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Out with 2012, in with 2013 . . . .

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Thanks to a gift from my friend Alan Tidwell (his blog can be found at http://storeofideas.net/), I have spent the last few days going through a book that has prompted my end-of-year thoughts for 2012.

The book is The Technology of Nonviolence:  Social Media and Violence Prevention, by Joseph Bock – it’s a treatise on the theory of strategic peacebuiding, and sort of secondarily a commentary on the use of technology as an aid to intervention in violent conflict.  (It’s available at http://www.amazon.com/Technology-Nonviolence-Social-Violence-Prevention/dp/0262017628/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356984229&sr=1-1&keywords=the+technology+of+nonviolence)

Bock introduces the concluding chapter with a quote from Paul Currion:  “Innovation is all well and good, but you can easily miss the forest for the trees . . . . political problems cannot be solved by technological solutions.”  This tracks pretty well with Bock’s attitude throughout the book.  That is to say he’s not greatly enamored of the use of technology, and he’s pretty quick to point out technology’s limitations as part of a response to violent conflict.  It’s a convenient straw man for Currion (I’ve never heard anyone claim that technology can, by itself, solve any kind of problem), and to Bock’s credit he kicks off his conclusion by saying, “. . . violence prevention initiatives at a local level, combined with the support of middle- and top-level leaders, using various combinations of technology, have saved and can save lives.”

Given my well-known affinity for and relationship with online dispute resolution technology, I’m surely more positive about the use of technology than Bock.  As I’ve said on many occasions, the basic tasks facing those who deal with conflict, on pretty much any level, are managing communication, managing information, and managing group dynamics.  ICT has obvious things to contribute to all three, especially in the hands of those who artfully combine technology with traditional approaches to conflict engagement.

But as a catalyst for my end-of-year ruminations, it isn’t Bock’s thoughts on the limitations of technology that set me off:  it was the “have saved and can save lives” comment.

So, for my friends in the world of conflict engagement I have this thought.

Each year, mindfully and intentionally, I reflect on the amazing group of friends and colleagues I have been so fortunate to meet and work with over the years.  From those who deal with peacebuilding at the broadest level, to those who sit at tables between individuals who are in conflict, you are all in a position to affect, if not literally save, lives on a daily basis, and I have the most profound respect and love for all of you.

31
Dec 2012
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Athens on the Web, Revisited

The Obama Administration continues to exert valiant efforts to encourage public participation in policy debates.  From one point of view, the problem is that they are succeeding.

The Citizen’s Briefing Book, the Administration’s first effort at giving voice to a multitude of opinions, undertaken within the first couple of months of the President’s first term, became infamous for the priorities established by the users of their open feedback system.  The number one issue was not war, economic collapse, famine, or rising tides, but legalization of marijuana (based on recent election results, it seems someone may have been listening) and calls for proof of the President’s citizenship.

Anand Giridharadas, writing in The New York Times, contrasted the passing age when “ we would elect people to govern us and sporadically renew or revoke their contracts” with the new age of open electronic communication where governance could include “all of us, all the time.”  The first results were “embarrassing – not so much to the administration as to us.”  [‘Athens’ on the Net, NYT, September 13, 2009]

In the interim, the Administration has refined the public input process, setting up a requirement for petitions to be offered, with the further requirement that the petitions garner a sufficient number of endorsements online (currently 25,000 endorsers) before an Administration official responds online.  The headline in today’s Washington Post says it all about the current state of citizen input:  “The People Speak:  Give Us Twinkies and Death Stars.”  A petition to have the President compromise with Congress and avoid the “fiscal cliff” so “young people can have bright futures” currently has fewer than 650 endorsers.  [David Nakamura, The Washington Post, December 10, 2012, p. 1]

At one time the debate in the world of public participation may have been about what technology to use and how to use it to open up public dialogue, but the explosion of free or cheap online technology has made the “how do we do it?” question, in a technical sense, much easier to answer.  Having easy to access and easy to use technology creates channels, but largely the information flowing through those channels demonstrates that there are a pretty fair percentage of chuckleheads out there among our fellow citizens.

Does ease of access to the public dialogue mean that we get a more robust debate over important issues?  Or does making it as easy to weigh in on policy discussions as it is to Tweet about how long it took for the barista to make a latte create a diluting effect?  The question for those who engage in facilitation and manage public dialogue online now has to be how to frame and manage public policy issues to focus the public at large in a constructive way.  If we don’t figure it out, policy makers will continue to be occupied with petitions to bail out the Twinkie.

10
Dec 2012
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Israel-Palestine Class Cancelled

Due to security concerns, SMU has cancelled the scheduled July, 2013, study abroad course for Israel and Palestine.

09
Dec 2012
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Buenos Aires Mediation Class

On our recent visit to Buenos Aires, Julia and I had the pleasure of having a discussion with the students in Alberto Elisavetsky’s mediation course – we had a particularly lively discussion about process, caucuses, etc., during which one of the students really defended their basic process and questioned the use of caucuses (particularly pre-session caucuses).   Interestingly, the model used by the Center, and in some university courses in BA, is basically the “Harvard model” (interest based).  The students in this course were all professionals, working as CPA’s or in other economic fields, so our discussion may have been different if we’d been talking with family mediators or workplace mediators, but the basic interest based model, with little overt adaptation for culture, seems to be the baseline model for mediation in Argentina.  Coincidentally, the issue of the ABA Dispute Resolution Journal that came while we were in BA contained an article on caucusing, which I shared with Alberto for distribution to his class.

