ODR Blog: ODR, by any other name… Join the hunt?

Out there in cyberspace, Online Dispute Resolution is being developed and practiced by people who have never attended Cyberweek, participated in the International Forum on ODR, or even heard of the term ODR. Their development of the tools and practices of ODR is at least as important as the development work being conducted by the dispute resolution world. ODRBlog is going to hunt these platforms and practitioners down and introduce them to the ODR community.


Preparing for, and participating in, Cyberweek this past October (and recuperating from it reflectively afterwards), I was struck by how ODR is constantly expanding. This seems to be a seasonal thing, as I get this feeling every Cyberweek. New people are always involved, new platforms and new thinking.

However, those of us who experienced the slow and furious pace of ADR growth know that there is a huge difference between a field’s expansion, a field’s acceptance, and a field’s mainstreaming.

To a large extent, the only one of these three that ODR professionals and academics can directly affect in a powerful manner is the field’s expansion: We can build better platforms (well, not me, but you get my meaning), design better processes, think of new areas for implementation, and more.

To a lesser degree, we can affect the field’s acceptance by the public. We can do this by means of advertisement, lobbying, academic publishing and public relations, or through one-by-one proselytizing (anybody involved in ODR, much like anyone involved in ADR, has done their share of that. We should set up a blog site dedicated to those stories!). However, the larger part of this effort is not something that can be affected from inside the ODR field. Widespread acceptance of ODR, to say nothing of the mainstreaming of ODR into the way people, governments and business conduct their interactions, will require patience, and will depend on external support - the knowing or unknowing contributions of entities unconnected to the dispute resolution field or the ODR movement.

Patience, because time is working in ODR’s favor. The world is moving online, where ODR is waiting for it. People will increasingly use ODR offered by ODR professionals, as the components of ODR become commonplace practices in non-ODR contexts.

I think this is obvious, and perhaps familiar to all of us from our own experiences. Some examples might be:

  • People comfortable with online shopping don’t suffer endless worries that the internet is not a safe place to transact through.
  • People comfortable with online dating have experienced complex and meaningful interactions in which they needed to make decisions regarding trust, risk, uncertainty, information-sharing and relationship.
  • People experienced with online learning are used to spending a lot of their time engaging in different types of interactions (academic, social, administrative, etc.) with others in a virtual space.

People who have engaged in one (or all!) of these, will probably find the idea of settling disputes online neither silly nor daunting, and perhaps not even revolutionary at all! Indeed - these have all become pretty widespread phenomena, and I think that ODR has benefitted from them. When I introduce the concept of ODR to people nowadays, I hear fewer responses questioning my sanity and good judgment than I did a few years ago.  What might be the next step along the user-familiarity road?

This is where the ‘external support’ I mentioned above comes into play.  I think that if ODR-like processes become commonly offered, or embedded, in different industry settings, by non-ODR –labeled professionals, companies and government entities, ODR acceptance and mainstreaming will be greatly advanced.

This is why I’m always on the lookout for instances of ODR type processes, services, or platforms being developed in industry or governmental contexts, by people who may have never even heard of ODR. Early-on examples of this might be an e-HRM outsourcing firm considering offering its clients to handle their salary negotiations through a negotiation support system they’ve developed (one such project I know about never got off the ground, so I can’t provide you with a link). Another might be a sourcing company offering its clients use of a platform through which they can not only locate multiple suppliers, but also make contact and negotiate with them.

My guess? There is a lot more ODR going on out there than we know of. The Internet, remarked Noam knowingly, is a big place. As Homer S. once said, they even have it on computers nowadays. It’s amazing how much is going on out there, and there is no way to keep track of it - even when you spend something like 16 hours a day online (although when my wife asks me, I insist it couldn’t possibly be more than 2-3, tops). Given that I’m interested in learning about things going on outside of the dispute resolution field’s semi-defined reservation, staying on top of things is a double challenge.

Which is where we can get the whole interactive part of the Internet going: I’m asking for your help, in identifying new instances of non-ODR ODR.  I’m guessing that some of these processes and platforms will be labeled with such names and terms as CRM, customer relations, multi-vendor purchasing, and a whole slew of specific industry jargon. When we reveal the core service or process involved, however, they will be easily recognizable by anybody familiar with ODR. The challenge is identifying them while they still bear their original labels. Please chime in below or write me (NoamEbner@Creighton.edu), suggesting sites, platforms or services you know about, that fit the following criteria:

  • They are geared towards facilitating situations in which there is a conflict or a negotiation
  • They are industry/relationship specific, aiming to facilitate certain types of processes within a certain relationship (e.g., negotiation between car buyer and car seller, citizen complaints against a municipal office, etc.).
  • They allow for some degree of communication, and submission of offers and responses
  • They use none, or next to none, of ADR and ODR’s professional lingo (in other words: if a site uses the terms ‘online dispute resolution’ or ‘mediation’, or refers to a familiar ODR vendor, or anything showing it was developed by dispute resolution professionals or by people in touch with ODR ‘insiders’, it is out of the range of sites I’m looking for).

