Democratic societies’ emphasis on individual rights and freedoms inevitably opens them up to political disputes. Conflict management should thus be seen as an integral part of democratic institutional design. The evolution and management of policy disputes concerning the use of different natural resources in Finland is analysed by using the theoretical models of frame analysis and strategic interaction. The studied disputes include lake fisheries, watercourse regulation, reindeer herding, and forestry. The institutional design in the case studies varies. Despite the differences, many common features are identified that could explain their successes or difficulties in achieving sustainable and cooperative use of the resources. Among these are problems involving complex and uncertain knowledge, differences in frames held by multiple users of a resource, and distrust between the users and other parties. The analysis concludes with preliminary conclusions on how various disputes related to sustainable resource use could be managed. These include addressing the knowledge and frame problems in order to initiate a learning process; establishing sub-processes in which mutual trust between the parties – including a managing authority or a third party – can emerge; giving explicit roles and a clear division of entitlement to the parties; and providing a credible alternative for co-operation that affects the parties’ payoff assessments during the process. Finally, the conflict management process shouldn’t be regarded as a distinct phase of dispute resolution, but as an essential aspect of ongoing co-management practices of resource use.