This issue includes the latest news from AC4 and the Columbia conflict community.
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Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) - Earth Institute, Columbia University
December 8, 2015

While December may signal the end of the semester, it’s also a time to look forward to all the things that the year ahead has to offer.  Take a moment to reflect with us on the current things happening with students, faculty and others in our community and to look ahead to 2016. Next year will start off on a high note, with several important milestones in the first few months: the application deadline for our next (7th!) cohort of AC4 Fellows, the next application cycle for our IACM Scholarship and then the fourth annual Sustaining Peace Event in March.  We’re excited about all of these things, and look forward to more opportunities to interact with all of our wonderful readers.

We wish you all a great end to the semester and a relaxing and fun winter break, and look forward to seeing you next year!

Interview with conflict resolution specialist and mediator, Christine Straw 

Christine supports and coordinates efforts related to Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) applications projects and initiatives at AC4. Also, she is a certified community mediator, supports students in developing their voice and interviewing skills and facilitates parent talks for a local non-profit. She has an MS in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies and an MBA.

Please tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to this work?
I worked for many years as a project and program manager for both the federal government and the private sector.  This role - in many ways - is a constant call to address differences between team members, across groups and organizations; to clarify and align goals, and negotiate priorities, budgets and resources commitments.  In this role, particularly in organizations with national and even global reach - although I could not have articulated it this way then - I realized that I was often operating in a complex environment with a range of interdependent parties (various individuals, groups organizations and entities, (aka, stakeholders)), with different goals, agendas, pressures, motivations and perspectives; where things were never as simple as they might appear to be; and where I was constantly trying to understand what might motivate others, whom I had no power nor control over, to take on my agenda in order to meet program goals.  While I was often successful, I wasn’t always sure quite why a strategy worked in one situation but seemed totally inappropriate in another.

Within this context and at a personal level, I always felt there had to be ‘better’ ways to approach conflict and even just differences – whether they were contentious or not; this includes difference occurring at all levels from interpersonal to project team, and from intergroup to international.

An interpersonal conflict, however, is what led me to label differences as ‘conflict’ and enroll in conflict resolution courses, earn a certificate from Teachers College and the ICCCR and finally graduate with a Masters of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Colombia University.  These different threads of my past came together.

Why AC4? Why this project?
I suppose “why AC4” and “why this project” are both a bit of serendipity.  I wanted to know more about what was happening at CU in the area of conflict and peace and had the opportunity to support a new entity, the
Dynamical Systems Theory Innovation Lab.  The Lab was the brainchild of Peter T. Coleman at TC, Beth Fisher-Yoshida, CU, and others from around the world who were working in the area of peace and conflict and applying systems thinking and complex systems lenses in their work in a broad range of contexts – academia, research, practice, peacebuilding, community work, program evaluation, action research, conflict, peace and so forth.  The network of interested practitioners and scholars also cut across disciplinary lines with representation from a social psychologist, biologist, lawyer mathematician, psychologist, environmentalist, conflict resolution specialists and so on, making a truly interdisciplinary group, with individuals focusing on some of the toughest social challenges.  The opportunity to be a part of the team convening this group to move the collective work in this area forward was something I could not pass up and have been privileged to continue to be a part of in my role with AC4 over the past 3 years.

You wear many hats at AC4 in support of DST applications, including event organizer and curator. How did curating the keynotes for the 2015 Sustaining Peace event last spring affect your work on or understanding of sustainable peace?  What were some gifts or advantages of bringing in multiple and different perspectives on the topic?
Working with the 11 speakers, all members of the DST Innovation Lab, throughout the process of developing and delivering the keynote program offered a fascinating glimpse into the thinking, perspectives and work of each of them. Within the theme of this year’s Sustaining Peace event – Sustaining Peace: Systems, Applications and Interventions – the speakers embraced the idea that in today’s increasingly interdependent and interconnected world, social challenges cannot be isolated and ‘fixed’ by using the traditional analysis – planning - implementation approach that we find deeply embedded in many realms.  Instead, complex social systems are ongoing, continuously adapting and evolving, with patterns and rules that are difficult to alter or change.  So while on the one hand our social (like our ecological) environment is in a state of constant change as individuals make the daily decisions of life and grow old, it is also held in place by structures, patterns and rules – that are often very simple – that hold our social systems in place and ‘stuck’ – seemingly to ‘never’ change - whether it is in a perceived state of ‘peace’ or ‘conflict.’  And while we can use different tools for trying to understand the systems within which we live - whether it is visualizations or employing mathematical models – at best, we can change the complex system only through ‘nudging’ it to a different place.
While the speakers came from a diversity of backgrounds and disciplines – psychology, anthropology, social psychology, mathematics, law, and so forth – all speakers communicated their conviction that in order to address the challenging issues we, as a global community, face, we must behave differently and in order to behave differently, we must think differently.  When working in these environments, stop thinking of beginning and end points or destinations, give up the terms ‘success’ and ‘failure’ and instead, think of ongoing connections, interactions and processes, and look for simplicity ‘on the other side of complexity.’

