Becoming ‘Conflict-Literate’

TRACK4 simulations are face-to-face, ‘live negotiations’ based on existing conflicts.  Our simulations have highly structured scenarios with substantive role descriptions that offer an insider’s view of the beliefs, interests and concerns of various individuals and groups. We provide a mirror image of a conflict as it is, rather than an idealised view of how it might evolve in the future; and we create roles that reflect the positions and perspectives of authentic parties – those who officially hold power as well as those who wield influence from the peripheries. 

TRACK4 simulations enable participants to engage directly with the concerns of individuals and groups in a given conflict and to experience a unique form of political and cross-cultural training.

During the course of a simulation, participants are placed in a scenario and assigned a "role" with a specific set of objectives, each of which represents a particular perspective or worldview. By taking on that perspective you confront the range of difficulties faced by those involved in a real conflict, and develop negotiation and mediation skills.

Face-to-Face Encounters

TRACK4 conflict and negotiation simulations are face-to-face encounters. While electronic and online simulations can be effective and are gaining in popularity, TRACK4 is a live negotiation: as such, it recreates the dynamics, pressures, unpredictability and humanness of an actual negotiation, and mirrors the challenges faced by those directly involved in a conflict.

Detailed and highly structured scenarios and roles

Many simulations today are run ad hoc and focused on crisis scenarios – participants are given very little information on the individual/group they represent. As a result, rather than refine their understanding of the interests of various parties or the political and diplomatic realities, participants are focused on crisis management, or develop ‘creative’ proposals that are not implementable in the context of the actual conflict. This often leads to improbable outcomes, and can mislead participants as to the nature of the players’ interests and motives, or the possibilites and limits of peacemaking. 

A good simulation requires a design and supporting materials that reproduce the actual dynamics between parties, unearth the real points of contention at the table, and mirror the positions and beliefs of various actors.

In order to ensure this outcome, we develop detailed and tightly structured background materials and role packets for participants. Each role pack includes:

  • Background information on the conflict, including lessons learned from any past negotiations
  • A short biography of the character represented
  • Information on the person’s concerns, beliefs, political positions, agenda
  • A list of sources that help further explain the individual’s viewpoint
  • A strategy advisory about how to approach and behave in the negotiation
  • A specific agenda for the outcome of the negotiation, including red lines and points of flexibility
  • A list of potential obstacles, including tense relations with team members, biased third parties, or the demands of constituents

Learning Through Time

Traditional conflict and negotiation simulations typically last only a few hours, offering an intense but ultimately limited experience of negotiations. By contrast, TRACK4 simulations can take various forms, including:

  • A one or two day workshop
  • A 5-7 day retreat
  • A half or full three month semester course for university students
  • A bespoke process that takes place over time: for example, a series of one-day meetings over the course of several weeks or months

This extended approach allows participants to absorb concepts and information gradually, and to tailor the experience to their needs and timescales.

Support and Guidance

Throughout the simulation we offer support and input in several ways, including:

  • Coaching to assist you in developing your positions and strategy
  • Providing and organizing sources and background materials
  • Input from real negotiators, officials, analysts or issue specialists who offer an insider’s view on particular topics
  • Personal assessment of your individual negotiation or mediation style, as well as your group proposals and strategies


The TRACK4 simulation process is not ideologically driven and it does not put forth a specific political agenda. 

No exercise is fully objective or free of perspective: our process is guided by many of the views expressed on this website, and each simulation is informed by the knowledge and the experiences of the facilitators and coaches. 

However, it is in the very nature of the TRACK4 process that anyone who would be a relevant player in reality, even those whose views are offensive or whose actions are considered to be anathema, must have their views represented at the negotiation table. None of our simulations are set out to support one side, or lead the scenario in one particular direction. Each role is written to faithfully portray a particular individual or group being represented: their experiences, concerns, ambitions, pressures and aspirations. 

Our primary objective is to support your need to learn about and engage with the parties to the particular conflict you are dealing with. We do this by creating the most authentic scenario and roles, informed by our own research as well as the input of a wide variety of specialists: people who are directly involved in the conflict and help ensure that the roles are developed to convey the beliefs and experiences of real players.

