Mobile Mediation: Mediation as Close as Your Telephone

Moderated by Kristen Blankley

As Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) grows, mediators have been looking for ways to apply technology to dispute resolution.  One of the newest areas of online dispute resolution is the use of “smartphone” or tablet technology in dispute resolution, notably mediation.  While similar to mediation online, mediation by mobile device offers some unique opportunities and difficulties, and this post will seek to discuss those points.  Because participants utilize their mobile device to mediate their disputes, this type of practice is becoming known as “mobile mediation.” 

 

Please feel free to add your own thoughts and perspectives.

 

Benefits

 

Utilizing mobile devices in mediation has at least two major advantages.  The first advantage is accessibility and connectivity.  Smartphone use is becoming more and more common among the public, and some people are trading in their laptops for tablets.  Many people are comfortable using their phones, and “mobile mediation” would give these people the chance to participate in mediation in a way that is hopefully comfortable to them.  In addition, the participants may feel safer by participating in mediation from a comfortable place, such as at home or from the office.  Mobile mediation may also help with accessibility in rural areas, by increasing accessibility to mediation.

 

Mobile mediation also has the benefit of utilizing the camera function on the phone.  The camera can be used like a video camera and can be used to give all of the participants a “real time” view of certain elements of the dispute.  For instance, a camera could be used to give a current view of damage to an automobile in a car accident case, broken tree limbs and damage to a house in a dispute over insurance coverage, or even personal injuries to self or others.  Parties rarely have the opportunity to “show and tell” in traditional mediation, and this technology could help increase understanding by giving increased access to information.

 

Drawbacks

 

As with any type of ODR process, the parties lose some elements of communication by not being in the same room.  While the video and the camera do help with communicating non-verbal cues, sometimes there is no substitute for in person meetings.  ODR processes, including mobile mediation also raise some security concerns regarding the security of the technology and whether the process will involve “off camera” onlookers. 

 

The technology, too, brings some additional drawbacks.  Smartphones and tablets have smaller screens than computers, and participants may find it difficult to be looking at a split screen showing all of the different participants on a small phone screen.  In addition, in some areas, access to wireless networks or appropriate bandwidth may be a problem.  Video conferencing technology requires significant bandwidth so that the video can stream without interruptions, skips, or pauses for information loading.   

 

Have you used this technology yet?  How do you like it?  Are you willing to consider it?

Moderator Bio:

Kristen M. Blankley is an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, where she teaches on a wide variety of alternative dispute resolution topics, including negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.  She is a 2004 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where she graduated with a Certificate of Dispute Resolution.  Since her graduation, she has been active in the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution, and she is also a mediator.  Prior to joining the University of Nebraska, Professor Blankley was an attorney with the firm Squire, Sanders LLP (Columbus, Ohio office), where she focused her practice on business litigation. 

Professor Blankley also an active scholar in the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution, publishing on arbitration, mediation, and ethics in alternative dispute resolution issues.  She has written on topics including class action arbitrations, judicial review of arbitration awards, mediation ethics, and mediation confidentiality. 

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Good topic Kristen. Your points on the benefits of the smartphone as conflict resolution tool make sense to me for lots of reasons. At a very simple level (as a relatively late adopter of a mobile phone), I remember being really impressed by a friend when they brought another person into a three-way call to solve a problem we were sorting out. I don't think I've ever seen a guide to best practice for three-way calls, but it seems like a kind of a foundational on the spot mediation skill that deserves greater attention.

Another point in terms of benefits (or problems) of smart phones is the ability to tag photos and other materials by the location where they were created. Apparently NYC process-servers have been making good use of this in modernized versions of apps supporting their work. I wonder what ways this GPS feature might be most helpful to mobile mediators?

And because I can't resist, a bit of humor re the evolution of technology.

Thanks Kristen  for allowing beginners like me to understand the benefits of mobile phone in conflict resolution. As for the drawbacks, in develping countries, not everyone can afford a tablet or a smart phone and on top of this, the Internet mobile is most of the time out of the financial capabilities of ordinary people. My question is how to address affordability in a context of a conflict involving poor young people who struggle to afford even units to make regular calls or sms?

