19/07/2019 - Published by

Talking our Way out of Conflict

Peace Foundation and the University of Manchester reveal a ground-breaking process called ‘mediated dialogue’ that is being used to challenge extremism that can lead to violent conflict.  The work commissioned by the Commissioner for Countering Extremism brought together university research and a civil society organisation (CSO) practitioner collaboration in conducting a mediated dialogue between young people from an ‘Islamist’ and ‘extreme right’ milieu. 

Built on academic theory and literature on the effectiveness of inter group contact in reducing prejudice and on social cohesion, it used the Peace Foundation’s two decades of experience in dialogue to suggests how a process might be developed for use in community led counter extremism practice.

The paper is made available on the HM Government website and marks the start of a summer of publishing evidence as the Commission builds up to a report making recommendations on extremism for the Home Secretary.

The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, a charity set up 26 years ago after a terrorist incident has today released a paper that outlines and reflects on the experience of conducting the first steps in undertaking an experimental ‘mediated dialogue’ intervention, which we call ‘Talking our way out of conflict.’


Drawing on existing techniques in conflict transformation, the novelty of this intervention is three-fold:

First, it consists of a researcher-practitioner collaboration that emerged organically through ethnographic research being conducted by the academic researcher members of the team with young people engaged in an ‘Islamist’ milieu and in an ‘anti-Islam(ist)/extreme right milieu respectively. This project has been truly collaborative, from the participants call to begin this process, to the partnership with the researchers and Lee Rogerson who documented the process through film, and finally, drawing on the experience of two of our Senior Practitioners Kelly Simcock and Jon Nicholas. Collaboration is central to the work of the Peace Foundation.

Secondly, since the intervention is being conducted with participants to prevent the solidification of extremist attitudes or behaviour and considered hard to-reach group for countering violent extremism and who are individuals often immune to intervention because they are already certain of their positions and are not identified as likely beneficiaries of programmes of de-radicalisation because they neither identify themselves, nor are identified by formal agencies, as ‘radicalised.’ 

Thirdly, it engages young people as subjects rather than objects of intervention as their participation was inspired by individuals articulating a desire for dialogue with the ‘other.’

Harriet Vickers, Peace Foundation Programme Lead said: “the Foundation has developed dialogue processes based on its history in promoting reconciliation on our islands as part of the conflict in Northern Ireland.  We learnt from experiences across the world and our practice continues to develop in an ever-changing world.

“Combining this practical experience and approach with the academic theory and the research work led by the University of Manchester provides a real strong evidence base to take this project further and whilst the work remains very sensitive the Peace Foundation believes its mediated dialogue practice could radically influence the way we counter violent extremism in the future.”

Sara Khan, the Commissioner for Countering Extremism, last week spent a day at the Peace Centre, learning more about the work in countering extremism.  She said: “My work is built on evidence, engagement and impartiality.  I’ve travelled across the country and have told Government about the deep concerns that exist about extremism.  

“I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed.  This isn’t just a job for government. I want to see all of society involved in a proportionate and fair response to these critical issues.  I believe we need to put forward a positive vision of countering extremism, which is about upholding our democratic society and our great country.”

The Peace Foundation is a specialist in the intervention practice of ‘dialogue’ and the initial mediated dialogue has developed into an ongoing process.  The paper reflects on the process so far and suggests how it might be developed for potential use as a wider community led counter extremism practice.

You can find out more about the Peace Foundation work in the prevention, resolution and response to violent conflict at www.peace-foundation.org.uk