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Guy and Heidi Burgess
Guy and Heidi Burgess

Guy and Heidi Burgess

Heidi and Guy Burgess have been partners personally and professionally since the early 1970s. They both received their Ph.D.s in sociology in the same year (1979) from the University of Colorado and then did post-doctoral work at MIT a year later during the 1979-80 "energy crisis." That, together with their dissertations, encouraged their focus on difficult conflict problems, ranging from international conflicts to domestic (meaning US) environmental and public policy conflicts.

After working a variety of short term, practical conflict jobs, they received a grant from the Hewlett Foundation in the late 1980s to start a conflict resolution "theory-building center" that is now known as the Conflict Information Consortium. They directed the Consortium at the University of Colorado, where they also taught, until they retired in 2020. At that time, the University didn't have anyone else to take over the Consortium, so the Burgesses were told they could "take that program home with them." They did, and now direct the Consortium and its constituent projects as a free-standing organization.

In addition to directing the Consortium, both Guy and Heidi taught peace and conflict at the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, and in George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, now the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. Although most of their writing is available for free on Beyond Intractability, they have also written two books: Justice without Violence (with Paul Wehr) and the Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution, and numerous scholarly articles, the most recent of which forms the basis of a new collaboration with the Conflict Resolution Quarterly to spur a discussion of how the conflict field could better address political hyper-polarization.

As Co-Directors of the Consortium, the Burgesses have been able to self-design rather unusual careers which combined theory building, practice, and teaching using theories and strategies from many disciplines, not just sociology. Drawn to complexity and systems theory very early by Kenneth Boulding's work, they almost always tried to focus on the big picture and how all the different conflict elements fit together. They have also long focused on the multiplicity of conflict roles, examining not just how experts (mediators, lawyers, judges, etc.) resolve conflicts, but also how disputants themselves can engage in conflicts more and less constructively. Since they believe that most conflicts are not resolved by experts, but rather by the disputants themselves, they decided early on that teaching disputants more effective conflict-handling techniques is very important.

This led them, in the early 1990's, to begin focusing on the use of computer-based information systems and the Internet (once that was developed) to disseminate conflict knowledge to as many people as possible. This resulted in the development of two extremely large knowledge bases. The first one, called CRInfo (The Conflict Resolution Information Source) focused on conflict resolution in general, particularly domestic conflicts and ADR (alternative dispute resolution). In the late 1990s, they shifted their focus to very difficult (or what they call "intractable" conflicts. This lead to a project called the Intractable Conflict Knowledge Base Project which produced a second very large online knowledge base called Beyond Intractability, which is now combined with CRInfo and has many thousands of articles, over 500 authors, and between 100 and 200,000 unique users per month.

The Burgess's current focus is on hyper-polarization. They started a new project called the Constructive Conflict Initiative in 2019, which sought to recruit many more people in all walks of life to fundamentally change the way they dealt with large-scale public conflicts. In 2021, this has developed into a collaboration with the Conflict Resolution Quarterly to try to further a field-wide discussion and action focused on reducing hyper-polarization and strengthening liberal democracy both in the U.S. and abroad.