How to build dispute resolution capacity in public jurisdictions and systems

Conflict is part of our lives, from Day 1.  Disputes happen; all kinds of disputes.  Public jurisdictions, and systems, should ensure that there are sufficient resources available for people and organizations to resolve disputes.  They should.  Few do.

How to build local capacity

Larry Susskind is a leading figure in the field of public dispute resolution, in the U.S., and around the world.  In a 2010 video interview done for Mediate.com, he outlines a 5-step process that jurisdictions can follow, to build their dispute resolution capacity:

  1. Create demand by educating public officials to this possibility
  2. Create the supply of mediators by providing training and institutionalizing that training
  3. Generate experiments how to fit the idea to the particular culture and legal & political context (although I’m a bias, I love what my government is doing in this regards, as exemplified in this recent Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Pilot Project)
  4. Formulate a theory Learn from the experiments
  5. Institutionalize build capacity to learn and self-generate what’s going to happen next, then get out

Here�s the associated 2 minute, 50 second video clip:

(click here if its not displaying)

Ok, that’s the process.  Why is it so difficult?

A balanced approach

According to Susskind (in the video clip), key challenges in building public dispute resolution capacity are:

  • Building slowly; i.e., at a pace where supply & demand grow in relation to each other
  • Creating a supply of mediators without working equally hard to build the demand just creates endless frustration
  • Building the demand without a local supply of people creates more frustration and discredits the concept
  • Slowly match supply, demand, experimentation, documentation, theory building, fitting the results and the theoretical results to the institutional & legal contexts

I think most jurisdictions, at least in my part of the world, know all this.  Yet, my observation is the weak links are creating demand and experimentation.  In many ways these two items are connected; and deal with making it safe to fail… and learn.

In line with my observations, Susskind is asked in another Mediate.com interview clip what his single piece of advice would be, given his 35 years of mediation/dispute resolution experience, would be to a new mediator entering the field.  His advice, humility, humility, humility.  I think this applies to jurisdictions, too.  Those organizations that aren’t learning as they go, trying new things, approaches, experimenting. yes, failing too are missing the boat.

Check out Susskind’s blog; The Consensus Building Approach.  I find his writings insightful, and a spark of ideas for better decision-making, especially in larger-scale public conflicts.

Your jurisdictions?

And how about the public jurisdictions where you live?  What experiments are they doing, on the dispute resolution capacity-building path?

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