October 16, 2011

ACR 2011 Annual Conference - Daily Recap #3 (Part 2)

The afternoon sessions and evening Section's gathering were full of community-worthy updates and definitely deserving of their own post. Read on for updates and plenty of helpful links...


Always the technology powerhouse at ADR gatherings, the peerless Mediate.com was solidly represented at ACR this year by its near-rockstar-status CEO Jim Melamed and the supremely knowledgeable and helpful Clare Fowler. (Does that earn me "Featured Blog" status?!) In addition to helping conference colleagues setup websites and streamline case management, these two also presented one of their reliably visionary presentations titled: "The Future is Here - Online Marketing, Case Management, and Case Communication." Though I was unable to attend, post-session buzz about their mention of NAFCM's partnership with Mediate.com quickly reached me. This partnership provides current NAFCM program members an up to 67% discount on the standard-setting, cloud-based Case Manager and a nearly 20% savings on their ubiquitous Dynamic Websites. In case you, like me, missed the future, you can always catch one of Mediate.com's Case Manager webinars, which are comfortably accessible from your own chair and futuristic hover chairs

Peacemaker Award

Kicking off the afternoon plenary was the presentation of ACR's Peacemaker Award, accepted this year by W. Timothy Pownall* on behalf of the Straus Institute's PRACIS Project in Faith Based Diplomacy. Tim is a gifted mediator and tireless champion of peace. In addition to his work with the Straus Institute, he also serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution in Reseda, California. His extensive work both near and far should inspire us to embrace our shared humanity and discover opportunities for peace wherever we find ourselves. 

*Tim, along with his administrative right-hand-man and all-around-great-guy Chris Welch, actually gave me my first introduction to community mediation during an internship with CCR while I was completing Straus' Master of Dispute Resolution program. It was great to catch-up with both!

Journey from Mediation to Peacemaking

Moving next into Woody Mosten's plenary presentation, participants were challenged to conceptualize their work as more than mere resolutions to be packaged, consensed, signed, and triplicated. Instead, he encouraged us to view our work through a peacemaker's lens; a lens that takes both the long and deep views of human interaction and humanity's potential. 

Woody's challenge reminded me of the philosophical and promotional diversity found throughout the estimated 400 community mediation programs operating within the U.S. alone. Though equally responsive to their specific community's needs, programs vary widely on the motivating focus of their programming (e.g. emphasizing 'restoration,' compared to 'resolution') and the public image they cultivate (e.g. doves of peace, compared to scales of justice). Rather than bifurcate and strain our connections, however, these differences enrich our field and allow us to attract and introduce the constructive potential of mediation and other conflict-assistive services to wider audiences than any single approach alone would otherwise achieve. 

Increasingly this blended approach is not only visible at the macro level, but also within individual programs. Traditional community mediation programs are adding restorative processes to their service portfolio, and many restorative justice programs now also offer more traditional ADR processes to their communities. This blended approach is likely motivated by a number of economic, social, and pragmatic considerations, but the end result is a field more connected and with a greater capacity to assist those seeking justice of its varied alternative, informal, restorative, social, and other technicolored manifestations.

Real Dialogue in Restorative Justice

With so many exceptional presentations, many were frustratingly out of reach for any single conference goer to attend. Thankfully, I received updates from several colleagues in between sessions, such as Karmit's review of Rochell Arms A. and Jessica Hillard's "Creating Space for Real Dialogue in Restorative Practices - A Tale of Two Programs." Joined also by Bernard Le Roux via recorded video from Sweden,  this session outlined the use of adult victim-offender mediation for conflicts involving assaults, restraining orders, and pending criminal proceedings. Karmit shared her interest in the programs' acknowledgement and processing of reciprocal victimization often created in tit-for-tat escalated conflicts. This approach allows the participants to garner a deeper understanding of not only how they were harmed, but how they may have also harmed another and how the parties can collaboratively work to repair their collective harm. 

God in the Process

Karmit also shared a quick update on a session focusing on the presence and impact of religion within various conflict-assistive services. This session, "God in the Process: Is there a Place for Religion in Conflict Resolution Processes?," presented several examples of religion interlaced with conflict-assistive services, such as Ho'oponopono and those catalogued by Harvard's Global Negotiation Insight Initiative. While there are a number of community mediation programs directly affiliated with a specific religious institution or tradition (e.g. St. Louis Mennonite Peace Center and Jewish Community Justice Project), most programs' secular neutrality is professionally agnostic to yet personally respectful of participants' religious persuasions, specifically as they may relate to the substance or processing of a given conflict. This openness to and encouragement of mediation participants drawing upon their sources of strength is an example of how these programs embrace their communities' diversity and empower those burdened with harmful conflicts.

Missed Opportunities

Even with these additional updates, several more sessions were just out of reach but deserve notice. These included Jodie H. Jones' presentation on "Inviting Forgiveness into Restorative Justice Processes while Upholding Impartiality." The panel presentation on "Community Integration of Gang Members in the Bay Area: Understanding Gaps in Policy and Social Interventions." And Justine Darling and Jack Hamlin's "Peace Circle Use in Large Scale Community Conflict: A Case Study." 

If any readers were able to attend these or other sessions of note, I encourage you to share your take-aways in the comments section below for our colleagues who were unable to join us in San Diego.

In community,
Executive Director, NAFCM

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