Liveblogging #ODR2015: Re-designing Processes for the Future


I’m here at the #ODR2015 conference at Pace Law School. ODR2015 is the annual meeting of the Online Dispute Resolution Forum, an international assembly of lawyers, mediators, technologists, and others who care about technology and dispute resolution. It is cohosted by the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, where I am a fellow.


This liveblog represents a best-efforts account, not a direct transcript, of the lecture, presentation, and/or panel.

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The keynote address (edit: slides) at ODR2015 is delivered by my colleage (and friend) Colin Rule, cofounder and COO of Modria and former head of dispute resolution at eBay/PayPal. Modria spun out of eBay a few years ago with the goal of integrating eBay/PayPal style dispute resolution into any system or service, from peer-economy companies to courts and municipalities.

Colin says that he talks fast and is going to talk even faster because he has a lot to say (so apologies in advance from your author). And he intends to talk about where the future of ODR is going.

For eCommerce, says Colin, ODR is not ADR (alternative dispute resolution), it’s the ONLY dispute option. eBay had 60 million disputes, which sounds like a big number, but there are 700 million ecommerce disputes globally today, and in two years, Modria predicts there will be ~1billion. At this scale, you can only solve disputes with the aid of ‘new technology’ (Colin’s words, my marks).

Everyone hates customer support, Colin says: customers, reps, and c-level executives. The current model is the ‘complaint’ model, where every interaction is modeled as a tug of war between customer and business. But really what we’re trying to do at Modria (says Colin) is solve problems, and we are all on the same team. This is a $30billion problem.

At eBay and Paypal, they found that customers would rather lose a dispute quickly than win it over a long period of time, and Colin says that as they talk to more companies, they find that these kind of dynamics hold true. He references his paper Quantifying the Economic Benefits of Effective Redress: Large E-Commerce Data Sets and the Cost-Benefit Case for Investing in Dispute Resolution. Traditional concepts of procedural justice care about speed, but they don’t care about speed enough. And the concept of dispute resolutions and mediation don’t translate to most people. Put “mediation” on a screen at eBay and customers read it as “meditation.” Colin tells the audience that ‘we’ have to translate our academic concepts and research to language and processes that people actually want.

Colin shows some slides from the current (and confidential) redesign of Modria. Without giving too much away, it looks a lot like a Zendesk/Desk.com style case management system, except with rules and roles designed for disputes specifically. Colin says that ODR has historically looked and felt like the legacy legal systems, i.e. slow and intimidating and painful to be a part of. Meeting the ideals of ODR require good affective design as much as good policy design. They’ve invested strongly in UI/UX. The goals are to make:

  • Immediate intuitive tools for consumers
  • Efficient actions for merchants/agencies
  • Powerful case management for administrators
  • An ODR system that can be the foundation of the next justice system
  • Colin closes by saying that Modria wants to become the operating system — the essential infrastructure — for ODR. Whether you’re a small business or a municipality or an NGO, if you have disputes with clients/citizens/constituents, then you can use Modria to help make them happy.