In this spirit, the first international conference of forumZFD's Local Conflict Counselling programme took place on December 10, 2021. To this end, 46 participants from 16 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia gathered with the common goal of initiating or continuing nonviolent conflict transformation at the local level in their own country.
First, the concept of Local Conflict Counselling, which was developed for German conditions, was presented, including practical examples from the field of integration and inclusion. The focus of the event, however, was on the mutual exchange of participants in small groups on different topics. Some of the key takeaways from these groups were as follows:
In the group led by Bernardo Venturi, Agency for Peacebuilding/ Bologna, it was discussed that the initiation of longer-term projects for constructive conflict management in cities often fails due to a lack of funding, since conflict management is not one of the (financially funded) compulsory tasks of municipalities. The wish was expressed to work together on specific projects and to expand a network of organizations in order to be able to lobby at the political level for the importance of local conflict management.
Bernd Rieche, Action Committee Service for Peace (AGDF), and Dr. Ulrike Gatzemeier, Working Group Conflict Resolution/ AG ZKBI, led the group dealing with lobbying for conflict transformation. It was seen as essential, that politicians and decision makers first comprehend conflict transformation as tackling problems in society always involves dealing with concrete interests and conflicts. Conflict transformation should therefore be presented as a necessary tool that can be used in all areas of society and not as a political agenda. It can be helpful to present successful examples, preferably by politicians or decision makers who were part of the efforts. Networking local actors and grassroots organisations who implement conflict transformation is equally important.
One of the topics in the group facilitated by Wolfgang Dörner, Counselling Processes Manager for Local Conflict Counselling at forumZFD, was the importance of involving various local decision-makers in order to be able to anchor the locally developed measures structurally and financially in a sustainable manner. Here, the consideration of power relationships between the various actors also plays an important role at different levels, e.g. within the administration and their respective interests.
The relevance of analyses was discussed in the group led by Gregor Maaß, conflict counsellor at forumZFD. Here it became obvious that systemic conflict analyses do not only pursue the goal of generating information and data, but also include the important phase of building trustful relationships with the local actors. By reflecting the analytical findings back to them, the conflicts can be reviewed, and different narratives can be illuminated and changed in order to lay a common ground for effective measures.
María Requena López from the Academy for Conflict Transformation at forumZFD provided an exchange of experiences on training and qualifying actors for conflict transformation. Such training formats can create “safe spaces” for the exchange of different local actors. Training over a longer period of time and institutional support can enable the local actors and/ or peace workers to transfer the skills practiced there into their everyday life.
In the subsequent “silent discussion” between the participants on “What's next?”, it became clear that there is an ongoing need for forums and networks across national borders for mutual support and the sharing and exchange of experiences and approaches in conflict transformation at the local level. Various options for such formats for this purpose were discussed. forumZFD endeavours a continuation of the exchange and networking as initiated by the conference.
The conference was part of forumZFD's project "Local Conflict Counselling - conflicts as a chance for sustainable integration". This project is funded by the European Commission's Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Federal State of Lower Saxony.