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Mapping the problem

Usually facilitators create a map of the dispute to get a clear picture of the needs and interests of the parties quickly.

What challenges does it focus on?

To create a map of key elements of the dispute that is easy to understand.

Short summary

Many facilitators create a map of the dispute to allow them to see the needs and interests of the parties quickly. It also allows you to see who influential third parties might be. From the first contact you have with either party, you can start mapping the dispute. Basic mapping consists of mapping:

  • The parties in the dispute (including husbands/spouses or other people in the background)
  • Basic problem and three or more major issues: land, compensation, violence that occurred etc.
  • At least two or three needs, wishes and fears (interests) of all parties (see Tool 2.4)
  • A list of possible solutions (see Tool 2.5).
  • A list of what has been agreed.
  • A list of what still has to be decided.

view full explanation

More extensive mapping includes the following:

  • Timeline: what were the three or more most important things that happened? Who? When? What? Where? Why? When? How?
  • Relationships between parties (marriage, landlord/tenant, business).
  • Power relations: What is position of each party when no solution is reached? What is each party afraid of that another party will do (if this can safely be shared)?
  • Influential third parties who are or have become involved (see Tool 4.2).
  • Laws and sharing rules that can be helpful to decide on the issues (see Tool 3.2).

How to map?

  • Visible for the parties. So they can see everything that is relevant and what they have said is taken into account.
  • On paper, whiteboard, black board. Or even online.
  • Using symbols.
  • Pictures for different types of interests, solutions.
  • Here you can find 1) an example map and 2) a list of questions that can be helpful. Asking about the background of the problem Asking about interests Asking about relationships Asking about expectations Also using the intake form (2a) can be helpful. 

Research evidence

 Evidence from literature

The Conflict Resolution Network from Australia have a training guide on mapping which can be downloaded here. This focuses on identifying the problem and the different needs and interests of each of the parties.

Conflict Resolution Network. CR Trainers Manual: 12 Skills, 2nd Edition, 2008


Joyce Hocker and William Wilmot also give guidance on mapping conflicts as a way of clarifying disputes. They focus primarily on relationships between the parties, particularly power relationships.

Interpersonal Conflict, Joyce Hocker and William Wilmot, 2nd ed. rev., (Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1985)

Otomar Bartos and Paul Wehr describes a more written version of conflict mapping, which focuses on establishing the interests and parties involved, where the dynamics are written as opposed to visualised in a drawn map.

Bartos, O., & Wehr, P. (2002). Using Conflict Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge:
Using decision trees and maps can promote parties to have perspective on the dispute, and allow them to identify good courses of action.

The Handbook of Dispute Resolution (2005). Moffitt, M. L., & Bordone, R. C. (Eds.) Jossey-Bass, San Francisco:California.
The Harvard Negotiation Project also has mapping tools. It recommends to map: issues, interests, solutions, criteria (legal, social, formulas), and best alternatives to a negotiated agreement.

Best practices