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About Search for Common Ground

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Welcome to Search for Common Ground, an organization dedicated to transforming how the world deals with conflict.

We hope this tour meets your needs to learn about who we are, what we do and how you can become involved.

Just click on the links below. When you are done, feel free to visit the other sections of our website.

  1. Who are we?
  2. What is our role?
  3. Organizational Video
  4. What is the Common Ground Approach?
  5. How do we apply the Common Ground Approach to societal problems?
  6. How can I get involved?

Who are we?

Founded in 1982, Search for Common Ground works to transform the way the world deals with conflict - away from adversarial approaches and towards collaborative problem solving. We work with local partners to find culturally appropriate means to strengthen societies' capacity to deal with conflicts constructively: to understand the differences and act on the commonalities.

Using innovative tools and working at different levels of society, we engage in pragmatic long-term processes of conflict transformation. Our toolbox includes media production - radio, TV, film and print - mediation and facilitation, training, community organizing, sports, theater and music. We promote both individual and institutional change and are committed to measuring the results of our work and increase our effectiveness through monitoring and evaluation. We currently work in 26 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Please click here to learn more basic facts about conflict.


Organizational Video

Please click here to view a 10-minute video which provides an overview of the organization's work.


What is the Common Ground Approach?

The Common Ground Approach is a means of navigating through conflict and identifying possibilities that are not apparent from an adversarial mind set. It is a set of principles and practices that, when utilized, causes a fundamental shift in people's relationship with conflict - away from adversarial approaches toward cooperative solutions. The Common Ground Approach - whether applied in a home in the suburbs of New York City, on the streets of inner city Cincinnati, or between ethnic groups in the Balkans or Burundi - creates new possibilities of peaceful coexistence.

The Common Ground Approach is derived from over three decades of practical experience - it has been crafted by what works.

    Core Principles

    1. Conflict is different from violence and neither negative nor positive
    Conflict isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It is the natural result of differences between people - religious, political, ethnic, or whatever they may be. Those differences can enrich us and can be as much at the root of peaceful progress as at the root of violence. Dealing with these differences constructively is a skill that can be developed.

    2. Conflict can be transformed
    Conflict transformation is not about ending conflict - the goal is to shift the way individuals, communities and societies view and deal with their differences. Though we included them as necessary, our goals are broader than resolution or mediation. What is important is how conflict is approached, to shift away from an adversarial stance toward a cooperative, problem-solving one. An essential step in transforming conflict is enabling people to communicate and have accurate information about each other. Reframe the situation so that people attack problems, not each other.

    3. Finding common ground
    Finding common ground is not the same as settling for the lowest common denominator - it's generating a new "highest common denominator." It's not about having two sides meet in the middle, but having them identify something together they can aspire to and work toward. When people who really care about an issue come together and bring their best thinking, there is the potential for new options to be generated.

    4. Peace is a process
    There isn't a method for causing conflicts to transform instantaneously - it is not something you can achieve in a single event or by signing a peace accord; it is an ongoing process of developing relationships of mutual respect and trust. Every peace process has its ups and downs. Making long-term commitments allows us to keep working on the underlying causes of a conflict even during periods of increased intensity.

    5. Humankind is interdependent
    We are witnessing the impact of globalization on an unprecedented scale and we approach this as an opportunity. Our success and peace depend on our ability to share space, resources and understanding.

    Key Practices

    Although there are many practices that are useful in dealing with conflict constructively, we have identified four that we feel are essential:

    1. Distinguish between positions and interests
    People naturally tend to take positions about issues, especially when in a conflict. Underlying these positions are generally broader interests, such as security and the well being of one's family. Interests usually relate to basic needs, while positions are opinions about how to achieve those needs. Positions may appear mutually exclusive, while interests tend to overlap.

    2. Respect each other; face problems together
    By making the distinction between the problems and the people involved in a conflict, it is possible to help people shift their energies to focus on common concerns rather than seeing each other as the problem.

    3. Listen to understand
    When we focus our full attention on someone with the intention of improving understanding rather than winning an argument, it helps to create a relationship conducive to mutual problem solving.

    4. Choose your approach
    While we may not always have a choice about the conflicts we find ourselves in, it is possible to choose our response to them. Peace is generated by the moment-by-moment choices we make in how we deal with conflict in our relationships and community.


How do we apply the Common Ground Approach to societal problems?

The Common Ground Approach was developed while addressing societal challenges in the 24 different countries where Search for Common Ground works. Through this experience we developed the following operating practices:

Make long-term commitments
Avoid parachuting - dropping into a conflict for a short visit. Use a continuing presence to develop a knowledge base and to build networks of relationships on all sides of the conflict.

Use an integrated approach
Work simultaneously on multiple levels and on multiple fronts while striving for societal conflict transformation.

Become engaged in order to see the possibilities
Conflicts are extraordinarily complex, and it takes profound engagement to start to understand them. Although we conduct assessment missions before undertaking any new program, we strive to remain flexible to adapt to the changing environments in which we operate.

Be social entrepreneurs
Look for problem solvers and creative thinkers who, from a shared vision, can develop finite and achievable projects. Continuously develop new tools and approaches.

Become immersed in local cultures
Work with and build on individuals' and communities' knowledge, wisdom and creativity. Partner with local peace builders to strengthen their ability to transform their own conflicts.

Practice cooperative action
Dialogue is a necessary but insufficient means to change attitudes and behaviors. Wherever possible, work with parties in conflict to help them not only understand their differences but also to act on their commonalities.


How can I get involved?

Search for Common Ground strongly believes that transforming the way the world deals with conflict starts with its own staff and its partners - meaning, people who contribute time, resources, and energy.

We invite you to help Search for Common Ground make a difference through the following means:

Make a financial contribution By making a financial contribution, you will join a growing network of "Common Ground Partners" - people dedicated to transforming how the world deals with conflict. Your donation is tax deductible. Click here to learn about the impact your contribution can make: (Please click here for more information)

Host an Introductory Event
Many SFCG partners host "introductory events" in their homes and workplaces where their families, friends and community can learn about the impact of conflict in the world, the principles and practices developed by Search for Common Ground and the inspiring work our staff are doing around the world. (email Susan Dillon at

Serve as a Volunteer or Intern
We welcome pro bono professional services on a case-by-case basis for our programs based in the United States. We also have internship programs for graduate and undergraduate students in the headquarters offices in Brussels and Washington, DC as well as some opportunities in our field offices. (Please click here for more information)

Become Educated About Conflict & Common Ground Approaches
As Mahatma Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Ultimately, it is up to each of us to transform how we deal with conflict. If you are new to conflict transformation, we invite you to visit our "introduction to conflict" in our resource section. The following links will take you to components of that section.

  • Basic Facts About Conflict in our World
  • Commonly Used Distinctions
  • Commonly Used Terms
  • Suggested Reading List
  • Tips for Conflict Transformation

    Thank you for visiting Search for Common Ground. We hope you will join us in transforming the way the world deals with conflict.

    Please click here to download a pdf version of this section
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