialogue or mediation. Illustrating the escalation of a conflict by citing examples of points along the line and pointing out the risk of further escalation, is often a good way to convince those with resources to make an investment in dialogue rather than ignore the problem or meet it with force.
Politicians constantly debate whether hard or soft measures should be used to meet societal tension. We have seen how the Resistance Line has helped open up a discussion as to the effects of force or the results of ignoring the problem. Not only will the conflict level increase but also the costs – both financial and in terms of human resources and trust.