ODR – Are you prepared for the future of Conflict Resolution?

A chance encounter

In 2014 Greg Pollock was attending a conference in the USA when he met a person he couldn’t ignore. Colin Rule, a man, whose life’s work is to see online dispute resolution (“ODR”) become mainstream. No more paper files, meeting rooms, long delays, and endless emails.

Who is Greg?

With a background in town planning, change transformation, and as a trained mediator, Greg began a new role as the Chief Executive of FairWay Resolution. FairWay was a dispute resolution company managing circa 17,000 disputes per year primarily through a paper-based system. One of Greg’s key tasks was to find efficiencies and improvements for both customers and staff.  Once an initial investment had been made in electronic case management, FairWay wanted to provide an option for customers to resolve disputes fully online. Greg’s research led him to this inaugural meeting with Colin Rule, mediator and founder of Modria and recently appointed President of Mediate.com.  

The Domain Name Commission recently launched its ODR pilot. I met with Greg to ask him about some of his experiences from his time working in this space.

Keri Morris:  The decision you and the FairWay Board made to offer ODR in New Zealand was ground-breaking and well ahead of its time. This was 2015 well prior to Covid-19 – people weren’t even using Zoom.  ODR was an unknown acronym.  Can you tell me a bit about what prompted you to take this leap of faith?

Greg Pollock: When I started at FairWay I spent time talking with our customers and staff and noted key areas that needed addressing: people were frustrated with the delays, we were old school in terms of our processes and not all customers felt confident and safe meeting face to face for a hearing.  The Board supported a strategy to be more focussed on technology such as ODR so that we could provide a safer, less daunting place for people to be heard as well as vastly reduce administration and paperwork which in turn speeds up the process.

Keri Morris:  Lawfuel has reported that we have one lawyer for every 365 citizens, and there has been a 24% increase in lawyers since 2011 compared to a 12% increase in our population.  We now have one of the highest lawyers-per-head in the world. Kiwis seem to like our formal justice processes and our “day in court”!  Why do you think there is hesitancy in Aotearoa New Zealand about engaging in ODR or even dispute resolution more generally? 

Greg Pollock: Often as New Zealanders we tend to focus on trying to sort things out ourselves, and if that fails, to look to our Courts system for answers. Courts are important, but as a back-up plan to resolving a dispute ourselves, it isn’t always the most efficient. Many disputes are small scale, and the cost of using Courts out of proportion with the dispute. This is where private dispute resolution organisations can really come into their own. If parties in dispute are wanting something that is not a cookie-cutter process, and are looking to resolve the dispute quickly, fairly and reasonably.

Keri Morris: Part of our ODR pilot includes e-negotiation.  It’s an automated negotiation tool that is best used for disputes where a simple transactional settlement can be reached. Parties specify two values – the lowest figure that they are prepared to accept to resolve the issue and their ideal (maximum) figure. 

If your Mum or Dad came to you and asked for your advice on using our pilot for their conflicted name or domain name dispute, what would be your questions, and then, what would be your advice? 

Greg Pollock: The key questions I would recommend asking are:

·        Is the outcome legally binding?

·        Is this likely to work?

·        What can you do to get prepared?

·        Will your privacy be respected?

·        Do you know how to use the technology or are there some tutorials available?

·        What is this conflict personally costing you?

·        Are you prepared to “lose your day in court”?

My recommendations would be:

·        Keep an open mind

·        The cost of ongoing conflict is huge, so think carefully about what I means to resolve the conflict and be able to move forward

·        Get it resolved and move on with your life

Keri Morris: Where could ODR fit where it is not being applied in New Zealand today?

Greg Pollock: Aotearoa New Zealand needs a huge productivity jump and ODR can contribute to this, so the answer is everywhere. Housing, schooling, health…. using technology to assist in resolving intractable problems makes sense.

Living in conflict costs us society – in money, energy, and time.  Would you rather have a stranger (judge, expert, adjudicator) resolve the important matters in your life, or be part of making your own decisions for your future?

Keri Morris: Any final thoughts?

Greg Pollock: A couple of things… the impact of long-term conflict is wide-reaching.  It doesn’t just affect the people in dispute. Offering solutions for people to resolve issues quickly is important.  Allow them to move on with their lives.

Lastly, I’d like to touch lightly on the use of Artificial Intelligence. We can utilise AI, train it in our local cultural context and reflect our community, values, and aspirations.  Rather than being solution-based, it can be looking at options first. This is a whole area to be explored, and again, can help us to improve productivity and resolve disputes in a way that is win-win for people involved.    

My takeaways from this interview with Greg

Takeaway #1:  Ask people, listen to people, then find the solution – not the other way round

Takeaway #2: Conflict is everywhere, it’s daunting, create space to make it easy for people to resolve

Takeaway #3: AI sounds scary now but so did ODR 10 years ago. Be Brave!

Thank you, Greg! I have had the great pleasure of working with Greg for several years. Now running his own consultancy firm, Pollock Consulting NZ, I’m grateful for the impact he has made in the NZ dispute resolution world.

The Domain Name Commission does not endorse any of the marketplaces above. This is a general interest story.

author

Keri Morris

Keri is the Manager ODR at the Domain Name Commission She has many years of experience in dispute resolution and is passionate about creating opportunities for agreement. Keri is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK and a Fellow of Arbitrators and Mediators Institute NZ. MORE

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