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ADR Centers -- Initial Considerations for a Private Mediation Center



There are several models for setting up alternative dispute resolution centers.  Centers may be official governmental agencies as seen in Colorado and Oregon.  A center may be attached to a University as is seen in Houston (Texas) or Moscow (Idaho).  A center may be a community function under the aegis of the Better Business Bureau or standing alone (the historic Amarillo Center is a good example of a stand-alone program).

Independent of any bureaucracy (governmental or otherwise) is the Private Alternative Dispute Resolution Center.

Setting up Private Centers has unique problems and opportunities and is often the best way to encourage a positive public reception for the process of mediation.  This essay discusses some of the basic, initial considerations that are useful in setting up a Private ADR Center.

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Initial Functions

A private alternative dispute resolution center (a PADR for short) has two essential early functions.  First, it must educate the potential market as to what mediation is and what mediation offers.  Second, it must provide a seed bed of successful dispute resolutions.  In planning a PADR it is important to be able to focus on both elements and to realize the critical importance of the early education and experiences of so-called "early adaptors."

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Educational efforts take place on several levels, but all educational approaches need to have several aspects in common. They should all focus on the fairness of mediation, the confidentiality of mediation, and the "free seeking" nature of mediation (agreed seeking of the parties best interest).  PADR programs that have tried to focus on other possible benefits (such as "friendly" forums for a particular type of party) have destroyed themselves.

In educating the market, it is important to reach three groups:  those who are in a position to recommend mediation, those who already know what mediation is and who need to know that you are making it available, and those who would be consumers of mediation services on a regular basis.

  1. Those who can recommend mediation include judicial officers (who need to be taught that ADR is an adjunct that makes their lives easier, not a threat or an assault on their power -- Arbitration in the United States used to be "against public policy" because of early miss-steps in educating the public), high level institutional directors (institutional mediation can help solve a number of institutional problems and issues and can help a director or CEO of an institution get away from managing intra-organizational conflicts), and news agencies (who often are more than pleased to be able to carry a positive story about mediation).
  2. Those who know what mediation is are often people who have been exposed to it in a different jurisdiction or a different venue.  Those who have experienced mediation in a different jurisdiction are generally attorneys with a cross-state practice and higher level insurance and other executives.  Those who have seen mediation in a different venue include sports figures, diplomats , educators and others (see "What is Mediation").  Often they are delighted to see how well mediation can work in solving problems outside of their area of expertise and can become strong backers of the process.
  3. Consumers of mediation include insurance companies, attorneys and business owners, especially those in construction, import/export and entrepenuers.  Attorneys can be taught to see mediation as a tool for better client satisfaction.  Construction businesses need fast resolution and they need it the day before yesterday.  Import/export groups often have communication problems that mediation can help resolve.  Entrepenuers generally need to make friends and build bonds much more than they need to "win" when a conflict arises and mediation can help them improve and strengthen their environment.

Education also includes training people how to participate in mediation and how to use the process.  At the initial stages it should not include providing training on how to be a mediator.  Many programs have focused on selling mediator training and have derailed their efforts to establish mediation as more than a fad.  Further, without a proper structure and market receptiveness, training mediators distorts the focus of a PADR and does not well serve the community.

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Dispute Resolution

An initial program can lose site of dispute resolution.  One of the most successful training programs for mediators refused to certify any mediator who had not done at least three pro bono mediations.  By imposing that requirement, they forced persons seeking certification to go out into the community and mediate disputes.  The mediations resulted in people who had positive experiences with mediation and who were more than willing to go through the process again.

In the early process it is important to educate individuals as to what the process would usually cost (regardless of the amount charged for the mediation provided) and to ensure that they have a positive, well mediated experience.  Because mediation is such a powerful tool, nothing succeeds in explaining or exposing people to the truth about mediation better than participating in mediation.

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Physical Plant Considerations

The location for a PADR must be able to host mediations involving two parties on a regular basis and should be able to handle three party mediations on an occasional basis.  Without boring anyone with war stories, too many mediators have attempted to set up PADRs that did not allow for the minimum space necessary.  Fitting the space minimums, with proper concern for the ability of the parties to raise their voices and still have privacy from each other, is important to both public perception and long term success.

I bring this up only because I have encountered too many attempts at PADR or PADR-like organizations that did not provide for at least two private caucus rooms, separated sufficiently by both walls and space for privacy.

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Staffing Levels

Many community, governmental and educational programs are basically just one full-time mediator and a secretary.

PADRs seem not to need full-time employees, but do require a panel (usually at least three and no more than five) available mediators and a receptionist/secretary (who may also work for others or have other tasks).

PADRs run into two staffing level problems.

On the one hand, they have a single individual who begins to look like a one-man-show and who loses credibility.  There are a number of factors, outside the scope of this paper, that go into why a single person can run an ADR program for a governmental agency, but has difficulty running a PADR.

On the other hand, once the number of principals expands past three (in the initial stages -- later a successful PADR may well have thirty or more mediators involved after due time has passed), there are numerous other problems that seem to arise.  In fact, one way to avoid a PADR being formed is to enlist a larger counsel of principles.

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The Importance of Outreach Programs

Outreach programs are the heart of education, application and growth.  Without outreach, a PADR will not succeed.

A PADR needs to have several programs.

  1. A regular meeting schedule with judges. (small group or individual contact, such as lunch, twice a month)
  2. A regular training program in ADR methods for local institutions.  (2-3 hour seminars on various aspects).
  3. Community Panel Members (while the program should have three principles or less, it should also form a community advisory panel that meets once a month for presentations, a dinner and discussion.  Target cross venue, consumers of mediation services and early adopters for such a panel).
  4. Targeted press meetings (a radio station, a television station, a newspaper, a magazine, etc.) once a month.  Especially in large urban areas or in foreign countries, a PADR can generate press coverage from meeting with the press upon hiring staff, involving foreigners, foreign press coverage, giving awards, etc.
  5. An award program to give out awards (certificates of appreciation) for those who have furthered ADR in the community.  The Peacemaker Series or Resolutions are names for various awards groups have used.  An award can generate publicity (Mayor, YXZ, was recently given the Peacemaker of the Year award by the Greater RMR PADR, for his outstanding services in solving conflicts), and gratitude.
  6. Identification and training of additional principles as the programs needs expand.  This should be a conscious decision and program.
  7. Other bi-monthly programs (once every two months) for selected consumers of mediation, from school children (they do grow up -- and they have parents) to targeted directors.

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Models for Growth

There are several models for growth with a PADR.

While the exploration of a PADR's growth models is beyond the scope of this paper (the author majored in applied economics) it is important to consider the growth model that you will use and keep it in mind as the program takes off.

Further, the important choices are generally between heavily capitalized and thinly capitalized.  By heavy (or thick) capitalization I am speaking of expenditure levels, not levels of commitment, available financing or reserves.  Generally, a PADR is more successful if it is thinly capitalized and if expenditures are somewhat subsidised, but growth is generally self-financed after the first six to nine months.

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A Sample Proposed Center

*this essay still in the draft stages*  I will be working on a sample proposed center as I reconsider the application of PADR principles.

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Other pending essays:

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