Adaptive Mediation and Conflict Resolution    

Adaptive Mediation and Conflict Resolution  Peace-making in Colombia, Mozambique, the Philippines, and Syria  

This is an edited volume published by Palgrave-Macmillan and Springer-Nature on 25 March 2022 as part of their Sustainable Development Goals Series. It is open access and available here:


Cedric de Coning, Research Professor, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), and Senior Advisor, African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). 

Ako Muto, Executive Senior Research Fellow, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Ogata Sadako Research Institute for Peace and Development. 

Rui Saraiva, Research Fellow, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Ogata Sadako Research Institute for Peace and Development. 


Adaptive mediation is an approach to mediation that has its foundations in complexity theory, and that is specifically designed to cope with highly dynamic conflict situations characterized by uncertainty and a lack of predictability. Adaptive mediation is a facilitated mediation process whereby the content of agreements emerges from the parties to the conflict themselves, informed by the context within which the conflict is situated. The core principles and practices of adaptive mediation are presented in this book in conjunction with empirical evidence from four diverse case studies – Colombia, Mozambique, The Philippines, and Syria – to generate recommendations for how mediators can apply adaptive mediation approaches to resolve and transform contemporary and future armed conflicts. 

Problem Statement 

Since the 1990s, mediation and conflict resolution processes have often been intimately related to liberal peacebuilding interventions, helping first to bring the fighting to an end with ceasefire agreements and then shaping the post-conflict phase through more comprehensive peace agreements. A characteristic feature of this period is that the content of the peace agreements typically reveals more about the liberal peace values of the mediators than they do about the values or context-specific interests of the parties to the conflict. Most of these peace agreements share at their core a similar logic and structure, deriving from a determined-designed model, which tends to be linear, staged, normative, and individualistic in orientation. The reality is that, for the most part, domestic actors did not have control over these mediation processes, and third-party mediation became associated with imposed conflict transformation and power mediation. As a result of this focus on short-term conflict management rather than long-term conflict resolution, tensions frequently reemerge not long after mediation processes are completed. There is thus a growing sense that the mainstream approach to mediation and peace-making is unable to address the changing conflict landscape effectively, and there is a growing interest in exploring alternative approaches to peace-making that can enrich the peacemaking toolbox available to mediators around the world. 

Adaptive Mediation 

Adaptive mediation is an approach that is specifically designed to cope with the uncertainty, unpredictability, and irreproducibility inherent in the complex social change process. Adaptive mediation is a process that is aimed at empowering the parties participating in the mediation to generate solutions themselves. For a peace agreement to be self-sustainable, it has to emerge from both a collaborative process owned by the parties to the conflict and an inductive iterative adaptive engagement with the context. Adaptive mediation is especially concerned with enhancing the self-sustainability of peace agreements and, in this context, understands the role of the mediator as facilitating a process of emergent self-organization. When this approach is applied to conflict analysis, planning, monitoring, and evaluation, the ability of mediation processes to navigate uncertainty and adapt to changing dynamics will be enhanced. As a result, utilizing an adaptive mediation approach should result in generating peace agreements that are more locally-grounded, self-sustainable, and resilient to withstand setbacks and shocks. 

Main Findings 

All four cases studies in this book support the adaptive mediation thesis that when the aim is a self-sustainable peace agreement, mediators should limit their role to process facilitation, protect parties from external interests and agendas, foster inductive processes that maximize the capacity of the parties to self-organize, and help them generate agreements that are rooted in the local context. The Syrian case demonstrated how external interference disrupted the ability of the parties to self-organize, especially at several critical potential tipping points, and how this undermined the ability of several highly experienced mediators, and the parties themselves, to find ways to settle on a pathway to end the conflict. In contrast, the mediation experiences in Colombia, Mozambique, and the Philippines have shown that the more the parties (or insider neutrals associated with them) participate in generating a shared conflict analysis, identifying options, and exploring pathways to agreements, the more likely the outcome is to reflect indigenous narratives and perspectives relevant to the context, rather than the assumptions, interests, and biases of the external mediators. Adaptive mediation regards the emergence of this self-organizing process among the parties participating in the conflict as a crucial pre-cursor for self-sustainable peace. 

Research Funding 

This work was supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Ogata Sadako Research Institute for Peace and Development in the context of the research project, “Contextualizing International Cooperation for Sustaining Peace: Adaptive Peacebuilding Pathways.” 


