Practitioner Assessment of Conflict Resolution
Programs. ERIC Digest.
by Deutsch, Morton
There are many ways to assess the effectiveness of school conflict resolution
training (CRT) programs. Some methods require extensive resources, but
others, conducted by CRT practitioners themselves, also provide useful
information. This digest presents a framework for CRT evaluation by practitioners
which enables them to reflect productively on their practice.
To determine the effectiveness of their CRT program, practitioners need
answers to the following questions:
* What are the program objectives (i.e., establishment of a peaceful,
orderly classroom, constructive student management of their conflicts,
improvement of grades)?
* What determines achievement of these objectives (i.e., a decrease
in fights, victimization, verbal abuse, hurt feelings, discrimination,
disorder; an increase in the willingness of students to face problems openly
and resolve conflicts cooperatively, better working and social relations)?
* Can practitioner observations, student self-reports, and reports by
others about the students provide information on positive changes from
* If the CRT program appears successful, is it because of real improvement
in the students behavior; because of students good CR skills prior to training;
or because of an unrelated factor (i.e., increased maturity of the students,
the introduction of some other change in the curriculum, school, or neighborhood)?
* If CRT seems to have failed, how can the causes be determined? If
poor results are common, are they due to identifiable inadequacies in the
CRT program; to inadequate training or support for successful program implementation;
or to a countering influence in the school, families, or neighborhood?
If poor results are not common, are there differences in the way successful
teachers implement CRT, or do the differences result from differences in
the student groups being taught?
WHAT TO MEASURE
The objective of most CRT programs is to enable students to initiate
and develop a constructive process of resolution when in a conflict. Thus,
useful assessment of a CRT program measures student attributes such as
Assessing this variable elicits student knowledge of the basic concepts
of constructive conflict resolution and the typical steps involved in a
* Orientation, Attitudes, and Emotions
This assessment determines student acquisition of the orientation, attitudes,
and emotional responses to conflict which facilitate constructive resolution:
their development of a cooperative (win-win) rather that a competitive
(win-lose) orientation to conflict, with positive rather than negative
expectations about the CR processes and outcomes. Assessment might also
cover the CRT programs effects on social attitudes such as alienation,
trust, suspicion, ethnocentrism, and authoritarianism.
The ultimate measure of the effectiveness of a CRT program is whether
the students acquire and use skills needed for constructive conflict resolution
such as these:
* Ability to reduce tension; find common ground between oneself and
the other; establish a friendly working relationship; and support, encourage,
and enhance the other.
* Ability to reframe the conflict as a mutual problem to be resolved
* Effective and responsive mutual communication, and active listening
to the other, which involve understanding the meaning and emotions of the
* Perspective taking and role reversal, which involve empathetic understanding
of ones own, and the others, position and underlying needs, and the ability
to differentiate between them.
* Ability to problem solve by diagnosing the nature of the conflict
and generating feasible solutions.
* Personal impulse control (e.g., resistance to overreaction, anger,
ethnocentrism, defensiveness), and the ability to respond to the others
* Behavior in Different Situations
People are sometimes more able to manage their conflicts successfully
in certain types of situations than in others, with certain people, and
about certain types of issues. Thus it is useful to know what is problematic
for a student.
While it is likely that the knowledge acquired in CRT can be transferred
to situations characterized by strong norms of cooperation and prosocial
values, a transfer to a situation characterized by less socially constructive
norms can make CR approaches difficult. Issues that threaten personal or
important group identities, esteem, security, or survival are difficult
to resolve, as are disputes with a long history of contentiousness. Conflicts
over basic values, relative power, relative status, possession of limited
resources vital to security, esteem, or identity are also difficult to
resolve constructively unless the parties involved in the conflict are
highly skilled and strongly committed to the CR process.
HOW TO MEASURE
There are a number of different ways to elicit information for assessment
of conflict resolution training:
* Observation of actual behaviors in real conflict situations is probably
the most persuasive form of data collection. Teachers in ongoing contact
with their students can observe changes in conflict resolution behaviors
in their classrooms. Teachers may also observe simulated conflicts by devising
a conflict situation, assigning students to take a given role in it, and
then observing their efforts at resolution.
* Interviews and questionnaires involve obtaining reports from the students
about their own knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behavior in conflict
situations. Teachers can also obtain reports from others who observe a
students behavior (e.g., fellow students, friends, parents, teachers, supervisors).
