According to the new conflict methodology in Heidelberg, the HIIK understands a political conflict as a positional difference regarding values relevant to a society, between at least two involved actors, for example ethnic or religious groups or governments. The conflict must be carried out using observable and interrelated conflict means that lie beyond established regulatory procedures and threaten a core state function or the order of international law, or hold out the prospect to do so.
Regarding the intensity of a political conflict the HIIK distinguishes five levels of intensity: dispute, non-violent crises, violent crises, limited war und war. These levels of conflict are distinguished by the stage of physical violence applied in the course of conflict. The last three are violent conflicts, whereas a dispute is a political conflict carried out completely without resorting to violence, in a non-violent crisis one of the actors is threatened with violence. Violent conflicts are measured by the instruments for the use of force (use of weapons and use of personnel) and the consequences of the use of force (casualties, refugees and demolition).