In an increasingly unpredictable and uncertain world, conflicts are becoming more complex and difficult to resolve and sustain peace agreements. Local ownership of peace processes, as a way to build sustainable peace, has been a mantra preached for decades but until now, this has been, at best, a cliché. This book on Adaptive Mediation, focusing on local ownership of peace processes is therefore timely, refreshing, and original and should be compulsory reading for students and practitioners alike.  – Dr. Vasu Gounden, Founder and Executive Director, ACCORD

This is an important book. The international community has been struggling for decades to pivot from its standard top-down, linear, one-size-fits-all approach to mediation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and this insightful book lays out a practical, albeit challenging, alternative path forward. Combining concepts from complexity science with grounded experiences and empirical case studies of some of the more challenging protracted conflicts of our time, the authors offer a hopeful but realistic sense of what effective adaptive mediation and peacebuilding can look like – in fact, must look like – as the degree and pace of complexity in our world continues to rise. Peace scholars, peacebuilders, policy makers and donors would do well to take heed. – Dr. Peter T Coleman, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, Director of The Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, Author of The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization

The reforms Liberal Peacebuilding badly needs have been rehearsed in thousands of books, articles, program evaluations and UN resolutions. But the findings and recommendations rarely go beyond platitudes of inclusion, local ownership, and flexibility. This volume presents an alternative that grapples seriously with what it would mean to put these principles into concrete concepts and grounded practice in the real world of peace mediation and conflict resolution. It turns out that adaptive mediation mostly means that the role of internationals is to accompany self-organized home-grown peace processes and even protect them from overly international interference. It is a MUST READ for policy makers, practitioners and students alike! – Dr. Thania Paffenholz, Executive Director, Inclusive Peace

This book is a theoretically groundbreaking and empirically rich study on Adaptive Mediation. It is a must read for scholars and students of peace and conflict research as well as for peace practitioners and policymakers interested in how peace mediation practices can better recognise the complexity of societies and conflict realities, redefine the role of the mediator, and address the demands of locally owned inclusive peace processes. – Dr. Marko Lehti, Deputy Director of Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI)

Adaptive Mediation is exactly what is needed for today’s international conflict resolution. Based on a deep understanding of complexity theory, this book offers an accessible and practical set of tools to analyze and resolve the most intractable wars of today and tomorrow. Adaptive Mediation will change the way you understand how conflict evolves and will revolutionize the field of mediation. It will be required reading in all my courses, and should guide how we deal with future conflicts. – Dr Adam Day is Director of Programmes at United Nations University Centre for Policy Research in New York 

This is a laudable and timely effort to debate the merits of fundamental concepts of mediation today.  The authors correctly identify and criticize cookie cutter approaches to mediation.  In several country cases, the concept of adaptive mediation is demonstrated to be workable and convincing.  Whether it is applicable in a wider number of varying contexts, especially the more complex conflicts involving foreign armies, is however yet to be proven. – Asif R. Khan, Chief Mediation Support and Gender Peace & Security, UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs

This book, through both theoretical analysis and concrete examples, leads us to understand the importance of the ownership by the parties to the conflict of the peace and reconciliation process. Mediator’s delicate and yet key roles are discussed. Respect for the local realities is paramount for a sustainable peace; but without sometimes facilitation to break the deadlock, process would not advance. Adaptive mediation proposed here serves as an answer to help conflict resolution in the current complex context. When I look back on the Afghan conflict, the importance of what the book argues as key elements becomes apparent. The lack of one party’s will to seek settlement through talks led to stalling of the peace talks between the Taliban and the Republic; and the lack of proactive participation of diversified citizens was one of the reasons which threw the country into deep confusion after Taliban’s return to power. – Tadamichi Yamamoto, Visiting Professor, Doshisha University, Former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan

The Structure of the Book 

The book introduces the adaptive mediation approach and explores mediation practices in four conflict affected countries: Colombia, Mozambique, the Philippines, and Syria. Each case study examines several mediation episodes and the complexities of sustaining peace in situations of protracted and recurring conflicts. In these four cases, the authors question and identify some of the limitations of determined-designed mediation efforts, explore the extent to which adaptive approaches to mediation have been implemented, and examine the effects of these initiatives. In Chapter 2, Cedric de Coning introduces the adaptive mediation approach, explains its roots in the study of complex adaptive systems, and addresses the key principles and characteristics of adaptive mediation, informing contemporary peacemakers on how to plan, analyze, assess, and undertake adaptive mediation processes. The authors of the country case studies applied the insights of the adaptive mediation approach to the variety of practices observed in four contexts, reflecting on whether and how adaptive approaches have helped mediators cope with uncertainty and complexity, and the extent to which mediators and the parties to the conflicts in these case studies adapted (or not) to changing dynamics on the ground. 



Chapter 1 • Adaptive Mediation and Conflict Resolution in Contemporary and Future Armed Conflicts • By Cedric de Coning, Ako Muto, and Rui Saraiva. 

Since the 1990s, mediation and conflict resolution have often been related to liberal peacebuilding interventions. A characteristic feature of this period is that the content of peace agreements typically reveals more about the liberal peace values of the mediators than they do about the values or contextspecific interests of the parties to the conflict. Most of these peace agreements share at their core a similar logic and structure, deriving from a determined-designed model and so-called international best practices, which tend to be linear, staged, normative, and individualistic in orientation. This book attempts to identify the most effective strategy for mediators amidst increasing complexity and uncertainty, introducing adaptive mediation as an alternative approach that sees external mediators as facilitators of a process that emerges from within. 

