Webinar - Online Dispute Resolution and Community Conflict: How can ODR move beyond resolution to reconciliation?

Online Dispute Resolution and Community Conflict: How can ODR move beyond resolution to reconciliation?

Cyberweek 2016 - Online Dispute Resolution and Community Conflict: ... from Werner Institute on Vimeo.

Program Description:

Conflicts within a community have existed since humans started to live in groups. Since then, community conflict resolution has taken many forms. As humans have evolved and the internet has permeated societies, technology has changed the extent and nature of these conflicts.  The ability to instantly and often anonymously communicate with groups has changed the nature of community conflict.  This has allowed cyberbullying, internet trolls, and online hate speech to flourish.  Online Dispute Resolution has proven to be a helpful tool in addressing certain transactional conflicts. How can it help with these community conflicts?  

The proposed panel will address these complex conflicts in online and offline communities.  From racial profiling issues on Airbnb, to stereotyping on Nextdoor, to cyberbullying on Facebook, the rise of often-anonymous online communications has led to an increase in hostile, threatening messages. The conflict that arises from these interactions is not easily sorted into specific disputes between individual parties, but the anger, hurt, and frustration they generate is still real.  

This panel will explore how the tools and techniques of ODR can be applied to community based conflicts.  The different psychological and cultural factors that affect the dispute resolution process will be examined.  In addition, this panel presentation and related online discussion will examine the nature of community conflict and draw lessons from ODR. It will also examine technology as a cause and solution to online conflict.  

This session will also include a video segment from Ethan Katsh where he will bring forward topics concerning ODR and Community conflict from his upcoming book Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes. There is also a continuation of the interview with Ethan, an additional segment, which focuses more on his book, here:

This session will spark the ongoing dicussion that will take place in this forum throughout the rest of the week.

Presenters' Bios:

Sam Edwards, J.D., LL.M, Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, has been teaching negotiation at the graduate and undergraduate levels for 17 years. He has taught in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States.  Since 2007 he has taught at Green Mountain College in Vermont.  Sam has an LL.M. in international environmental law from Nagoya University Graduate School of Law and a J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School.  Sam has passed the bar exams in California, Guam, The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia.  His research stems from his work in Micronesia, Japan, and Africa. Sam's e-mail is: sam.edwards.3@gmail.com and you may find his current and past courses here  http://sam3.pbworks.com/

Colin Rule is co-founder and COO of Modria.com, an ODR provider based in Silicon Valley.  From 2003 to 2011 he was Director of Online Dispute Resolution for eBay and PayPal.   Colin is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business (2002) and (with Amy Schmitz) the forthcoming book The New Handshake: Online Dispute Resolution and the Future of Consumer Protection (American Bar Association, 2017).

Z. Vance Jackson is an Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology and the Director of the Psychology Program at Green Mountain College.  He received his BS in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Master’s degrees in Community Counseling and Social Psychology from Ball State University, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Ball State University.

Vance’s teaching and research interests focus on ways that people interact with the social environment around them.  Specifically, Vance is interested in developing new strategies to resolve conflicts.  He also explores ways that negative attitudes, stereotypes, and systems of privilege affect traditionally marginalized populations.  In addition, he is interested in examining how gender stereotypes influence the workplace.  Vance teaches numerous courses that explore ways that culture influences our daily lives.  Vance also provides therapeutic services to the local community.

John DeBruyn, J.D., LL.M, practices law in Denver, Colorado, USA, and works as a neutral and as an advocate in mediation.  John is listed in Best Lawyers in America and Martindale-Hubble's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. John has taken an active role in the organization or presentation of a program, online discussion or demonstration annually for Cyberweek since its first year, 1998.  At that time, John was also a member of the Technology Council of the American Bar Association. As Education Chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Section of the Colorado Bar Association (CBA) in 2004, John helped to organize and present the first, of what is the now twice a year 40-hour mediation training program of the CBA. John became chair of the ADR Section and continued to serve as a coach and presenter in the CBA's mediation training program over the years. 

Jens Hybertson is currently in his final year at Green Mountain College, studying Environmental Studies with a concentration in Policy. He is currently working on multiple initiatives concerning the Syrian refugee crisis and relocation, with a specific interest in addressing the at-home conflicts that arise both between civilians and refugees as well as civilians and the state. As an undergraduate research assistant to professor Sam Edwards, J.D., LL.M, Jens has developed knowledge of alternative dispute resolution, its increasing transition to and functionality within online platforms, and more recently, the incorporation of these methods into resolving community conflicts.



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From Vance and Sam, what suggestions can we offer from the ODR community to assist in designing a better system for addressing conflict within the refugee resettlement program?

Hello all, the archive and accompanying videos are uploaded to the page above.


