April 25, 2012

ABA Dispute Resolution Conference Recap - Day 2

Following Thursday's many activities, Friday's agenda followed-up with its own packed and powerful set of sessions. Below is a short recap of the various sessions I was able to attend.

Violence Interrupter Extraordinaire

Kicking off the morning was a buttoned-down bowtie paradigm-shattering plenary presentation by Cobe Williams. Unlike the many business-card-collecting, for-hire ADR practitioners who sat with rapt attention, Cobe employs conflict engagement on the often unforgiving Chicago streets as a Violence Interrupter with the innovative CeaseFire organization.

Featured in a new and roundly acclaimed documentary "The Interrupters," Cobe shared a number of clips from the video detailing his involvement interrupting an imminently violent situation. Throughout the clips and his supplementary commentary, Cobe spoke in a familiar language about his decidedly foreign context. "Preparation," "party self-determination," "trust," "neutrality," "honest listening," "flexibility." These words perfectly reflect the activities and values held by high-rise mediators. They also resonate perfectly with the high-stakes, gang-involved, gun-wielding conflicts in which Cobe skillfully intervenes, often with lifesaving consequence.

For folks interested in learning more about Cobe's work and that of other violence interrupters, I strongly encourage you to attend a local screening or buy the DVD of "The Interrupters." They have also created a supplementary website full of resources, including a community engagement guide (PDF).

Model Forms

From the tough streets to staid courtrooms, I moved next into a session titled: "Some Assembly Required (But Not Much): Model Materials and Their Ideas for Program Design and Evaluation." Hosted by Timothy Hedeen, and featured a panel composed of Philip Moses, CADRE; Jennifer Shack, RSI and presenter of NAFCM's two-part webinar Making the Most of Your Data; and Donna Shestowsky, UCDavis School of Law. The session recounted a number of ongoing projects to produce model forms for use with court-related and specialty mediation contexts. (This session was of particular interest because of NAFCM's own plans to develop model forms for community mediation programs! Stay tuned...)

In addition to a recap of how these projects were developed, Donna also provided a review of some new research she's undertaken that evaluates the attractiveness of different dispute resolution procedures for those in conflict. Her research, which is still being processed, gathered extensive pre- and post-survey responses from over 400 actual disputants from throughout the country who were involved in active court filings. Some of the more interesting findings she was able to report, included:
  • The difference in attractiveness between mediation, attorneys' negotiating with clients present, and a judge trial were all statistically insignificant.
  • Possible predictors of procedure attractiveness that were evaluated, included: case type, role in case, party type (individual, organization, etc.), opposing party type, defendant or plaintiff, gender, ethnicity, age group, insurance involvement, future relationship, estimated probability of winning, and court location. Interestingly, NONE of these variables predicted how attracted litigants were to using mediation! (If this finding holds throughout her final assessment, it would serve as a strong suggestion to mediation advocates that alternative selling points should be highlighted when attempting to attract parties to the mediation table.)
Mediation in the Arab Spring

Part of the inspiring nature of Mediators Beyond Borders is its ability to connect colleagues and ideas across traditional boundaries. This inspiration was on display in full force during a session titled: "Can Mediation Take Root in the Arab Spring?." Facilitated by Lynn Cole, MBB's new Board President, the session included powerful presentations from women throughout the Middle East, including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. They each spoke about how mediation and ADR services generally could help enhance their local citizenry's access to justice, and how it could open important dialogues. "As greater acceptance of free expression fills the Middle East," one speaker proffered, "the need for the facilitative tools of dialogue increases."

MBB & Israel's "Mixed Cities"

Rounding out the conference on an international theme, my final session was another MBB event titled: "Cross Cultural Narrative Transformation in Israel's 'Mixed Cities'." This session featured a short intro to narrative mediation, and a more thorough review of one of MBB's projects to support community mediation programs in Israel.

Community mediation has a strong foundation in Israel with 24 local programs, a financial supporter in the Gishurim, and central training and technical assistance coordination offered through Nurit Bachrach's Mosaica Center for Conflict Resolution. MBB's original project involved developing a training curriculum for Jewish-Arab co-mediators to mediate Jewish-Arab disputes. As MBB continues their connection with our Israeli counterparts, additional support is being explored, including possible adoption of Mediate.com's Case Manager via NAFCM's member pricing, and a more formal exchange of experiences between Israeli and U.S. community mediation programs. Both of these possibilities are terribly exciting, and I look forward to seeing how they develop!

While there wasn't enough time to thoroughly unpack the concepts of narrative mediation, a few key points were shared that caught my attention, including:
  • Narrative mediation helps us reduce the clarity of rigid, dualistic, and localized conceptualizations of the world, and then helps rebuild a more dynamic, complex, and global understanding.
  • Narrative mediation helps complexify one's narrative. That complexification broadens perspective and helps one gain agency over the conflict rather than the other way around.
  • A new Center for the Study of Narrative and Conflict Resolution has been established at George Mason's S-CAR.
Finally, this session also included an elegant vision for Mediators Beyond Borders, which I captured as: "In response to conflict, rather than sending military might around the world, MBB seeds and supports mediators' minds." This is a wonderful description of the great work MBB performs under the strong leadership of our good friend and colleague Charlie Pillsbury. In as much as their vision dovetails with NAFCM's own mission to support peacemakers, I personally look forward to discovering opportunities where our collective efforts may enhance our respective aims.

Community Spottings

Regularly billed as the world's largest ADR conference, this year's gathering included a number of our community mediation friends and aligned colleagues. Some of the hallway spottings included: Alyson CarrelCenter for Conflict Resolution (Chicago); Cheryl CutronaGood Shepherd Mediation Program (Philadelphia); Lou Gieszl and Rachel WohlMACROAlan E. GrossNew York Peace Institute (NYC);  Timothy HedeenNAFCM ElderSandy HeierbacherNCDDMegan JohnstonNorthern Virginia Mediation Service (Fairfax); Mark Kleiman, Community Mediation Services (Queens, NY) and NAFCM ElderJim Melamed and Clare FowlerMediate.comJody B. MillerMediation Center of Dutchess County (Poughkeepsie, NY); Charlie PillsburyMBBCobe Williams, Violence Interrupter with Cease Fire (Chicago); and Susan YatesJennifer Shack, and Heather Scheiwe KulpRSI. There were likely many other friendly passings and wonderful smiles that've I've missed here, and for that, my sincere apologies. (Feel free to jog my feeble mind in the comments below!)

If you weren't able to join us in D.C. this year, I hope you'll be able to be part of the Section's 15th Annual Spring Conference in Chicago on April 3-6, 2013! I'll be there taking notes, representing our community network, and (hopefully) catching up with you in the hallways!

In community,
Executive Director, NAFCM

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