Informing the Development of a National Conflict Resolution Program for Colombian Schools
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Hull
Unit of AssessmentBusiness and Management Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Philosophy
Summary of the impact
Research undertaken in the University of Hull into systemic mediation led
to the development of the Hermes Programme. This is a schools-based
initiative, run by the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce in Colombia, designed to
disseminate non-violent conflict resolution techniques throughout
Colombian society. Hermes is currently working in 360 schools and operates
with 89 professionals who work directly with schools and local
communities. These professionals train approximately 50,000 people per
year (students, parents, teachers, school staff and volunteers) in basic
conflict resolution skills. Also, 10,000 volunteers disseminate peaceful
conflict resolution methods among a wider population. By 2009, the Hermes
Programme had reached over 1,200,000 people, and in February to June 2013
alone, over 343,000 individuals attended Hermes talks on peaceful conflict
resolution, showing a substantial recent increase in the reach of the
The Centre for Systems Studies in the Business School at the University
of Hull has run a research programme on critical systems thinking (CST)
since its inception. From 1996-2002, Prof Gerald Midgley (who was then a
Senior Research Fellow at Hull) collaborated with Dr Luis Pinzón
(Universidad de los Andes, Colombia) on the first application of CST to
business mediation practice. This involved (i) the development of a
substantive body of new theory on boundaries and ethics; (ii) the
production of a new methodology for `systemic mediation'; and (iii) action
research to support the production, application and evaluation of this
Five years of action research fieldwork was undertaken with the Bogotá
Chamber of Commerce (BCC) in Colombia to develop a new systemic mediation
approach for use in business conflict resolution. The research
demonstrated that participants are often dissatisfied by the outcomes of
mediation, even when a financial settlement is reached. This is because
participants also want a chance to have their moral reasoning heard and
appreciated. Therefore, the new mediation approach (developed through the
research) focused on facilitating the exploration of moral frameworks and
boundaries of concern in mediation sessions, to give the participants a
deeper understanding of their own and other people's perspectives. This
increases satisfaction with outcomes compared with the more traditional
mediation approach used previously by the BCC. Underpinning the
development of the systemic mediation approach was a new theoretical model
of boundaries and ethics, giving mediators a visual modelling language to
represent the concerns and ethical perspectives of participants in a
conflict, which can inform more effective intervention. The research also
demonstrated that mediators are not morally neutral, and often influence
mediation outcomes with taken-for-granted assumptions and values.
Therefore, collective learning about the mediators' own moral frameworks
and theoretical assumptions is invaluable, to allow mediators to develop a
more reflective practice and be held accountable for their interventions
by their peers.
References to the research
• Midgley, G and Pinzón, L (2011). The Implications of Boundary Critique
for Conflict Prevention. Journal of the Operational Research Society,
• Midgley, G and Pinzón, L (2013). Systemic Mediation: Moral Reasoning
and Boundaries of Concern. Systems Research and Behavioral Science,
30: DOI: 10.1002/sres.2228
• Pinzón L and Midgley G (2000). Developing a Systemic Model for the
Evaluation of Conflicts. Systems Research & Behavioral Science,
The 2011 paper is in a journal ranked 3* by the Association of Business
Schools (ABS). It takes the theoretical model of boundaries and ethics
mentioned above (along with earlier critical systems theory) and shows how
it can be used to derive recommendations for conflict prevention
(not just mediation when a conflict already exists).
The 2013 paper is in an ABS 2* journal. It summarises the systemic
mediation methodology (including the underpinning theoretical model of
boundaries and ethics) and compares it with five major mediation paradigms
that are widely discussed in the literature to show the added value that
systemic mediation can offer.
The 2000 paper is also in an ABS 2* journal, and presents a model of the
different variables that need to be accounted for when mediators evaluate
a conflict. This was developed early in the collaboration between Midgley
and Pinzón, before the empirical research was started.
All these papers are available on request.
The relationship between the research, publications and impact are
non-linear. The original research was undertaken in 1996-2002, but most of
it was not written up for refereed publication until 2011-2013, when
Gerald Midgley and Luis Pinzón re-awoke their collaboration. The impacts
started in 2003, although only those experienced post-January 2008 are
discussed in detail below.
Details of the impact
In 2003, Luis Pinzón started a second systemic action research project
with the Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre at the BCC. It was
explicitly designed to draw on Midgley and Pinzón's research (reported
earlier) to develop the Hermes Programme. Hermes is a national,
schools-based programme designed to disseminate conflict resolution
techniques throughout Colombia, focusing first and foremost on influencing
the next generation. The intention is to make a longer-term impact on the
high levels of violence in Colombian society. Hermes has been operating
since 2003, but only impacts since January 2008 are reported below.
However, it is important to acknowledge earlier activities because the
post-2008 successes were path-dependent on the original research, the good
working relationship between Luis Pinzón and the BCC, and the effective
early development of Hermes (2003-2007).
The design of Hermes in 2003 was influenced by the underpinning research
in several ways. First, the programme was based on an analysis of
stakeholders' interests and moral frameworks, using the novel approach
presented in Midgley and Pinzón (2013). Second, the mediation approaches
incorporated into Hermes were selected or designed through reflection on
the mediation paradigms discussed in that same paper. Third, an exercise
was undertaken to critique the BCC's previous experiences of developing
mediation programmes, using the theory of boundaries and ethics discussed
in Midgley and Pinzón (2011). Fourth, a reflective practice approach was
institutionalised in Hermes, based firmly on the reflective practice model
proposed by Midgley and Pinzón (2013). Fifth, all the professionals
associated with Hermes have been trained with explicit reference to the
theory, modelling language and findings from the Hull-based research.
