Start imagining tomorrow.
By Kari Boyle
Mediation is all about innovation. Effective mediators use different approaches for different situations; mediation is flexible and scalable and can be modified to suit various contexts and combined with other processes as needed. Online dispute resolution (ODR) is well-established for e-commerce disputes and is becoming available for more conventional disputes. One of the most exciting innovations is the use of technology tools to increase access to mediation.
Did you know that B.C. is on the leading edge of the innovative use of technology in mediation? For example, Mediate BC Society’s
Distance Mediation Project Phase 3 launching May 1, 2011 (funded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia) is testing the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for family mediation. Yes, family mediation. We know that mediation can be a very effective tool, but what about families in parts of the province without mediators or spouses who reside in different places and can’t afford to travel? The telephone is helpful but it is not enough. An earlier phase of the project found that family mediations can be conducted effectively using ICTs, that some clients prefer distance mediation over traditional face-to-face mediation and that in some cases it may be more appropriate and effective than face-to-face (two warring spouses don’t have to be in the same room; parties can participate from the comfort of their own home environment; the distance may help to dampen high emotions). The lack of non-verbal communication can be balanced by other strategies such as online caucusing or coaching via email.
Imagine a father in Fort St. John participating in an online mediation with a mother in Surrey, conducted by a mediator in Kelowna. The mediation could be synchronous (all online together – in a web or video-conference) or asynchronous (communication one at a time – think email, attachments, voice messages, texting, or instant messaging). Face-to-face mediation can also be combined with the effective use of ICTs. There are a variety of ICTs already available for this purpose, including various web-conferencing platforms, Skype-type communication tools and specialized mediation platforms, including Juripax and The Mediation Room.
What about civil disputes? A number of the tools and platforms noted above may be suitable also for civil disputes. In addition, for single-issue financial disputes there are already fully automated online systems available or in development to facilitate negotiation or, in some cases, mediation, including Smartsettle, ODR Chambers, Cybersettle and ODR India/Modria.
In larger urban centres it is not difficult these days to find locations that offer video-conferencing capability to support the mediation process (for a fee of course). Why fly to Toronto to conduct an in-person mediation when you can participate effectively through video-conferencing from the comfort of a local venue? In addition, large screen monitors are replacing whiteboards and flipcharts as effective collaborative work tools in the mediation room.
What is next? Perhaps easy-to-use DR tools for your iPhone or iPad! Could you imagine negotiating a deal in 140 character bites (from your sailboat in the Caribbean)?
Think about your clients. Consider how the effective use of technology might increase their access to timely resolution at a lower cost. What about your own practice? Could any of these tools enhance your ability to provide effective legal services to your clients while making your job easier?
Today’s innovation will be tomorrow’s reality. Imagine!
Questions? Contact Kari at email@example.com. For more information about the Distance Mediation Project:
Kari D. Boyle, Executive Director, Mediate BC Society.
This article was published in the April 2011 issue of BarTalk. © 2011 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.