As a way to start a conversation about the impact of technology – online and offline – on the various practices that make up conflict engagement in all its forms, I have worked with a group of SMU graduate students to draft a set of annotations to the Model Rules for Mediation published by the ABA, ACR, and AAA. At the moment, at least one law review article is being written in response to the annotations, and they will be the subject of discussion at several upcoming conferences, including, I hope, the 2017 ODR Forum in Paris next June. To see a copy of the annotations, click on the link below.
Routledge has just announced a new, soon-to-be-released, book: The Mediation Handbook. A preliminary look at the chapters and authors can be found at this link: Handbook. Chapter 2, Online Technology: The New Frontier for Mediation and Conflict Engagement, was co-authored by Alan Tidwell and me – an excerpt from the chapter is included below, as a gentle advertisement for the book.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) now link the globe, yet even with their tremendous growth and innovation we have barely begun to feel the depth of their impact. The International Telecommunications Union announced that as of 2015 “… there are more than 7 billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, up from less than 1 billion in 2000. Globally 3.2 billion people are using the Internet, of which 2 billion are from developing countries” (ITU, 1, 2015). The fledgling world of online dispute resolution, including mediation, peacemaking and peacebuilding, has yet to be fully realized. The impact of this ever increasingly networked world has the potential to remake conflict engagement.
Any observer of the conflict engagement movement would acknowledge its diverse and wide-ranging character. Mediators, peace activists, lawyers, aid workers, community organizers, and more coalesce under the broad conflict engagement banner. That same diversity of practice and perspective is replicated in the world of online dispute resolution (ODR). Before delving into the diverse ways in which technology is being used by conflict engagers, we offer a definition and make two caveats. Firstly, online dispute resolution was initially used to describe the ways in which the internet could be used to facilitate mediation, negotiation, or other similar processes in the realm of e-commerce. Over time, however, ODR has broadened to include the use of any ICT through the broad range of dispute resolution and prevention. We suggest that the most useful definition is that ODR is the intelligent application of information and communication technology to any of the varied modes that make up the practice of conflict engagement. Following that, the first caveat concerns our use of the phrase conflict engagement to include a broad church of practitioners, scholars and readers including those interested in alternative dispute resolution, mediation, peacemaking, peacebuilding and many more. We do this because there are many ways that we, as third parties, engage with those who are in the cycle leading up to conflict, are in active conflict, and are dealing with the aftermath of conflict—and not all of our intervention efforts are aimed toward resolution. So, we will use the broader term to suggest that the entire sweep of conflict engagement is, and should be, affected by the use of ICT. The second caveat is that technology has been an integral part of conflict engagement since its inception. It simply was not often noticed. Just as a fish does not notice water, people have a hard time recognizing the ways in which the technology surrounding them affects their work. Our argument is that because of the ubiquitous nature of ICT in our everyday lives, it is absolutely inevitable that ODR technology will play a central role in all forms of conflict engagement—especially for our purposes here the practice of mediation—as we move further into the 21st Century.
Mediators, and indeed all conflict engagement professionals, do three things wherever they work: they help parties manage communication; they help parties deal with and understand data; and they help parties manage group dynamics. Three of the basic features of information and communication technology and ODR are that they create and use a vast array of communication channels; they help us deal with and understand information in ways not possible in the past; and they help us redefine and expand the concept of what a group is. Given these parallels, how can ODR technology not basically impact mediation and conflict engagement?
After many twists and turns, the new book on “alternative” approaches to alternative dispute resolution is out and available. Julia has a chapter in the book: “Developing Embodied Awareness and Action in Conflict Resolution.” The book is published by Kumarian Press (Lynne Rienner Publishers) – it is not yet available on Amazon.com.
This week Julia and I have been in Geneva with an outstanding group of SMU graduate students, visiting international conflict intervention organizations, including the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, and the new Transitional Justice program at the University of Geneva. Several of this group are also involved in the annotated model rules project that I started with the ODR group from SMU.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the ODR Forum in the Hague this year, but I am on the agenda on Tuesday, May 24, via video. My very brief remarks introduce a project that is underway with students in the graduate dispute resolution program at Southern Methodist University to annotate the ABA/AAA/ACR Model Rules for Mediators. Click on the link above for the 4 minute intro to the project.
The Spring 2016 edition of the ABA Litigation Journal (Vol. 42, No. 3) contains an article by Jeff Aresty, Robin West, and me – pp. 41-45. The article is entitled, “Building the Justice Layer of the Internet,” and is a critique of the legal profession and a call to be involved now in the development of an Internet justice layer that delivers “justice” in a way that the traditional justice system does not. Our argument for immediate attention to the justice layer of the Internet can be distilled to a reasonably simple point: For poor people “. . . access to justice remains illusory . . . “, but “. . . this wouldn’t be the case if access did not depend on systems created in a barely post-Medieval world.”
Later this year, Taylor & Frances/Routledge publishers will release The Handbook of Mediation: Theory, Research and Practice, in which Alan Tidwell and I have a chapter related to the impact of information and communication technology on mediation and other forms of conflict engagement.
The upcoming edition of the ABA Litigation Journal, due out late this month, will include and article entitled, “The Justice System and the New Social Operating System,” co-authored by Jeff Aresty, Robin West, and me.
Julia and I spent part of the afternoon experiencing a most unusual and unsettling art installation at the National Building Museum in Washington. The installation is entitled Gardens Speak and is the work of Tania El Khoury. The installation in Washington was produced by Laila Abdul-Hadi Jadallah. From Washington, Gardens Speak goes on to Cairo, Beirut, and Amsterdam, and, I hope, many other locations. An extensive article on the artist and the work can be found in The Guardian.
The installation program guide describes the piece this way:
“Gardens Speak is an interactive sound installation based on the oral histories of ten ordinary people who were buried in gardens across Syria. Each narrative has been carefully constructed with the friends and family members of the deceased to retell their stories as they themselves may have recounted it. They are compiled with audio and video traces of their final moments.”
I will honor the artist’s desire for the work to be experienced without prior description, but I will say that the essence of the experience puts one on and in the ground with the dead to hear their stories, relating their (permanent) and our (temporary) relationship with the earth of the garden in which they lie.
A young woman spoke to me from the grave. She spoke of her family garden where she drank tea in the afternoon. She spoke of wanting to protest the Assad regime. She spoke of her mother, father, brother, and husband forcing her to stay away from the protests to protect her and the fetus she was carrying. At prayer, in the safety of her home, a shell burst through the roof of her parents home, killing her and her unborn child.
Coming out of the experience, we sat and talked about everything but the installation with a group who had gone through with us (a maximum of ten can go through at one time). Later, at dinner in one of our favorite restaurants, having had a little space to think, Julia and I talked of the experience. I had to excuse myself to find a private place to wipe the tears from my eyes. Even those who truly care about the horrors that make up the everyday lives of millions who are caught in war and tyranny can become numb and insensitive to suffering. Sometimes, it takes an experience like Gardens Speak to pull one back from the intellectual appreciation of peacebuilding to the visceral feelings that a lack of peace may generate.
The last step of the installation was an invitation for each visitor to write something to bury in the soil, possibly to be sent to the family of the victim who spoke directly. I wrote the first rough draft of a short poem.
On Thursday, April 7, from 11:00 a.m. until 121:15 p.m., I will be part of a panel: “No Longer an Experiment: The Evolution of Federal ADR.” My fellow panelists will be:
I will discuss the integration of ADR into all of the National Mediation Board’s work, and “cutting edge” uses of ADR and technology.
The full schedule can be found on the Conference Web Site.