Developing Negotiations-Think

TRACK4 does not assume that recognition or reconciliation will emerge overnight from decades of mistrust or violence, or that there are magic bullet solutions to deep-seated conflicts or deadlocked negotiations. TRACK4 is not a dialogue group and it does not require that parties to a conflict or participants in the exercise trust each other or become friendly. Rather, our aim is to create a space where participants can work toward, or develop ideas for, de-escalating conflict or ending violence regardless of whether tolerance has emerged, mutual respect has been established or reconciliation has begun. 

Whether participants are directly involved in a conflict, interested third parties or concerned observers, TRACK4 simulations give them an opportunity to refine their understanding of the options available for peace-making or conflict management; or, if the time is not ‘ripe’ for negotiations, to discover strategies that each side can pursue separately in their own interests.

Our scenarios encourage participants to focus less on their ideals of what a solution should look like and more on becoming astute analysts of the political, social, economic and diplomatic realities that are defining a conflict at a particular moment. Our simulation scenarios allow participants to explore the possibilities for movement within the context of these realities, given the central players who are influential at the time we run the module, and the situation on the ground.

One important result is that while considering proposals for de-escalation or peace making, participants do not focus only on whether proposals are equitable or reasonable. They must also determine whether the various concessions and trade-offs can be sold to competing constituents on their own side; and how the plans would be perceived by their adversaries.

TRACK4 and the Israel/Palestine Conflict

TRACK4 runs a special simulation program dealing with the Israel/Palestine conflict. This includes several ‘real time’ simulations that deal with current issues, and one historical simulation set in Palestine in the 1930s, which allows participants to learn about the crucial period between the 1880s and the 1930s. 

These simulations are relevant for those who have a long-term interest in addressing the conflict, as parties or third parties. It aims to provide activists, community leaders, journalists, analysts, policymakers and future diplomats with the knowledge and skills to enhance their understanding of, and reconfigure their approach to, the Israel/Palestine conflict.


1. Let your enemy be your enemy 

TRACK4 simulations are not dialogue groups or humanizing exercises. We do not seek to turn enemies into friends, or encourage you to sympathize with or adopt each other’s ‘narrative’. Instead, we aim to provide you with the language, skills and tools you need to address each other as adversaries, within the context of the conflict itself.

2. You can retain your beliefs while changing your approach

 We do not expect you to change your beliefs about the conflict or adhere to a particular vision of how it should be resolved. Instead, we encourage you to reconsider your approach.

For example, TRACK4 participants focus less on expressing their demands and more on learning to develop strategies that will help them attain their goals. They expend less energy convincing third parties of the justice of their cause and more learning how to articulate their interests and identify those if their adversaries.

3. First, get inside the box

Before developing ‘out of the box’ or ‘creative’ solutions, TRACK4 simulations require you to get into the box.

We suggest that regardless of whether you support or oppose the parties currently in power or the traditional paradigms of peace making, you acquire an insider’s view of the political and diplomatic processes, and the issues that have previously led to impasses. To this end, in a simulation participants:

  • Are immersed in various parties’ experiences, beliefs and fears, as well as the domestic and international pressures they face
  • Manage difficult internal tensions that reflect crucial factional divisions within each side
  • Learn about the security, military, territorial, psychological, historical, political, economic and legal aspects of a conflict from a range of perspectives
  • Experience the dynamics between groups involved directly in the conflict and third parties

This allows us to avoid the often-repeated phenomenon whereby like-minded people come together to devise proposals that appear to be eminently reasonable, but are ultimately unworkable because they do not address the true interests of the various parties or the sources of their resistance. You are encouraged to think innovatively only after you have tested your understanding of present realities, and have acquired the skills you need to successfully formulate your own strategies and vision for the future.  

4. The time is always ripe for negotiations-think

Negotiations-think is a key competence imparted through the TRACK4 process. It helps you to confront proposals in the present that you feel are unviable and reflect concretely on which solutions would work best for your people in the future, regardless of how you feel about how negotiations evolved in the past. 