Help me out? Send me sites which you think fit (more or less) these criteria, and I will chase them down and intro them to the ADR and ODR community (with credit given, where desired!). Thanks!


Views: 510

Comment by Jeff Thompson on January 31, 2011 at 7:59am

Great post. The first non-ODR ODR that comes to my mind is how companies embrace and use Twitter. yes, that is not profound in itself yet what I refer to in this sense is that some use it as an extension of their customer service- people report issues or problems via the company's Twitter name and they assist them... All through Twitter!
I think it is a brilliant example of embracing technology and perhaps non-ODR ODR?
I also want to mention another point you bring up- that non ADR professionals are using ODR. Something I mention often, and quoting Bernie Mayer's book Beyond Neutrality, is just that and some- we must not only go beyond on neutral roles (think 'mediator') but also beyond standard applications and uses of the services we provide.
ODR I think is a perfect example of this. I wrote a paper (I think 3 people read it! But its in the "papers" section of ADRhub) on how technology could be used and embraced through new ventures as well as how brick-and-mortar organizations can implement it as well. My example is university ombuds offices and embracing the web and video technology such as Skype or ooVoo, to serve clients.
There are so people and organizations already out there doing implementing ODR methods and I applaud them.
We as a profession, and not just the sub section of ODR fanatics like the both of us, can really help others by investing time in discussions and brainstorming on how to move forward (yes, yes forward beyond talk!) by embracing embracing ideas and initiatives such as your request.
Comment by Ben Ziegler on February 1, 2011 at 11:56am

Excellent post Noam.  You provide lots of new places where ICT can be applied to dr and/or where to look for them...

Your post makes me reflect on the difference between "mediator" vs. "Mediator" , as highlited in a recent blog post by Tammy Lenski. 

As a profession, we have spent a lot of time on the professional Mediator (big "M") role and less on the broader possibilities associated with a mediative (small "m") influence.... Hence you're bang on in with highliting other areas to assess/promote ADR/ODR.

Encouraging too is the accelerating rate of change these days... I think ODR will really take off soon, as success examples, stories... come forth.  I'll keep my eyes open for sites of interest for you & the community.

Also.. I like Jeff's commentary too, especially the point about Twitter - its a most interesting space...almost a self-regulating form of communication... that seems to give opportunity to both expand and defuse conflict talk.  A topic worthy of a post or two by someone!

Comment by Ruha Devanesan on February 1, 2011 at 12:43pm
Noam - great post and great comments below from Ben and Jeff.  I absolutely agree that until we broaden the definition of ODR (both the 'online' and the 'dispute resolution' aspects of the term) to include technologies and methods that go beyond what has evolved out of e-commercial applications of the method, the field of ODR will remain a narrow one, soon overtaken and outdated by the use and application of these tools by non-ODR people in ways that have been excluded from the scope of the term by the ODR community but that fall squarely within the idea and vision of ODR.  My organization, the Internet Bar Organization has been working on two social justice initiatives aimed at bringing the idea of technology-assisted dispute resolution (and/or prevention) to areas of the world we perceive of as in the greatest need for it.  We're currently working in Haiti and Afghanistan through two projects: PeaceTones and the Internet Silk Road Initiative.  We presented on these and the work we're doing at ADRHub's Cyberweek 2010.  You can watch our presentation here.
Comment by Noam Ebner on February 1, 2011 at 2:13pm

Thanks everybody (everybody so far, that is, and they who are to come!).

Jeff - that should be 4, not 3 :-).  And - yes, taking a broad view of ODR would see this Twitter-for-customer-service as an ODR application. Particularly if this went so far as customer complaints. Let's keep an eye open for this!

Ben - I really do think that the small "m" is where we will see a lot more action - and a lot more effect. Just like Jeff's quoting of Bernie, which might be summarized as "using a small 'n' in neutrality". And, in the end, Twitter for customer service might not be "ODR", but it may be "odr"! Everybody, please keep your eyes peeled for lower-case examples, that is such a great way to frame the type of things I'm looking for in this hunt.

Ruha - of course, IBO is ahead of the game on several aspects of this. One is the use of commonly found hardware and software, such as cellphones instead of proprietary software on laptops. The second is that your PeaceTones project, as I remember it, ultimately focuses on pre-empting, rather than resolving, disputes. One of the hypotheses I have about this hunt is that we will find many ODR-like applications as we start looking less at post-dispute mechanisms and more at pre-dispute mechanisms. This distinction, ultimately, is between "dispute resolvers" and "deal makers", a familiar differentiation in the ADR world which I don't think has been much discussed much in ODR.

Thanks all, keep the hunt in mind please when you're prowling cyberspace!



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