Great topic, Kristen -- I read a while back about how disputes are being resolved by smartphones, because people have google in their pocket, so they can look up facts on demand!

I was wondering if anyone has examples of dispute resolution apps that are worth checking out.  I heard about a divorce mediation app a year or two ago, not sure if it went anywhere.  I'd also like to hear about non-dispute resolution apps that may be useful for mediators.

rah

Professor Blankley, 

Thank you for posting this information about mobile mediation. I agree with the fact that mobile mediation has been able to incorporate the "show and tell" aspect but it is also true that we as a society are increasingly relying on technology to have quick access to communication. I feel as though this level of communication is not as strong as it used to be when individuals were required to confront the issues face to face. I also feel as though the more we depend on technology, the faster individuals will forget what communication in person has to offer. 

What do others think about this communication issue? Will mobile mediation surpass the effectiveness of face-to-face mediation? 

Thanks for the wonderful comments.  They are very thought-provoking.

Bill ~  I had not previously considered the very real problems with GPS locators on mobile phones these days.  This type of safety concern should be considered when choosing a platform for using mobile mediation.

Mamadou ~  You are right to bring up the issue surrounding access.  Access has been an issue as long as online dispute resolution has been an issue.  Even five years ago, we probably would not be having this conversation, and five years from now, this type of technology might be even more ubiquitous.

Colin ~  I have been working with Guiseppe Leone on some mobile mediation simulations.  We had been using the Zoom meeting platform with some participants on mobile phones and some participants on PC.

Sindi ~ Thanks for the comments.  I also hope to hear more thoughts on the issue.

Professor Blankley,

I think people will inevitably have to consider the use of technology in mediation as the field moves forward.  Given how connected people are with their devices today, I can only imagine the trend will continue to grow.  That being said, I think mediators will have to carefully consider how they will develop the use of the technology.  One thing that comes to my mind is the expectation of privacy and confidentiality.  Once something is online, it is out there in "the world".  With enough time, effort, money, and skill, a person could gain access to any precariously stored information or access a real-time mediation.  I think the key moving forward will be developing online platforms which can be utilized to provide a comfortable environment for mobile mediation participants. 

After reading some of the comments, I see that there are currently some platforms being used, or at least being developed.  Professor Blankley, do you have any comments regarding how mediators are tackling the confidentiality issue as the use of technology is being embraced by the mediation profession?

Hi all - 

What a great conversation! I want to add on a bit of food for thought:

Mobile communications, in the form of smartphones and tablets, don't only put smart, shiny tools like GPS (Bill), Google (Colin) and video (Kristen) in our pockets. They also put our "low-tech" comm tool - our good old email inboxes - in our pockets; changing, forever, the way we use this tool and therefore how we use it to engage with conflict.

In addition, they put a very wide range of communication options right there in our palm, at the same time: text messages via SMS, longer text messages augmented with pics and vid through Viber or WhatsApp, email, and videocalls (and these are only relatively large points on the spectrum, with lots of smaller ones in between). This ability for mediators and for negotiating parties to pick and choose their communication medium for any particular interaction is amazing - and throws everything we are familiar with out of whack.

A few months ago, a book in which I have a chapter for on email negotiation went into a second edition, and I sat down to update my chapter, thinking it would take me a few hours. Instead, it took me a couple of months, and the result was a completely different chapter - as sea changes such as the rise of mobile had changed, well, everything. Even now, as I'm waiting for the book to come out, I'm constantly jotting notes down for a future update to the chapter, as things are really changing that fast. I've put the piece up even before it's been published, in order to capture the wisdom of the Cyberweek crowd. Check it out herehttp://ssrn.com/abstract=2348111   and tell me what I need to update!  

Thank you so much for your paper Noam! Very timely for me as I am doing two company mediations right now as we speak (well almost) one on Modria and one by email and phone.

The UK small claims court provides a free mediation service in which all mediators use the telephone as the sole medium. I must check whether any are also adding notes as they go along.It seems to me that what often is useful when mediating by telephone is an immediate way to put down in writing points of agreement, facts/statements to share with the other party etc.which could then be emailed or placed in some private space.

The question is whether the informality of such communication damages the mediation process. Will parties have less trust in the confidentiality of the process and thus be less open in the caucus discussion. 

Graham

.

