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ODR Blog: ODR, By Any Other Name… Join the hunt?

by Jeff Thompson
January 2011

From Jeff Thompson's Enjoy Mediation Blog

Jeff Thompson
Enjoy this guest post by Noam Ebner, Chair of the Online Masters Program in Negotiation & Dispute Resolution at the Werner Institute, School of Law, Creighton University (disclaimer: of which I am a graduate).

Below his article, you can read my comments- Enjoy!

(Originally post at ADRhub HERE)

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 (, 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!

(My reply) 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.


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)

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