The need to find means to govern relations around the world for the prevention of war and conflict is a relatively new idea in human history. Over the last 200 years, this notion has gone through several transformations in search of alternatives to the hegemonic concept of great powers at its origin. Since, international contacts, collaboration and negotiations have significantly diversified and expanded beyond interstate relations. This expansion of structured international contacts has been taking place since the late nineteenth century through the growing numbers of professional associations, organisations for technical cooperation in various fields, international university and research cooperation and learned societies, labour movements and, of late, social movements and other civil society organisations. International tourism, cheap air travel, exchange programmes and the rise of electronic media are adding to the web of international contacts. Large-scale migrations and displacements for a variety of reasons represent yet another layer of interconnectedness.
In this chapter, we argue that greater focus on people—and meaningful conversations about what matters to the parties—has the potential to reduce conflict and take advantage of the wide range of expertise and experience that not only exists in different departments of government but across many sub-sovereign, professional, civic organisations and individuals. Our experience in hosting conversations among international groups of people provides empirical evidence that such formats are well suited to entice participants in the process to engage and to own the process and its results. The high degree of attentive listening to others and self-organisation has demonstrated the capacity to use diversity as a resource instead of seeing it as a complication for negotiation and search for solutions. The listening and framing techniques can usually accommodate the unconscious and unspoken values, deeply held beliefs and implicit sense of sacredness that so often form obstacles in more conventional settings. We emphasise the integration and accommodation of different perspectives as a way to overcome self-defeating overspecialisation and fragmentation with their increasingly dangerous unintended consequences. The focus here is on practice as an underutilised source of co-creating desirable futures.