* Diaries in which a student records daily experiences with conflict
can be valuable, especially if a framework or set of questions is provided
as a guide.
* Data found in school records can also help determine whether violence,
delinquency, vandalism, disciplinary cases, absenteeism or truancy, health
complaints, depression, and neurotic symptoms have decreased; and whether
school grades, voluntary actions to help the class or school, and cooperative
activities among teachers have improved.
Some valuable references are available for practitioners doing their
* Learning Through Reflection
Marsick, V.J., & Sauquet, J. (2000). Learning through reflection.
In M. Deutsch & P.T. Coleman, The handbook of conflict resolution:
Theory and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
An excellent chapter, and its reference list contains additional useful
reading, such as:
Marsick, V.J., & Watkins, K.E. (1999). Facilitating the learning
organizations: Making learning count. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate. (ED 437
Mezirow, J.D. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (ED 353 469)
Schon, D.A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a
new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass. (ED 295 518)
* Research Methods
Judd, C.M., Smith, E.R., & Kidder, L.H. (1991). Research methods
in social relations (6th ed.). Orlando, FL: Holt, Reinhart, & Winston.
A classic textbook on research methods with excellent chapters on all
aspects of research, including interviewing, questionnaire construction,
and observation methods.
Robinson, J.P., Shaver, P.R., & Wrightsman, L.S. (Eds.). (1991).
Measures of personality and social attitudes. New York: Academic Press.
Contains descriptions and examples of widely employed measures of personality
and social attitudes, some of which may be influenced by CRT.
* Research Studies
Deutsch, M., & Coleman, P.T. (Eds.). (2000). The handbook of conflict
resolution: Theory and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Contains measures for assessing the effects of CRT.
Bodine, R.J., & Crawford, D.K. (Eds.). (1998). The handbook of conflict
resolution education: A guide to building quality programs in schools.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (ED 414 389)
Presents a relevant summary of research findings in the editors own
chapter, "Research Findings on What Works."
Jones, T.S., & Kmitta, D. (Eds.). (2000). Does it work? The case
for conflict resolution education in our nations schools. Washington, DC:
Conflict Resolution Education Network.
Reviews impacts on students, educators, diverse populations, and school
and classroom climate.
Elliot, D.S., Hamburg, D.A., & Williams, K.R. (1998). Violence in
American schools. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Reviews research on school violence prevention programs.
Sandy, S.V., & Boardman, S.K. (in press). The peaceful kids conflict
resolution program. International Journal of Conflict Management.
Describes various ingenious measuring instruments for preschoolers,
as well as measures for use with parents and day care staff. (Contact Dr.
S.V. Sandy at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution,
Box 53, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY, NY 10027.)
Johnson, D.W., & Johnson, R.T. (2000). Teaching students to be peacemakers:
Results of twelve years of research. Unpublished paper. University of Minnesota,
Describes a series of studies, including measures used with K-9 students.
(Contact Professor David W. Johnson at the University of Minnesota, 60
Peik Hall, Minneapolis, MN, 55455.)
Aber, J.L., Brown, J.L., & Heinrich, C.C. (1999). Teaching conflict
resolution: An effective school-based approach to violence prevention.
New York: Columbia University, Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health,
National Center for Children in Poverty. (ED 437 176)
Reports on systematic research, using very interesting measures, with
children in elementary grades. (Contact Professor John L. Aber at the National
Center For Children in Poverty, Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health
of Columbia University, New York, NY 10032.)
Jones, T.S. (1997). Comprehensive peer mediation evaluation project:
Preliminary final report. Report submitted to the William and Flora Hewlitt
Foundation and the Surdna Foundation.
Reports on extensive research, using a variety of well-developed measures,
on students in elementary, middle, and high schools. (Contact Professor
Tricia S. Jones at the Department of Communication Sciences, Temple University,
Philadelphia, PA, 19122.)
Coleman, P.T., & Lim, Y. (in press). A systematic approach to assessing
the effects of collaborative negotiation training on individuals and systems.
New York: Teachers College, International Center for Cooperation and Conflict
Presents systematic questionnaires for evaluating CRT for use with adults
who were trained and other instruments for use with people who know the
trainees well, and can report on changes in the behavior of the trainees.
(Contact Professor Peter Coleman at the International Center for Cooperation
and Conflict Resolution, address above.)