Creating a Conflict Map
What is Conflict Mapping?
Conflict Mapping is a visual tool which aims to look at the relationships between parties involved in conflict. It is a way for a project to step back from conflict and look not only who is involved, but what roles they play with each other, power relationships and most importantly, for a Traveller organisation, it should give a sense of whether the project has a role to intervene, and if so, where and who will be involved.
Conflict maps are simplified versions of reality that try to help us to see the complex interrelationships and hidden interests. A conflict map should also identify stakeholders who could or should be involved in the conflict. For example, if a local Traveller project develops a conflict map and using their third side (“balcony”) approach identify pressures about limited access to Traveller-specific accommodation, the local authority will have to be included as a stakeholder. If children are inadvertently caught up in conflict, schools will become stakeholders, as will youth clubs, possibly sporting clubs etc. Not all stakeholders will have the same influence, and some stakeholders will have greater power- to cause, to contribute to, to sustain conflict, or to deescalate conflict.
From the outset, we need to be very clear: a conflict map does not represent the “truth”. It is developed by a person or people with a specific view of how the conflict has unfolded. It is also time-specific- a conflict map will change over time as the conflict changes and unfolds.
Once a project accepts that it is not trying to achieve a neutral or objective map, but one that represents the view of the project at that space and time, we begin to see that it plays a useful role. We can see what gaps we have in relation to a conflict, or people’s needs or what interests are at stake, and from that, develop a better analysis that should determine its role.
A conflict map is a very useful visual expression of what we are trying to achieve with a third side analysis. Like any mapping exercise, as it is visual it can help bring into focus links that otherwise could remain hidden. It is also a really useful tool to very quickly bring multiple, links between individuals, families, agencies and organisations together to try and assess the scale and intricacies of a problem .
Creating a conflict map
There is huge freedom in how you want to create a conflict map. The only rule is that once you introduce some ideas, stick to them. Here are some suggestions from other conflict maps (which you can adopt or change):
- Use a Straight line to denote a connection between the actors (actors being the people in the conflict, people outside the conflict and stakeholders)
- A thick line can be used to indicate a strong relationship (for example- where extended families are being linked- or, if one family is strongly linked to the local Traveller project, or linked to a specific programme an agency runs)
- A line which has a line through it can denote a relationship that has broken down
- An arrow shows the direction of influence or power (very useful for conflict within a family)
- A dotted line can show a connection that is loose
- Use a large red dot to indicate confrontational/violent incidents
- If we use circles to indicate a person/organisation- try to use different sizes to denote their influence or power
- Use sidebars or text boxes to put detail of conflict- what has happened here
Exercise: Creating a Conflict Map.
Step 1: Who can make a map?
The best way to understand the dynamics, connections and complexity of conflict is to make a conflict map.
This exercise can be done by an individual reflecting on a conflict they were directly involved in, or one where they played a role of 3rd side observer (and know a lot of information about the conflict in question) or as a group within your organisation. It can be a very powerful tool for a group to do as a collective, if people feel safe to do so and a lead practitioner is skilled in facilitation and also is conflict aware.
Step 2: Preparation: triggers and safety
As with any conflict exercise, make sure to prepare individuals for the exercise that in exploring conflict, a safe space is created which respects confidentiality but also has practitioners prepared to deal with their own triggers and responses.
The latter point as always is vital- if we are going to talk or analyse conflict, we need to be able to explore it as freely as possible, whilst at the same time recognising that some conflicts may be more difficult than others (for Traveller staff over non-Traveller staff, for example). Knowing this and preparing allows us to move into discussing conflict without being constrained by the impact it can and does have and move into a healthier space whereby we can all learn from past conflicts without reliving them.
Step 3: Let’s begin!
In order to draw a conflict map you first have to decide on a specific conflict and also decide where are the boundaries of the conflict system. It is very useful to draw a conflict map together with several people as you can collect different points of view in this case. Then you can start with the creation of your conflict map:
- Take a large sheet of paper (or ideally, several pieces of flipchart paper which can be attached to a wall to give lots of freedom to make links- and mistakes!)
- Draw the main actors as circles on the paper. The size of the circle should represent an actors’ “power”.
- Put yourself as an actor on the page as well, if you or your organization is involved- and it will be- whether it is there as an observer, or has direct or indirect links with some of the people involved in the conflict
- Draw lines between the circles representing the relationship between the actors.
- List the main themes of the topic in rectangles.
- List further actors of the conflict and add their specific relationships.
- Note the history of the conflict on a separate sheet- use a timeline to show how things have changed over time- and who has been affected (directly and indirectlty) by changes in this conflict: this can be a useful visual aid to see how escalations have seen & unseen effects
- Include locations in this- a conflict map is about interconnections, but it also can help to map physical flash points (if they exist)
What have we learned?
This is an exercise using conflict mapping to see how effective it is as a tool. It should be first done on a conflict that has ceased to become familiar of the process of creating a conflict map. In a real time setting, as a conflict evolves, the interactions between people will change, as will their relationships with others- including how people respond to conflict. This is a map of a specific time- and conflict maps will change to reflect changes in the situation.
- How useful is a conflict map for making sense of connections that exist in conflict?
- Could you use this conflict map as a teaching aid in discussions within the organisation/community to look at the impacts of conflict?
- Or would you feel confident enough to create a “theoretical” map to use as an exploratory tool with your group?
Theoretical Conflict Map
In this example, you have two families who are in conflict: A & B. A is larger in the diagram for in this instance it has more coercive power due to greater numbers of people who are physically likely to use force. However, as discussed in the section on Power, not all forms of power are necessarily located in one individual of family- so a more complex conflict map may show interactions in different directions, indicating different power relations based on the different power types (link)
Family A has strong links with families F & G. In the past there has been a confrontation with the local Gardai so they have a pre-existing antagonistic relationship. There are links with the local Education and Training board.
Family B is strongly linked with families C, D & E. All these families have very strong relationships with the local school, in contrast to Family A which only has a relationship with the school.
Family B and it’s extended families all have strong links with the local Traveller project and links with the local youth service. Family B has a broken intermittent relationship with the Traveller project
All the families have a relationship with the council- it isn’t directly involved but as a shadow party it has influence and power as does the Gardai in relation to both accommodation (site management in this case for the council) and also issues of anti-social behaviour and safety (Gardai). The Gardai also have an on-off relationship with the Traveller Project.