Reflections on the International Forum on ODR (Oct/ 2019)

Back from ODR 2019, which focused this year on ODR's entry into the court system - which is without a doubt the fastest-developing phenomenon I've ever seen in the legal or the conflict fields.  I’d like to share some thoughts with those of you who are interested in that these developments.
 
1) It was just as amazing to hear judges and senior court administration speaking about ODR as a centerpiece of their vision for their courts, as it was to hear them speak that way about ADR 20 years ago. Even more amazing, is that this time around they are putting their money where their mouths are. Right from the get-go, courts are investing budget and person-hours far beyond anything most of them ever put into ADR. 

2) Particularly amazing in this sense, was the entire first day of the conference. This was was comprised of sessions in which court system representatives shared their ODR programs, pilots, platforms and data with other court systems. They were pushing each other to adopt ODR, and supporting each other in doing so. Nobody from the ODR community – those of us who have been preaching to the choir or preaching to the walls for the past 15-20 years – needed to say a word. Anybody who has ever been on a soapbox, in ODR or in ADR, knows how revolutionary that is. 
3) I’m returning home very happy for my decision, about 4-5 years ago, to stop advocating for ODR and instead assume the role of a guide, teacher, and trainer, working with students, innovators and systems; and even more importantly, to adopt the stance of an enthusiastic ODR critic. ODR doesn’t need anybody to advocate for it anymore; it is a done deal. It does, however, need people doing their best to make sure that it is done right. Particularly, I think, courts need expert guidance on adoption and implementation that does not come solely from their internal members or from the ODR service providers who set up their platforms.  It's not that anybody is ill-intentioned; it is just that there are many potential pitfalls and a lot to think about - so much, that it is easy to get overwhelmed, take shortcuts, and make quick decisions. It is so important to spend energy and resources researching the problems you want to solve, before deciding on one ODR implementation or another, or any implementation at all!  ODR can be one of the most helpful developments of the 21st century – no, I’m not overstating this, unless you hate things like world peace. Do you hate world peace? – or it could be as benevolent to people as Skynet on a grumpy day. 
 4) My October road trip, and particularly this conference, have settled a deliberation I’ve been having internally for the past year: Which tense to use when discussing ODR, and what ramifications does that have? This conference bolstered the more dominant of the voices in my head, and sealed the discussion: ODR isn’t the future any more – it is the cutting-edge of the present. The world is rife and abuzz with real-life ODR instances, in the private sector, the court system, community mediation, and more. I keep abreast of all ODR developments – and still, at the conference I discovered a dozen projects I had never heard of that are already up and running. While its proliferation extends into the near future, ODR's presence is definitely… well, in the present.
Having reached that conclusion, the next was easy: While keeping one foot in ODR to do the guide-y and critic-y things I mentioned, it is time to move on. If ODR is the present of conflict resolution – what is the future? Off to figure that out. Stay tuned.
(And since I get by with a little help from my friends, if you know the answer to that one, sing out!)
 
[Pics: With my wonderful project-partner Elayne Greenberg, rattling all sorts of cages with our presentation on the delawyerized justice ODR brings to the courts and its ramifications, entitled ‘Where Have all the Lawyers Gone.’ Improv and role-play skits included! ]

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