More great comments!  Thanks to everyone for participating so far.

The question about (in)formality is a great one for the mediator to consider.  I've always considered there to be something "magic" about F2F mediations.  Largely, I have attributed that to the fact that when a third-party neutral sits down between two parties (either in the same room or in different rooms), the parties feel social pressure to act in a civilized manner.  I don't know how many times I have heard "she's not like that in real life!" in my mediations.  So I do question whether some of that social pressure to be on one's "best behavior" will still exist when the parties are distant either on the telephone or on a video call.  A skilled mediator should be able to rein in some level of incivility, but the sheer fact of distance gives the parties more flexibility in their behavior.

I think that the issue of access and the increasingly global nature of disputes deserves additional attention.  In my work with mediation across the state of Nebraska, I have often encountered some of the difficulties of long distance travel in order to reach rural populations.  Parties often do not live in the same city, state, or even country.  We have now been using online dispute resolution in various forms (from e-mail to telephone and video conferencing) in order to bridge those distances.  Mobile mediation is another way to help bring people together who might no otherwise have had the chance to work out their own dispute.

Interesting topic Ms. Blankley.

I agree that there are some benefits of using mobile devices and other electronic devices during a mediation. The idea of a comfortable environment during a mediation is very important. The drawback of being in the same room with a person that you have a conflict with is that it can present some obstacles in trying to accomplish their goals. For example, two people with conflicting positions may become increasingly angry and/or upset by being near the person they are in current conflict, therefore, resisting the process. The distant proximity, while still being able to see one another, might provide a foundation for a free flowing mediation.

Sometimes it is more comfortable not to confront a person face to face. The mobile device can allow for an environment that promotes an equal platform. So one individual may be less apt to dominate the session or the other person. It is a way to help ease some of the tension. I know some of the clients at my firm that have utilized mediation have a difficult time being in the same room as their soon-to-be ex. This would allow them to try the process without having to be in a physical situation that makes them uncomfortable. A person's state of mind and feeling of comfort are important during the process of mediation.

The accessibility is also a great benefit. A person may be willing to try something if they do not have to actually go somewhere and go through a formal process. It makes it seem less about the formalities and more like a simple communication forum. Again, it eases the nerves associated with a mediation. 

The drawback of the whole process is some of the loss of nonverbal communication and direct contact. Even on camera there is a loss of directness that signals what a person is feeling. It is like lost in translation. The mediator's role is to try and aid the individuals in communicating and the individuals may feel like they are not being truly heard when it is through a mobile device. It presents some challenges for the mediator because they would have to feel out the situation without actually being in their presence. Also, sometimes the individuals need to get the emotion out on the table to move on with the process. Over a mobile device, the emotion may not be as forth coming and could lead to false results, meaning goals could be formulated that the individual is not emotionally satisfied with later. 

However, I do think mobile mediation will gain popularity because of the convenience. 

Love this topic! :)

We used to say that Mobile Dispute Resolution is the future, but not any more..it is the present.

Mobile just makes it so easy for communication and access. Dependency on the internet and PC become negligible as that is the power of the Mobile.

There are benefits. However the biggest drawback I find with mobile is the impulse to respond immediately with no time for reflective thinking and response. The advantages of "going to the balcony" might  be lost. 

Also its best to provide ODR platforms via mobile rather than just use the mobile as a medium for communication. If we are communication via a platform, it ensuressecurity, tracking,enables case management and other functionality which is needed from a dispute resolution process. Facebook and Google via Mobile work because of this huge engine supporting the backend infrastructure. 

Chittu's point about the temptation to fire off unfiltered and sometimes inflammatory comments from your mobile, or at least texts that are vague and easily misinterpreted is a good one. On the flip side of this are a few apps that are trying to serve as coaches for people with conflicts, most often in close relationships, by providing a framework for structuring the conversation or interaction. Specifically, these include items such as FixaFight and Truceworks on the iOS platform. Alternatively, I know there are location aware apps that now can help you avoid people you are in conflict with by letting you know when they are in your area. This kind of seems counterproductive to me, but perhaps conflict avoidance is a useful strategy in some cases. So, maybe there are other aspects of the mobile platform that we can leverage, such as personalized coaching and opportunistic uses of location data? 

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