Chapter 2 • Adaptive Mediation • By Cedric de Coning. 

This chapter introduces the Adaptive Mediation approach, explains its roots in the study of complex adaptive systems, and addresses some of its key principles and characteristics. Adaptive Mediation encourages a process whereby the content of agreements emerges from the interaction among the participants and where the emergent dynamics of the mediation process creates the basis for the selfsustainability and resilience of the agreements reached. Adaptive Mediation is thus a specific approach designed to cope with complexity and sees the role of the mediator as limited to facilitating a process of emergent self-organization. This chapter unpacks these aspects in more detail and explores the theoretical foundation of Adaptive Mediation to understand how it is grounded in what we know about the behavior of complex social systems. 

Chapter 3 • Adaptive Mediation in Colombia: Toward Institutional Capacity Building Amidst Complexity and Uncertainty • By Lina Penagos.

This chapter shows the dynamic nature of mediation in Colombia during the last three decades and through eleven peace processes that displayed a large number of mediation strategies. The achievement of the 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC-EP) demonstrates how institutional capacity building results from resilient social institutions that emerged after several attempts to achieve peace with various armed groups. Therefore, the case of mediation and conflict resolution in Colombia encourages mediators to promote the resilience of social institutions in other countries that face challenging peacemaking initiatives. The chapter concludes that the flexibility and adaptiveness in Colombia’s mediation experience offer evidence of a matured mediation strategy that has resulted in notable achievements. 

Chapter 4 • Peacemaking from Within: Adaptive Mediation of Direct Dialogue in Mozambique’s New Peace Process (2013-2019) • By Rui Saraiva.

Mozambique has faced several cycles of violent conflict and decades of peace negotiations resulting in three main peace agreements: the 1992 General Peace Agreement, the 2014 Cessation of Military Hostilities Agreement, and the 2019 Maputo Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. This chapter will examine the adaptive nature of the 2013-2019 peace process while extracting the key factors and strategies that enabled the signature of a new peace agreement on August 6, 2019. Adaptive mediation and a nationally owned direct dialogue were essential amidst increasing complexity and uncertainty. The effectiveness of the later stage of the mediation process resulted from a discreet and adaptive mediation strategy that accentuated the agency, interdependence, and direct dialogue between both parties, making it possible for peace to emerge from within. 

Chapter 5 • Adapting from Outsider to Insider Mediation in the Bangsamoro Peace Process, Southern Philippines • By Miyoko Taniguchi.

Over the last four decades, tremendous efforts by international and national mediators have been made to bring about peace that contributed to creating a new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim 

Mindanao (BARMM) in 2019. This chapter attempts to identify the factors and actors that led to creating the BARMM through multi-layered mediation, by broadening the definition of mediation from transitional (international-external-pre-determined) to innovative (local-insider-adaptive), and elaborating adaptiveness at the local level. It concludes that insider mediation would lead to (1) building trust among the involved parties; (2) nurturing unity across affiliations; (3) increasing a sense of ownership towards the peace process; (4) strengthening vertical and horizontal relations among the Moros and the Moro and the Christians at multi-levels; and (5) ultimately contribute to sustainable peace.

Chapter 6 • Exploring Mediation Efforts Amidst Systemic and Domestic Constraints: The Case of the Syrian Conflict • By Ako Muto.

This chapter addresses the case study of mediation in Syria, examining the mixed approach to the Syrian peacemaking process involving both determined-designed and adaptive mediation. It assesses the multiple and sometimes conflicting roles of individual and institutional actors, both internal and external, and analyzes how the involved actors ‘adapted’ to contextual complexities in unique ways and varying degrees despite pre-existing constraints. It is found that adaptiveness is dependent on the consent of major conflicting parties and allies, and that mediation requires the involved parties to be comfortable with compromise and concessions. The chapter concludes that commitment to peace from contending parties and the international community can help actors pursue adaptiveness and effective responses even in the absence of peace guarantees.  

Chapter 7 • Adapting to Uncertainty: What Have We Learned from Mediation and Conflict Resolution in Colombia, Mozambique, the Philippines, and Syria • By Cedric de Coning, Ako Muto, and Rui Saraiva. 

With more analysts, policymakers, and practitioners advocating for a new 21st-century approach to mediation, it is now increasingly recognized that old methods designed for inter-state disputes and subsequently adjusted to intra-state conflicts are insufficient to respond to today’s complex transnational armed conflicts. In this book, we have introduced the Adaptive Mediation approach as an alternative to liberal peace models of mediation. In this concluding chapter, we take stock of what we have learned from four case studies —Colombia, Mozambique, the Philippines, and Syria—about the concept and practice of Adaptive Mediation. Three comparative advantages have emerged: 1) the ability to cope with uncertainty; 2) the value of limiting the role of the mediator to process facilitation; and 3) the importance of agreements emerging from the parties themselves. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.