Student Research Fellowships

Each year, AC4 funds as many as 11 Columbia University graduate students conducting interdisciplinary research in areas addressing conflict, violence, peace-building and sustainable development (such projects might include- but are not limited to- doctoral students’ dissertation research, master’s students’ thesis research, summer internships, or capstone projects). This year we will fund 10 students for up to $3,000, including 2 internships, and also one team of students for up to $6,000. Team applicants must present a truly interdisciplinary research proposal. For application requirements and materials please check our website here.

Submissions deadline is February 1st, 2016.
Fellows will be announced in March 2016.

Questions may be directed to Meredith Smith at

Interview with Hakim Mohandas Amani Williams, AC4 Fellowship Alumus

Note to current graduate students: it's time to start thinking about your application for the 2016 AC4 Fellowship Program! The deadline is Monday, February 1, 2016.  

Hakim Williams, 2009
This AC4 alumnus came from Teachers College and, as an AC4 fellow, traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to conduct research centered on differentiated conceptualizations of school violence in secondary schools.

Where are you now?
I'm currently an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and Education at Gettysburg College, where I'm also a member of the Globalization Studies and Public Policy Programs. For the academic year 2015-2016 I'm an AC4 Visiting Scholar.

How did the AC4 fellowship program shape your graduate school experience at Columbia or your career?

I was in the inaugural class of AC4 fellows. I received it to assist with data collection for my doctoral dissertation on school violence in Trinidad. Since then, my study has turned into a longitudinal vertical case study and I am returning to Trinidad in December 2015 for 7 months of more data colletion. I'll be employing a critical participatory action research project with youth. I'll be conducting restorative justice workshops, peer mediation workshops and community activism training with parents. This is my attempt to take a systems approach to research and activism. The community I had/have at AC4 continue to inspire me to conceptualize my work in broader terms.

Any advice for current and/or prospective students in the AC4 fellowship program?
Every bit of funding helps. Sometimes, it's easier to find smaller amounts of monies and that may lead to larger grants. You can also supplement your AC4 grants with kickstarter fundraisers (or the like). More and more we are seeing investments in peace research.  These are exciting times indeed!

Congratulations to the Fall 2015 Graduates of the MS Program in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution!


The Master of Science program in NeCR at Columbia’s School of Professional Studies held its 10th Capstone Thesis Presentations this past Saturday, December 5th. The presentations are a showcase of graduate applied research in the field of conflict resolution and the culminating project of the master’s program. It is a full semester seminar where students produce a scholarly paper on applied research on a topic of their choosing in contexts ranging from interpersonal to organizational to international.  This semester, students explored a wide range of topics which included landmines in Afghanistan, grafitti artists in Medellin, Colombia, and a look at conflict resolution programs in public schools. Congratulations to the NeCR Class of Fall 2015!
AC4 Executive Director in Huffington Post:
"A Vision of Peace for America"


"Could America ever imagine itself at peace?" asks Professor Peter T. Coleman in his new article featured in the Huffington Post. Have a look and consider the call for a radical shift in our thinking, action and organizing!
Since 2012, the Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) Innovation Lab has sought to inspire and support collaborative work in promoting our understanding and practice of peace, conflict resolution and social change. It is an initiative that brings together experienced scholars and practitioners from various fields and disciplines, each using a systems lens to better understand and engage with the dynamics of social change. 

The members of this group are working throughout the world in a variety of contexts – from academia to field work in conflict zones, as educators, researchers and consultants. Below is one of many announcements from their recent Member Digest.

Go to the DST Innovation Lab Website to read more on this initiative.
Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) Web Portal

Nick Redding and Christine Straw of AC4 have been leading the development of an informational portal titled The Project on Dynamical Systems, Peace, Conflict, and Social Change. The portal shares the work of Professor Peter T. Coleman and AC4 and promotes efforts in applying a dynamical systems approach to addressing intractable conflict and promoting sustainable peace and social change.  

The portal is currently housed within the AC4 website and provides background on ‘Why DST?’ with updates on research at the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR) as projects exploring the application of dynamical systems theory as well as recent publications in this area.

Read the full DST Member Digest to learn more about the DST Portal and the exciting work of other current lab members, including recent publications and projects.
The Annual International Association for Conflict Management (IACM) Conference will take place June 26 - 29, 2016 and will include the special theme, “Complex Systems and Sustainable Peace”.  

We encourage you to submit a proposal for papers, abstracts, symposia, debates, roundtables, workshops or other novel sessions.  

Deadline for proposal submissions is Feb 1, 2016.  

The conference will convene in NYC at Columbia University. 
For more information on IACM call for proposals,
please click here.

AC4-Link is a web-based information hub that highlights all people, centers, and programs conducting research, practice, and teaching activities related to conflict resolution, peace, violence prevention, and sustainable development throughout Columbia University and beyond. If you are looking for a person, program, or center conducting specific work under these areas, this is a great place to start.
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Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4)
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 253
New York, NY 10115
(212) 870-2771

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