Learning and Reflecting on the 2018 IACM-AC4 Conference by Lawrence Ibeh, AC4 Fellow, Ludwig Maximillian University in Germany

Thanks to AC4 for my selection as a fellow, I was able to attend the 2018 International Association of Conflict Management (IACM) conference in Philadelphia, USA, this July 8-11, 2018. My participation was indeed an honor as this made my long time dream a reality. The value I placed on the conference prompted my preparation for over a year in the course of my PhD.

My experience at the conference is gratifying as it allowed me, for the first time, to be part of the IACM, an association founded to encourage scholars and practitioners to develop and disseminate theory, research, experience, and practice for understanding and improving conflict management.

Apart from the conference being an avenue to present scientific papers from my PhD work, it also afforded me the opportunity to listen to other scientists across the globe. My presentation on the conflicts in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria specifically gave insights on developing an integrated approach for sustainable peace over territories affected by natural resource based conflicts.

The conference was very wide ranging, with several parallel sessions. I concentrated on sessions such as “Engagement of Stakeholders to Reduce and Manage Conflict”, innovative sessions such as “Sustainable Peace and Modeling, Gaming and Teaching Exercises from Negotiation Scholars”, and workshops such as “Advanced Techniques for Deep Learning”. Throughout the conference I learned so much that it is still hard to express my full thoughts all at once. Thus, I will proceed by reflecting on my day-to-day experience.

On the first of the conference, Sunday, July 8, I arrived with other participants at the Sonesta Foyer for the registration at about 1:30 pm, and later returned in the evening for a welcome dinner and a poster session. The evening session left as my first impression the understanding of the indelible mark the IACM conference will make in my career. After the welcome dinner, as I had expected, the poster presentation session was a great opportunity to meet and interact with colleagues from different disciplinary backgrounds and learn about their researches relating to conflict management and negotiation. It was remarkable to know that presenters were willing to answer questions on their research.

On the Second Day, Monday, July 9, I had the opportunity of presenting my two papers that were accepted for the conference. This day was almost overwhelming as I had to present the two papers back to back. But being that I had been well prepared for the conference I had no problems to adjust. My first paper was a full presentation. This featured under the session “Communities”, with the title: Improving Resource Conflict Management in Communities Using a Transdisciplinary Coupled Modelling Approach. It presents a new approach on the cooperation of local stakeholders in developing models for sustainable peace. Besides presenting my work I listened to three other scholars in the same session. All the presentations were quite interesting. However, one of the papers that was of key interest to me was the paper on Building Resilience Among Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda. This was a culturally sensitive approach presented by Lucia Ferrarese.

My second presentation in the second session featured under the “ Diversity and Identity” Session. This was a Rapid Fire presentation on a paper titled Rethinking Resource Curse? Neoecological approach and Natural Resource Conflicts Management in Communities of the Niger Delta Region in Nigeria. I was really impressed by the fact that discussions on the content of my presentations came up a number of times during lunch with colleagues throughout the conference. This gave me an impression that my papers were well accepted. For the rest of the day I attended a symposium session on Getting Hired & Getting Ahead. The most interesting contribution for me in this session was a paper titled Is it to Get Ahead by paying Politics? The Ambiguity of the Merit of Political Maneuvering Enables Self-Serving Judgements by Peter Belmi; L. Taylor Phillips; Kristin Laurin. The paper mainly exposed the two main strategies that people use to get ahead at work. I personally learned the merits and demerits of the strategies in getting ahead in a work place. One key event that culminated the day was the IACM Fellows’ Panel. I counted myself fortunate to be part of this session. Here a number of renowned scholars of IACM including professors made several presentations on the state-of the art on conflict management and negotiation research. As one of the presenters mentioned: “all the easy research has been done. It is now the time to do difficult things such as conflict, complexity and negotiation”. This motivated my asking a question on how young scholars like me could get along and have their works published given the multi-disciplinary nature of the field of negotiation and conflict management. I learned a lot from the different answers that were given. The key take away among the answers was “ write up your idea and submit it.”

The peak of the conference for me was on the Third Day, Tuesday, July 10. This was the day of the awards night. Before the awards night I attended a Novel Session on gaming and negotiation: Staying Sharp: Innovative teaching Exercises from Negotiation Scholars by Maurice Schweitzer et al. The main contribution of this session for me was the introduction of innovative approaches and the incorporation of a new technology for teaching students how to improve their negotiation and conflict management skills. The practical aspect of this approach was what caught my attention. I concluded after attending this session that such practical approaches should not only be used as an innovative approach for teaching negotiation, but should be advanced to support practitioners of conflict management and negotiation.

Two other presentations that were quite interesting to me before the awards night included, first, a workshop session on Effective Community and Stakeholder Engagement to Reduce Conflict on and Secure Water for and from Agriculture by Walt Whitmer; Lara Fowler; Michael Kern. The standout of this presentation was the interactive nature and knowledge sharing among the participants.

The second was a special topic session on “Communities” because of my interest in modelling and simulation. I was especially attracted to the presentation on Attracted to Peace: Modelling: The Core Dynamics of Sustainably Peaceful Societies by Jaclyn Donahue. This appeared to be a successful conceptual approach to modelling sustainable peace. I concluded after attending this session that works were still needed in sustainable peace research as particularly promoted by the United Nations through the Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The ambience, the music and the honor of the awards night were not to be missed. Dr Beth Fisher-Yoshida, the AC4 Co-Director, called out the entire AC4 Fellows one after the other and handed to us the certificate of award. This was really a very amazing moment of my participation at the IACM conference.

On the last day of the conference Wednesday, July 11, before the Grab & Go Boxed Lunch, I attended a workshop on Teaching Conflict Resolution in a Fragmented Society by Ephraim Tabory et al and a practical session on Innovation in the Negotiation Classroom: Advanced Techniques for Deep Learning by Noam Ebner; Ingmar Geiger; Jennifer ParlamisLearning. This last session was particularly of interest to me because of its practical and the innovative nature. The different presentations in this session combined to introduce new and engaging ideas for negotiation teaching that go beyond traditional simulations.

Many other fascinating topics were included in the conference that I was unable to attend. But one thing was clear: presenters approached the problem of conflict management and negotiation from different disciplinary backgrounds and perspectives. I hoped that in the future there will be more time to ask questions and give feedback to presenters particularly the young researchers. I also look forward to seeing sessions dedicated to sustainable peace, studies on the complex interactions of conflict, environment and society, and climate change and conflict management which are hot topics in the 21st century in our globe. All in all, it was a most interesting and rewarding experience which I felt honored to be part of as an AC4 fellow.

Author: Lawrence Ibeh is a Ph.D. student at the Environment and Society Program at the Rachel Carson Center, Ludwig Maximilian University working on a dissertation on natural resource conflict modelling and sustainable peace using a transdisciplinary coupled approach. He has studied in Nigeria, The Netherlands and Spain, and lectured at the University of Nigeria and Ebonyi State University before starting his current research in Germany. 

All photos provided by author.

Read reflections from other fellowship recipients and learn more about the IACM Conference: here.

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