Negotiations-think challenges you on a personal and analytical level, encouraging you to look soberly at the likely trajectories of the conflict and take stock of your real options. For example, you are encouraged to:

  • Assess the effectiveness of your current strategies and systematically deliberate on how you can refine these in order to attain your goals
  • Reflect upon what you want to achieve in light of questions about what is possible to achieve, given the obstacles you and your people face
  • Consider how you can ‘sell’ your ideas to parties in your own camp who have opposing visions
  • Learn how to address your adversaries, identify their interests and clearly articulate your own

5. Theory and practice are indivisible

TRACK4 negotiations are live, face-to-face encounters where negotiation and mediation skills are acquired through direct human interaction.

In our simulations the reflective and experiential elements of learning are not artificially separated. As a participant, you dive into a situation where you must speak, engage and respond like negotiators and diplomats, while also reflecting and conceptualising like advisers and analysts. You are thus able to test your abilities in several key areas:      

  • Leadership and teamwork: building relations, leading teams with divergent interests and managing tense relations between actors
  • Communication: listening to opponents within your own camp and adversaries on the other side, expressing interests clearly while engaging in heated exchanges and addressing and persuading third parties
  • Negotiation/mediation: devising strategies and negotiating positions, adapting to new and unexpected circumstances, mediating between hostile parties and retaining focus in the face of pressures and exhaustion
  • Self-reflection: developing awareness of strengths and weaknesses, recognizing unproductive patterns of communication and learning to identify intellectual frameworks that help or hinder the realization of objectives
  • Analysis: testing theories of conflict resolution against experience in a ‘live’ negotiation, approaching the conflict from a number of unfamiliar and jarring perspectives, examining and evaluating multiple and conflicting sources and reflecting on patterns of conflict beyond the example at hand

6. If conflicts are not rational, their solutions cannot be rationalised 

Engaging in  a ‘live negotiation’ also imparts a key but often overlooked skill necessary for negotiators or mediators: the readiness to accommodate the strong emotions in the room and allow for heated exchanges between parties with a long history of mistrust, anger or hatred.

By creating a mirror image of the conflict, TRACK4 simulations allow you to experience the visceral and emotional elements of a real encounter, including the dynamics between conflicting parties and within factions. This gives you the opportunity to move beyond rationalist assumptions about conflict resolution and to learn to work with the emotional and intangible elements that often sustain a conflict and make seemingly ‘reasonable’ solutions so elusive. 

7. Personalised feedback and support are essential

TRACK4’s facilitators offer you guidance, support and feedback on your work throughout the simulation – your leadership style, qualities as a team player and negotiation, communication and listening skills. The environment of our simulations allows you to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, and consider how some skills acquired can be transferable to your personal and professional lives. You are encouraged to test a variety of approaches to negotiation and mediation and modify your behavior in the face of changing circumstances. 

You will also receive extensive briefings and coaching from experts in the field – real negotiators, mediators, diplomats, security experts and analysts – who mentor you and your group as you grapple with issues and develop your negotiation strategies. These coaches provide you with a variety of authentic voices to consult and engage with.   

8. A safe environment 

For some participants, the act of engagement in this kind of forum may entail some risk and require courage. Thus, we place a strong emphasis on providing a safe and discreet environment that respects the privacy of all involved, and our meetings are held far from the public eye. Neither the identity of our participants nor the details of the negotiation are to be discussed outside the room. The Chatham House Rule applies to all our simulations.

For more on the educational aspects of the TRACK4, see students brochure. See also Inside the Box: Using Integrative Simulation to Teach Conflict, Negotiation and Mediation; and Educational Philosophy in the French Enlightenment: From Nature to Second Nature

What people say »

“Natasha Gill’s pioneering work in constructing and presenting simulations offers students a nuanced understanding of real time events in complex conflicts. The simulation made the conflict more accessible and transformed the students from passive bystanders to active participants”

Mark Rosenblum, Director, The Michael Harrington Center for Democratic Values and Social Change, Queens College


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