Liveblogging #ODR2015: Conceptualizing Process Re-Design. What’s Involved?

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.


The final panel of the day (and of my time at this year’s ODR conference, since I have to return to MIT tonight for commencement tomorrow) is an interactive discussion & workshop entitled “Conceptualizing Process Re-Design. What’s Involved?” The panelists include:

Janet begins by defining dispute system design as “applied art and science of designing the means to prevent, manage, learn from, and resolve streams of disputes or conflict.” Drawing on some of her scholarly publications, she presents an analytic framework for dispute systems design consisting of:

  • goals (e.g. what do decisionmakers seek to accomplish?)
  • stakeholders (e.g. who is disputing? what is their relative power?)
  • context/culture (why is there a design/redesign? what aspects of culture are salient, and what norms govern in this context?)
  • process & structure (what processes are operative? how does it interact with other governing systems?)
  • resources (who pays, in money/labor/etc?)
  • success (what are the goals, and how will we know when we achieve them?)

Having built this framework, Janet hands off to Chittu, who will talk about how these principles came into play in the design of Modria.

Chittu describes (edit: slides) how Modria has evolved (and continued to evolve) by continuously returning to this framework to assess whether its product is well-designed. As mediators, she says, you learn to listen to a problem and understand the set of possible solutions, and this is exactly what you have to do for your clients when you design a product. The user-experience is very important. The main thing Modria is trying to do is get people into a process that meets their needs; it is driven by them.

Chittu outlines the range of clients/contexts that Modria works with: American Arbitration Association, property tax assessments, courts, consumer/ecommerce, payments, divorce. It’s a challenge to design a tool that provides the underlying infrastructure that enables dispute resolution in all of these contexts, but that’s the goal. As Colin said earlier, the goal of Modria is to provide a platform flexible enough to be configured to meet the needs of the various stakeholders. Chittu concludes by noting that, while early efforts in ODR sought to remediate the traditional legal process, companies like Modria are trying to design a system that resolves disputes as efficiently and fairly as possible in a way that satisfies the parties.

Following Chittu is Jin. He has a focus on relational disputes, such as divorce, where the client focus is not so much on fast/fair (as in ecommerce) as in empowerment/support. He defines his approach to ADR/ODR as ‘human interventions aimed at solving problems’, and a key challenge as doing so without recourse to the coercion of traditional legal processes.

Jin walks us through Rechtwijzer, an implementation/module of Modria that helps people with divorce-related issues in the Netherlands. An english version of this module is scheduled to go live in British Columbia and England in the course of 2015. Additionally, a landlord-tenant module and an employment module are scheduled to go live in the Netherlands in the second half of 2015.

One of the keys of Rechtwijzer, Jin says, is the focus on helping people map out and understand their situation. This kind of collaboration helps build the consensus that becomes the basis of a less-worse divorce. In one case, Jin says, a couple began using Rechtwijzer to plan a divorce, but carefully mapping out their situation actually led to their reconciliation. For those who don’t have that kind of (perhaps unlikely) luck, Rechtwijzer can also help people find mediators, online or offline, to help them finalize their separation. Rechtwijzer also helps people adjust their plan after separation on the basis of life changes.

The panel then transitioned into a workshop, as both Chittu and Jin answered many direct and specific questions from the audience about particular design challenges with the platform and how they met them. And your author has to catch a bus back to Boston. Hopefully will see you again at ODR2016!