These professionals have passed the knowledge on to many thousands of
Hermes is currently working in 360 schools ; operates with 89
professionals who work directly with schools and local communities; trains
approximately 50,000 people per year (including students and their
parents, teachers and school staff) in basic conflict resolution skills;
and disseminates peaceful conflict resolution methods among a wider
population. All of these stakeholders should be viewed as indirect
beneficiaries of the research and its impact on Hermes.
In addition to reaching children in schools, those who leave schools (and
also volunteer school managers) are invited to participate in the
programme as members of a conflict management network called RENACEG
(National Network of School Managers and Conciliators). This network
"allows them to extend their influence beyond the boundaries of their own
school and benefit children in other educational institutions" (UNICEF,
2009, p.21) . In 2013, approximately 10,000 school leavers are active
participants in the network, organising `conciliation workshop days' in
local communities, which help to resolve and manage local conflicts.
RENACEG also disseminates information on dispute resolution theory and
methods, drawing directly and indirectly on the Hull research. Some
volunteers have gone on to become Justices of the Peace.
In 2008, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the
Caribbean (UNECLAC) and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded the Hermes
Programme 2nd prize in the contest Experiences in Social
Innovation . By 2009, the Hermes Programme had already "reached
some 1,216,000 people in the school community" , and recently the
number of contacts with the public has increased through a programme of
public lectures: in February-June 2013 alone, 343,872 individuals attended
Hermes talks on peaceful conflict resolution .
The Hermes programme operates in the poorest areas of 21 Colombian cities
and surrounding zones. It works mainly with 12-17 year olds, and is eager
to involve youngsters with violent backgrounds, either at home or at
school. According to the United Nations Children's Fund: "The most
important impact of the Hermes Programme has been the consolidation of a
conflict negotiation model with students and teachers as central actors in
processes that operate based on respect for the skills and abilities of
each individual. This strays from a completely different disciplinary
model founded on the unquestioned authority of teachers and senior
management. The model is built on a flexible basis and can therefore
accommodate the specific characteristics of each educational institution,
its students, communities and time" . The "conflict negotiation model"
mentioned in the quotation is a development of the one presented in Pinzón
and Midgley (2000).
Further statistics on Hermes can be found in BCC (2013) , and a
summary follows. Between 1 January 2008 and 30 June 2013, the number of
schools participating in Hermes increased from 225 to 360. Between these
same dates, over 2.75 million people participated in courses or public
lectures. In addition, 106,574 community-based mediation sessions were run
to address local conflicts. The number of mediation sessions has increased
year on year, with over 17,000 taking place from February-June 2013 alone.
In 2011, a marketing organisation (Synovate Agencia de Investigación de
Mercados) carried out an independent study of levels of satisfaction with
the Hermes Programme among the educational community (including students,
teachers and school administrative staff). 98% of students said that the
programme was useful or very useful, and 98% also stated that the
programme helped them to acquire skills to improve their interpersonal
relationships with others. 94% of all respondents stated that the
programme had produced improvements in their schools, and 99% said that
they would want to participate in the programme again if they had the
opportunity to do so . Other independent studies also confirm these
findings [2, 3, 4].
In 2011, the World Chambers Federation selected the Hermes Programme to
be one of 5 finalists (out of 71 participants) in the World Chambers
Competition under the category of Best Corporate Social Responsibility
Project . This competition "aims to encourage chambers everywhere to
develop innovative projects that have a positive impact on their
respective communities and that can potentially be adopted by other
chambers around the world" .
All the above information can be independently corroborated by the
Director of the Hermes Programme in Bogotá, Colombia .
Sources to corroborate the impact
- BCC (Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá) (2013). Programa de Métodos
Alternativos de Solución de Conflictos en el Ámbito Escolar: Resumen
Ejecutivo Programa para la Gestióon del Conflicto Escolar "Hermes".
Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, Bogotá.
- Lacera-Rincón, MF (2013). Evaluación del Programa para la Gestión del
Conflicto Escolar Hermes de la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá. MSc in
Industrial Engineering Research Project, Universidad de los Andes,
- Murcia-Pinilla, A and Rojas-Berrío, DF (2013). Sobre el perdón y
la justicia: Estudio y análisis estadístico de las principales
variables de la propensión a perdonar y las tendencias retributivas y
restaurativas en los colegios de Bogotá bajo un contexto de conflict
armado. Industrial Engineering Undergrad Research Project,
Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá.
- Orozco-Prieto, FE (2009). Evaluación del Programa para la Gestión del
Conflicto Escolar (Hermes) de la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá.
Industrial Engineering Undergraduate Research Project, Universidad de
los Andes, Bogotá.
- UNECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the
Caribbean) (2010). Experiencias de Innovación Social América Latina y el
Caribe. Retrieved on December 12, 2010,
- UNICEF (2009). The Hermes Programme for Conflict Management at School.
UNICEF, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, República
- World Chambers Federation (2011). World Chambers Competition finalists
revealed. Retrieved on October 22, 2013, http://www.iccwbo.org/News/Articles/2011/World-Chambers-Competition-finalists-revealed/
- Corroborating testimonial evidence can be obtained from the Director
of the Hermes Programme.