On the eve of the 12th annual Cyberweek conference on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), it is important to take some time and think about the necessity of trust—a critical component of the parent ADR recipe. People may enter online engagements with more apprehension than face-to-face (f2f) interactions due to the uncertainty and unfamiliarity with a virtual process.

Upfront, users will make judgments on the online service based on the organization and aesthetic appeal of the content, levying attributions similar to f2f interactions, which will further challenge the ability to build trust. And clearly, online mediums lack the synchronous f2f interaction between parties which allows parties to look each other in the eye and gain a better understanding of who they are working with. In other words, online mediums lack reciprocity.

In an f2f encounter, these concerns can be dispelled through instantaneous feedback and dialogue. But online, if these concerns are not addressed through educational material or supporting objective evidence, the opportunity to build trust may dissipate since the relationship is one way, deprived of validation.

And many online mediums are built on speed and efficiency, designed to satisfy immediate transactional and informational needs. This particular element challenges the time required to build trust. If a user has a negative experience with ODR, the user can easily remove themselves from the process; or, find an alternative service provider.

In order to help develop trust, you have to “…create conditions that encourage people to trust” as described by Rule and Freidberg. Education is extremely important to create the foundation for building trust, as well as providing users the knowledge to use the tools as intended. However, even this is challenged by the speed of the internet and lack of patience of users.

I mean, how many of us stop and read instructions anymore? In my experience, it is a series of points and clicks until I reach my intended result. So, the software has to be relatively intuitive and user friendly, avoiding the need to spend countless hours reading and rereading instructions. Lengthy instructions will only deter potential clients from participating.

So, on the eve of Cyberweek 2010, I look forward to hearing how trust has been built in the variety of ODR tools used to facilitate online dispute resolution processes.


Colin Rule , Larry Friedberg, The appropriate role of dispute resolution in building
trust online, Artificial Intelligence and Law, v.13 n.2, p.193-205, June 2005

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Comment by Eric Cissell on October 25, 2010 at 12:47pm
I recently learned about PeaceTones; it's a wonderful initiative.

In my opinion, the trust issues that arise from a lack of f2f interactions can be eased by video conferencing. And, I say this because, it changes the communication dynamics to a direct, or synchronous, channel of communication. This allows the participants to verify and validate the intent of the original message--an immediate feedback loop. Additionally, it provides a channel for nonverbal communication, an important piece excluded from asynchronous communication.

For underdeveloped nations and conflict zones, my opinion would be to focus on the process, effectively communicating and educating the parties on the stages of the process, and communication, paying particular attention to acknowledging and understanding the interests of the parties. And, by any means necessary, if they're not able to see you through video conferencing, go see them. Try to experience the lives of the people in these regions of prolonged conflict.

Once you are able to see and feel their conflict, I think you'll have a new perspective on their interests and what they expect from you. At the end of the day, you need to think about reciprocity, especially from the perspective of individuals who have historically been exploited or taken advantage of in past situations.

What are your thoughts?
Comment by Eric Cissell on October 25, 2010 at 7:09pm
Before I go into great detail, what would be the role of the intermediary?

The addition of intermediaries can be tremendously helpful to the process. Acting as “boots-on-the-ground,” they are visual evidence of the level of support your organization is willing to provide to the locals. In addition, they have the opportunity to regularly reaffirm the objectives of the initiative and act as a conflict navigator throughout the entire process (a single point of contact). And, being a local, the intermediary may be able to benefit your sphere of influence, since they have a greater understanding of the nuances of the local community and culture.

Simply, I think all of these elements contribute to the building of trust in a relationship.

My concerns with an intermediary would be around transparency and impartiality. An intermediary may unknowingly, or knowingly, filter communication upstream and downstream—reducing your understanding of the situation and degree of influence. And, in regards to impartiality, since they are members of the community, they may be influenced by external stakeholders or be challenged by certain loyalties (i.e. conflict of interests, favoritism, etc.)
Comment by Susan Nauss Exon on October 26, 2010 at 11:49am
I have actually been conducting some research about trust and ways to garner a trustworthy environment is to show that you are helpful, caring, empathetic, warm, friendly, genuine, courteous, respectful, etc. Seems much easier to do in a F2F setting or video conferencing. The problem with video conferencing, however, is the lack of eye contact. Cisco and Polycom have their new telepresence units, designed to provide a three-dimensional, real-life experience. As new technology develops, it is easy to emulate the F2F setting. But cost is a huge factor.

So as a third-party neutral, I think we need to be very careful about our word choices if using a platform that lacks the visual component. It is important that we seek to show we are listening and trying to understand so that we can provide text to show empathy, etc.

Any other thoughts?
Comment by Noam Ebner on October 26, 2010 at 12:45pm
Hi all -
AS it turns out, we have a forum on the Cyberweek targeting this issue specifically, called Media effects: Online communication and trust. In order to avoid having conversations scattered all over the Hub, let me suggest you bring that conversation in here.
See you there!
Comment by Jane Smith on October 28, 2010 at 11:07am
Creating and maintaining trust in cyber space is something I work with daily. My clients are multinational corporations and national corporations from nations outside of the USA. Trust is fundamental to the virtual and at times face to face time within those virtual work teams. I work with the gobal contracting sites that provide so much of the work opportunities that exsit in our global working world. On the global work sites it is a common occurrence to have team members for five to eight different national cultures trying to work toward the team's goals. Creating trust in these work teams has to be a working trust that is created and maintained with a cross cultural respect. Cross cultural respect is created on each global job site and within each global work team through the Best Practices that i created. The First Best Practice leads to creating cross cultural truyst in our global work settings. The First Best Practice requires that each individual participating in the global work opportunity acquire a critical awareness of his/her own national culture, through a process that I share. With an awareness of one's own national culture, each individual must learn and respect the national culture of each person who is a part of the global work team. This knowledge is fundamental to creating the requisite cross cultural trust that will fully empower the global work team to maximize the team;s potential and while doing so the potential of each collaboratively participating individual. Jane Smith, LiSimba Consulting Services, Inc., Cyberweek 2010 blog: LiSimba-LiSimba.blogspot.com


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