An Inspiring Resource for the “Dispute Resolution Movement”, and Some Thoughts

Kudos to Professor John Lande (one of my heroes in the conflict management field) for his newest publication: Theories of Change for the Dispute Resolution Movement: Actionable Ideas to Revitalize Our Movement.

John’s Indisputably Post February 7th provides a great overview of this unique volume – available for free.

It arose out of John’s worry about the future of ADR in legal education and his sense of discontent with the “usual” conference formats – you know the kind, lots of interesting panels with thought-provoking insights but no call to action. Not surprisingly, people leave the conference and nothing changes.

So he organized an online Theory of Change Symposium inviting people to write short think pieces to “identify realistic strategies that would advance important goals for our field”. He particularly encouraged initiatives that could be applied quickly by small groups working together with an emphasis on action not just more talk.

There was an amazing response. John began to publish, on the Indisputably Blog, groups of responses in batches as they came in. The first group was September 2019 and the fifth was published in January 2020 with a total of 63 submissions. This post provides an index.

John didn’t leave it there. He collected all the submissions, pieces from the Appreciating our Legacy and Engaging the Future Conference (June 2019) and a variety of related posts into this volume.

I haven’t read the entire volume yet, but it is organized into topics to assist exploration:

  • Reflections on the Past-and-Future Conference
  • The Big Picture
  • Impact and Use of Technology
  • Legal Education
  • Professional Training and Practice
  • Research and Scholarship

Should we worry about the future of the “ADR Movement”? Is it at risk of disruption like many businesses including the practice of law? This collection of articles displays a diversity of views – on everything. Some believe that “ADR” is the answer going into the future, and others lament that it is being left behind. John’s point is that regardless of your point of view, it is time to move from worry or complacency to ideas and action. This is a great first step, but what is next?

If one considers the ADR Movement to be a “system” (which interacts with other systems), then it is helpful to consider lessons about system change, complexity science, and human-centred design. Human beings trying to help other human beings in conflict is a complex situation. We are learning to use an approach that is user-centred, systemic, experimental, and participatory. Who are the “users” in this context? Users are primarily the clients/parties, but their lawyers or other representatives, law students and teachers and the conflict management practitioners must be involved. Being systemic means looking for root causes, not just symptoms, and you need a diverse and multi-disciplinary group (including users) to work together to figure this out. This needs an experimental (prototyping) approach which means trying things and learning from failure.

I wonder if this collection of thought-provoking articles could not only spur creative thinking but also form the foundation of a larger approach to grappling with the future of the ADR Movement/System. I have argued elsewhere that conflict management professionals are uniquely qualified to tackle system reform. They have the needed inclination, skills and experience and can see the benefits of well-managed conflict. If ADR needs to re-invent itself, then it needs to prompt members of its own community to step up.

Thank you, John Lande, for your vision and leadership. I’m looking forward to hearing what comes next!

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