I really enjoyed and felt inspired by the webinar and I congratulate the team on choosing an important topic and asking us to add local community conflicts as part of the scope for our Online Peacemaking efforts. I wanted to agree with panelists that we should be thinking about the digital equivalent of the Community Relations Service, able to ease into brewing community disagreements driven by fears of race or otherness  while making full use of our increased digital powers for communication and problem-solving (and problem framing). Colin mentioned the Divided Community Project at Ohio State University, and yes, we should definitely be supporting and amplifying their work. ODR folks have the skill and interest to make a difference beyond our browser windows. In terms of thinking about the future, I've shared some of my ideas in a piece entitled "Empowering Networked Individuals (and Practitioners) to Better Manage Conflict" that appeared in a recent issue of the ACResolution Magazine.

Thanks for attending and for your comments Bill.

The CRS appears to be embracing ODR so there should be room to share our community's knowledge and expertise.This might be one route to expanding online peacekeeping.

Jens found this in the CRS's latest strategic plan,

"Provide a platform for communities to address conflict and develop solutions."

and later in the plan,

"Developing and implementing communications strategy to maximize direct communication with stakeholder using a variety of tools and technology."

As Sam points out, it does appear the CRS plans to implement technology into their proactive dispute resolution initiatives, and going back to both Bill and Sam’s points, the skillset and the interest within the ODR community makes for valuable expertise in this field.

This being said, I am interested in seeing what suggestions the community has regarding the scalability of community dispute resolution online as the number of stakeholders increases. As online dispute resolution moves beyond two to three parties, what tools become necessary to maintain an empathic and productive discourse?

Jens, thanks for checking into the CRS and their plans. It is encouraging. I noted in a related forum a piece that I think is interesting that involves secured anonymous lines of communication between discontents and government. You can see the abstract of this piece, entitled Peacemaker 2020, here .

I'm really interested in the idea of supporting the community to be involved in promoting constructive conflict engagement locally, and I've been trying something called ESCRO, for the Eastside Conflict Resolution Outreach project. I dream of a virtual "third-side" of helpers who can ease communities through conflict and build their own skills and social capital at the same time. 

HI Sam, Colin, Vance and Bill:

The Cyberweek 2013 discussion launched by program on Online Communications & Trust relates well to this years program on ODR & Community Conflict. Jon Linden and I were facilitators for the post 9/11 Listening to the City facilitated, on and offline, community participation in the redeveloment of the Trade Center and surrounding area which Sam and Vance covered in their presentation for the ODR & Community Conflict program. 


I I have mored up the post by Jon Linden which introduced the post-9/11 community participation program called "Listening to the City" up to the top of the discussion from Cyberweek 2013 that appears below and there is more over the four '"pages" worth of that discussion which can be accessed from the link above.  I have also included the programd discription and the first several messages in the discussion which were a colloquy with Sam and others in response to Colin's overview of the 2013 program on Online Communications and Trust.

Online Communications & Trust

Moderated by Jon Linden, John DeBruyn, and Gini Nelson

Despite widespread examples of disingenuous behavior by people on the Internet, there are certain forums that seem to be able to count on people being trustworthy.  One such forum which is utilized frequently and has the character of being mostly trustworthy is when the Internet is used to resolve disputes, i.e. ODR – Online Dispute Resolution.  One would ask the question, “Why should people act differently in this forum than they do in any other Internet based forum?”  The answer to that question is relatively simple.  When the internet is being used for ODR, the Internet is acting purely as a convenience to the parties involved.  ODR makes it possible for these people to create an environment which is flexible in many ways, particularly in the areas of Time  and Space/Distance.  In ODR, the internet is being used to facilitate the ability of two or more parties who are separated by one of both of Time (therefore, they are in a different Time Zone) and Space (therefore, they are significant distances away from each other.)  There is an ongoing dispute and all the parties to the dispute would like to resolve it in some manner.  Therefore, they are being given the option to utilize the Internet to resolve the dispute in a manner that will allow all parties to participate, but they can do so without leaving their home or office.  They are motivated to resolve the dispute because the parties have a vested interest in the resolution, or they need something that will be provided as a condition of the resolution.  Clearly then, the parties can be trusted in direct proportion to their need for there to be a resolution.  Assuming their need is high, even if it is just a matter of their Reputation, often this reason is a large enough reason for them to be trustworthy in keeping their agreement.

Permalink Reply by Colin Rule on November 3, 2013 at 3:03pm

Jon and Gini, thanks for surfacing this important topic!  Trust is essential to effective dispute resolution, as well as a variety of other online and offline activities -- and it is woefully absent in many internet based interactions these days.  I'd even go so far as to say that the internet, and online media overall, is further eroding social trust in the US... and this is when social trust was at it's lowest ebb even before online media started taking over from offline media.

