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Setting up your own Dispute Resolution Program.

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Almost every dispute resolution program I am aware of was "home grown" in one way or another. If you are currently faculty at a university, you begin a program by getting a class approved, and then another and ... eventually you have enough dedicated students to have a program.  This article is not about that approach, but is instead about what to do if you aren't faculty and would like to be part of a program.

This essay covers what to do if you would like to teach dispute resolution and how to start a program as an outsider.

First, you need to make contact with the continuing education departments of each of the local colleges and universities in your area. Get their catalogs and find out how you would go about offering a continuing education class through each. A close look will probably show you that there are numerous offerings, often competing offerings, in many, many areas. The key is to find a program that has no dispute resolution classes being taught.

Second, put together three potential classes.

Getting your first class.

The first class you will probably try to offer is the "forty hour class" -- forty hours of class room instruction on mediation. You can assign as a text book The Mediator's Handbook, and use for teaching purposes, NITA's The Art of Mediation.

and   and

The NITA book is the script, word for word, for teaching a forty hour class.  The Handbook is a great handbook that every mediator should have.  For one class based on that combination, see nada00X.htm -- it also includes notes on handouts and other materials and drills.  You will note that CE classes are often taught on week-ends, or once a week for a three hour class, or in some other format than standard one hour class periods, and you need to plan to fill your schedule appropriately.

Once you have a starter class ready, and a place in an upcoming catalog (pick just one school to start with) you need to do some publicity.  Public libraries, public areas on the college campus, churches, friends who have work/study programs (where their employers pay for some continuing education) and human relations departments in local businesses are all places to post flyers that identify your class, where to sign up, and what the class can provide.

That is a start.  All you need is the minimum number of students the program requires to get it going -- for some programs that is as few as two, for some as high as eight or more.  Remember, these initial students will the be the core recruiters and sources of word of mouth for later classes.

The Next Class

Some people stop right there.  They teach a forty hour class over and over.  While that can be a successful place to stop, the next class is usually an "Introduction to ADR" -- an essential class if you want your program to grow and a good class for lower division college undergraduates.  Your introduction class goes over mediation, arbitration, ombuds offices, facilitation, and simple negotiation concepts.  It educates students as to why they would want to take a class on mediation, or one on arbitration, or one on facilitation and how an in depth class on negotiation can help them.

Which of course leads to the next classes you should have in mind (and, if demand is high enough, classes you might want to have a friend help you with by teaching -- so you teach part of the class load and your friend does -- and you now have a two instructor program growing).

So, at stage  one:

At stage two:

At stage three:

You can get details and information on a number of classes at Dispute Resolution Classes -- Materials and Class Outlines.

Creating a Program

Once you have this many classes going, you need to decide what you are going to try to do with your program.  There are several directions that work.

First, you can try to expand the reach of your program -- teach the same classes but to a broader audience.  Lots of programs are out there with a mix of three or four classes that they teach to as broad of an audience as they can find. (Visit the educational links at for some examples).  You may want to refine your choice of the four classes you offer to fit niche audiences in your community or your marketing target (e.g. you may wish to do conflicts in higher education, institutional conflicts or some similar class in the place of Introduction to Arbitration or one of the other classes).

Second, you can try to grow the program into a degree of some sort.  If this is your goal, as your class load picks up, start looking for allies on the main campus who will be grateful for the enrollment and student dollars that you are bringing in. There are many, many departments that a program of the type outlined here can be housed in.  Psychology, counselling, sociology, education, legal studies, philosophy, business, anthropology, student services, economics -- all of these departments have a legitimate connection to dispute resolution studies and have an institution or two that houses an ADR program under their aegis.  Again, visit the links and look at programs currently in play.

Third, you can try to create a continuing education empire where you bring a number of friends on board to teach classes as a part of your program and you get promoted to program director (where you are paid a part of the revenue of the program as an administrator and where you teach and direct).

Fourth, you can grow the program into a graduate program.  This requires some real work in recruiting faculty and students.  It means focusing classes on what graduate students need and can use and a set of specialty classes (even more so than the first alternative).

Fifth, you can apply for grants and sponsors.  Visit web sites, but consider Houston, Cornell, Syracuse and others -- all of which have sponsors who underwrite all or part of the program's access to specialized buildings and improved status. In this approach you need to look for a distinctive mission you can reach, either in terms of a national audience or a local need.

The Final Step

Write an article for me (a case study) on how your experiment and efforts worked out and what you would do differently or plan to try next.  Leave me a message at Bulletin Board for Discussion/Feedback.  I'll publish case studies and articles sent to me to the web and will appreciate the feedback no matter how it comes.

With my best wishes,

Stephen R. Marsh

Send me an email

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