Here’s Alberto’s Facebook post regarding the session with Julia and me:

Encuentro con mediadores de Estados Unidos, Odr Latinoamerica facilito un encuentro presencial en Buenos Aires Argentina a temario abierto con los Profesores Dan Rainey Director del National Mediation Board de los Estados Unidos & la Profesora Julia Morelli especialista en conflictos en el ámbito del trabajo del estado de Virginia (EEUU), con un grupo de mediadores profesionales en Ciencias Económicas.

30
Nov 2012
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ODR and Mediator Ethics

 

The Fordham University ADR Conference scheduled for last week in New York City was, for obvious reasons, cancelled, but I had prepared a short talk on the impact of technology on the ethics of mediation to present at the conference.   To begin thinking about the issue, I reviewed the ethics guidelines of the AAA, ABA, ACR, JAMS, the Commonwealth of Virginia (where I live), and the State of Texas (one of the states in which I teach).  This link – ODR Ethics Prezi – is to the Prezi graphic presentation that I was going to use at the Fordham conference.  Obviously, a lot of the presentation was going to be oral, but the landing points in the Prezi give some indication of where I was going with the issue of ethics and ODR.

I pulled 14 issues related to ethics that appeared in the ethics statements of the organizations mentioned above, and created a grid to show which ones were common and which ones popped up routinely across the board.  I chose four of the fourteen issues on which to concentrate for the presentation.  Arguably, all of the issues are affected by technology, but it seemed to me that, for purposes of a short presentation, the four I pulled out were the most affected, or at least the most obviously affected.  The four are:  Competence of the Third Party, Confidentiality of the Process, Quality of the Process, and Advancement of the Practice of Mediation.

Under Competence I was going to address certification, training and training content, mentoring and co-mediation, and review processes for third parties who use technology.  Confidentiality brought up issues of what representations the third party can make regarding confidentiality online, the responsibility of the parties to maintain confidentiality, the nature of “deleted” content online (it’s almost never really deleted in a final sense), and hacking or file sharing.  Quality of the process is related to the comfort level of the parties in a strange venue, the computer literacy of the parties and the expertise in using technology by the third party.  Finally, Advancement of the Practice of Mediation, suggests issues related to integration of ODR into F2F modes, use of varied communication and data handling channels, and the use of evaluation and data analysis methods.

I’ve been invited by The ADR Commercial Law Journal to write an article about this topic – as scant as the information in the Prezi is, and as thumbnail-like as my comments here are, I’d appreciate any comments or observations that might be useful as I prepare the article – post them as comments on this blog, or send them to my e-mail address .

 

07
Nov 2012
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A Mixed Week

This has been an up and down week on the East Coast, as you might imagine.    On the up side, although some of us on this coast found life a little disrupted, there was still record participation in CyberWeek, which is one more testament to the fact that the use of technology to address various kinds of conflict situations is no longer on the fringe.  The level of the discussions, both in terms of numbers and in terms of quality, was remarkable, as was the amount of new information that surfaced during the week.  It is always the case that even those of us who think about technology and conflict engagement a lot will find in the CyberWeek interactions something to stretch our thinking or open up new ways of looking at the world.  Again this year, sincere thanks to the Werner Institute at Creighton for hosting, and thanks to Cornell for reviving the online mediation competition.

On the down side, PeaceTones did not win the Innovating Justice award, but we were one of the final three programs in consideration for the award, and that speaks volumes about the vision and the great heart of Jeff Aresty, who was there at The Hague representing PeaceTones.

06
Nov 2012
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Innovating Justice Update

 

We were just informed that PeaceTones made the cut as one of the final three projects being considered for the award this year.  Jeff will be on a plane to the Hague to be there in case we are the ultimate winner.

29
Oct 2012
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Innovating Justice Project

 

 

The Innovating Justice Project of The Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law has just informed us that PeaceTones has made it to the final round of six to be assessed by the judges in the 2012 Innovating Justice Awards competition.  The top three will be invited to The Hague in November, where the winner for 2012 will be announced.  For more information on the competition, click here.  For more information about PeaceTones, click here.

23
Oct 2012
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Conflict Engagement Specialists

My interview with Dave Hilton on Conflict Engagement Specialists, the first in a series of interviews with conflict engagement professionals, was posted today.  To see and hear the interview, click here.

18
Oct 2012
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Mediation in the Mainstream: From Courthouse to Conference Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight at the Creighton Law School I presented “Mediation in the Mainstream,” a talk about the nature of mediation and the array of conflict engagement found coming out of the mainstream.  I’ve posted my notes for the talk (minus the graphics from the Power Point) – to see the basic text of the talk, click here: MediationintheMainstream – Post Copy

18
Oct 2012
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