For me, the key issue is anonymity.  Because online posters are insulated from personal accountability for their actions, they will say and do horrible things that they'd never say or do in person... largely because they feel there's just no consequence for them to do so.  Now in ODR, as you note, the parties do have some relationship with each other, and a mutual interest in resolving the issue at hand.  That dynamic creates more of an incentive for them to follow through and to do the right thing.  But we need to have other elements in place to compliment our ODR schemes -- e.g. reputation systems, enforcement mechanisms, ways to catch bad actors/cheaters -- to truly have trust online.  We are not anonymous to the people we have disputes with, so we don't see the worst kinds of behaviors (think comments on youtube) in most ODR fora.

Trust is not something that happens spontaneously.  It takes work to foster it, and work to maintain it.  And once it's gone, it can be incredibly hard to get back.  As the saying goes, "Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel."



Permalink Reply by Sam Edwards on November 3, 2013 at 8:14pm

Colin makes many good points here. Anonymity is an important concept but the same problems can happen when the online interaction leads one to treat the other party as something less than human. In a past Cyberweek learned how online communications are linked with the psychological concept of dehumanization. I am no expert but from what I recall people will treat others very badly when they do not view them as humans. This was the root of the issue in the prison guard experiments.

The same phenomenon can happen when people interact online. The party on the other side is something less than human because of the platform of the communication. Removing physical interaction that comes from real face to face meetings can cause the parties to see the other as an object and not a person.  The solution, I recall, was to put more "humanness" into the process. Bios, reputation, schmoozing (small talk), etc. were possible avenues.


Permalink Reply by Colin Rule on November 3, 2013 at 11:07pm 

Sam, I used to be more optimistic about fostering connection between folks online with small talk, bios, pictures, etc. -- I remember when Facebook started hosting discussion fora on other websites, I thought that would really help to combat the incivility problem, because people would know that whatever they posted would connect back to their Facebook profile.  For a while I think I did see a slight increase in politeness in Facebook-hosted discussions on other sites, but then it slipped back into the same old sniping.  Now people post rude things on Facebook, even though that's not an anonymous forum.

I think people feel there's no consequence to rudeness online.  I do think there is a dehumanization element to it.  I've argued for a long time that we can humanize online communication, but I think that only works to a certain point.  Especially when interacting with people you've never met offline, or are unlikely to ever meet in person, there's very little social penalty to being more aggressive in your communications.  In the f2f world, there are social penalties to being rude.  Maybe instead of just thinking about ways to gently humanize online interactions we should think more broadly about how to penalize bad behavior.  On eBay's fora there were community rules -- and if you broke the rules, you got suspended... they could pull your ability to post there for a month, or several months, or for life.  Perhaps we need to think about sticks in addition to carrots if we're going to meaningfully change the incentives.

I also note that some popular sites are shutting down their comment sections in response to research findings:



Maybe we'll see more of this in the future.


Permalink Reply by John DeBruyn on November 4, 2013 at 6:40am

Hi Colin:  You provided a good overview and summary of the elements that help a sense of trust to develop in the context of online dispute resolution and I venture what's up here which is online dialogue.  My experience with dialogue taking place here, at Cyberweek, and over the years since we did Cyberweek the first time around with Ethan Katsh back in 1998, is that civility has been maintained at a very high level amongst the participants in Cyberweek.  Obvious, perhaps, is that each one of us has a reputation to protect. What else is going on here that we can bring to build trust in the context of online dispute resolution? John

Post script: As a bonus to our readers let me point our readers to Colin's paper of seven years ago with Larry Friedberg on trust online:


Permalink Reply by John DeBruyn on November 4, 2013 at 6:50am

Hi Colin, Sam and Jon Linden: Perhaps, besides reputations to protect, there is shared experience and shared goals. I believe that is part of what Jon and I have concluded after our shared experience in facilitating/moderating the focus group discussions that were conducted online following the 9/11 attack and the rebuilding/redevelopment of the World Trade Center and its environs. Are there differences between dispute resolution and problem solving dialogue with regard to trust? John


Permalink Reply by Jon Linden on November 4, 2013 at 10:03am 

Good Morning, Sorry I am a little late this morning, I was catching up on the dialogue. I have been trying to think about the concept of incivility in online discussions and how it went when I was working with the people who were trying to comment on what they wanted in the rebuilt World Trade Center. I will admit outright, that some people were disruptive. In those cases where those people were disruptive it was occasionally necessary to eject them from the discussion. However, they were pretty few and far between, because the real objective was pretty close to people's hearts and they really felt that what they were doing would be reflected in what they communicated in those sessions. So they tried to act like proper human beings. My contention is very much that to the extent that what the participants want is being addressed in the ODR discussion allows them to act in a positive and appropriate manner.


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