Strengthening Democracy

Helping to pave the way for democratic renewal in the United States and abroad

The Problem

Amid compounded crises –from racism to climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic – authoritarian populism is spiking globally. We are seeing rising levels of extreme political polarization, inequities, collective trauma, and declining social trust. Toxic polarization is often a precursor to authoritarianism and is a symptom of social-identity-driven discontent associated with unaddressed discrimination, prejudice, and public erasure, contributing to political gridlock and the normalization of dehumanization and targeted violence.

These dynamics have a corrosive impact on national capacities to solve consequential collective problems and actualize electoral and democratic ideals.

To meet this moment, there is an urgent need to better understand the psychological forces and intergenerational legacies that shape our fears, anxieties, outrage, and distrust of each other. Coupled with traditional methods for addressing conflict and understanding the psychology of what drives us apart can expand our collective imagination of how to build social cohesion and democratic legitimacy.

STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY UPDATES

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Beyond Conflict
198 Tremont Street, Suite 453
Boston, MA 02116

Our Approach

To address these multifaceted challenges, Beyond Conflict combines rigorous applied research with practitioner and community leaders’ insight to create programming that centers on the resilience and inherent dignity of the individual and collective to strengthen pluralistic, inclusive democracies.

We conduct research and design programming that centers on historical trauma and social identities – such as race, gender, sexual identities, and religion – to project a more inclusive and expansive future where all people are structurally supported in their inherent belonging. We strive to understand how the narrative, history, and psychology of our identities shape our worldview and, in turn, shape our world, with the goal of promoting community cohesion and democratic renewal. To do this, we utilize a three-stage process: Diagnose, Design, and Redefine.

DIAGNOSE

In partnership with leading social scientists, practitioners, and community leaders, we support research that investigates the intersections of social identity, trauma, and sacred values to better understand the drivers of toxic polarization, rising support for authoritarianism, and deepening social division. In addition to isolating the drivers, we test innovative approaches to intervention to determine scalable approaches for strengthening democracy at home and abroad.

DESIGN

We design trauma-informed programming to reduce social identity-related fear and threat and declining social trust to increase openness to community dialogue and deliberative democracy measures to reduce and counter growing support for authoritarianism globally.

REDEFINE

As we seek to better understand how we compel adherence to democratic norms and reduce popular willingness to violate those norms, our work aims to offer alternative frames to analyze the drivers–and accordant solutions–of democratic decline and rising populist sentiment.

Current Projects

America’s Divided Mind

Following the release of the America’s Divided Mind report, Beyond Conflict expanded its focus on identity-based polarization to explore the range of psychological drivers of social division that threaten American democracy. Our 2022 report, Renewing American Democracy, distills the latest social science research on social identity and division into a practically focused frame. Much of our work is designed to apply social science to practical approaches toward transformational change and democratic renewal in the US and globally. Our current research and initiatives explore how to meaningfully reduce levels of identity threat in a way that increases the effectiveness of cross-group dialogue and negotiations and unpack how social identity conflicts impact an individual’s willingness to adhere to democratic norms.

Contested Histories: Memory and Repair

In partnership with the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, among others, Beyond Conflict is spearheading a multi-year U.S. initiative focused on historical memory and repair. This interdisciplinary effort aims to identify the principles, processes, and best practices for dealing with public memorials and symbols of contested histories, ultimately producing a context-specific, evidence-based, and trauma-informed process for use by community leaders, institutions, historical commissions, and elected officials. The initiative will lead to the first-ever national conferences on contested histories in the U.S., in addition to producing an interactive digital resource hub, and provide strategic support for communities seeking additional guidance on conflict resolution at the nexus of contentious public memorials.

Movements for Social Change

Translating insights from clinical psychology, social psychology, and peacebuilding, this initiative explores how trauma—acute, chronic, and intergenerational—impacts the strategic and tactical choices of social movements. This includes efforts to expand understanding of the role of collective action in collective healing. In partnership with Humanity United, Beyond Conflict is also distilling learning from brain and behavioral science to develop evidence-based guidance for use by advocates globally to inform their messaging strategies concerning their movement’s overarching goals and chosen approach.