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The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Lessons Learned from Foreclosure Mediation

Susan M. Yates, June 14th, 2016

It is heartening to see that titles of two recent publications include the phrase “lessons learned” as they explore Illinois’ experience with foreclosure mediation. That phrase reflects Resolution Systems Institute’s perspective that we should consistently seek the lessons from current mediation programs to apply to the next ones to be developed. Not surprisingly, RSI staff wrote one of these articles!

These pieces – the one by RSI and the other by the Woodstock Institute – outline four and twelve “lessons learned” respectively. The publications are:

The Woodstock study looks at the experience in Cook County – the densely-populated northern Illinois county that includes Chicago. RSI’s article draws on our experience with, and evaluation of, six foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois, three of which we operate. These programs are scattered throughout the state and serve counties that are a combination of rural, suburban and small city populations.

The goals of the publications are somewhat similar. RSI’s article offers recommendations on how the growing problem of student loan debt might be addressed by extrapolating from our foreclosure mediation experience and evaluation. The Woodstock study extrapolates from the Cook County experience to suggest how any future crisis confronting the courts might be addressed.

It is especially interesting to see where the lists of lessons converge and diverge. Some of the convergence may be because RSI and the Woodstock Institute share a love of data. In fact, Woodstock has provided RSI with data that has helped us to tailor outreach efforts and service sites to the areas hardest hit by foreclosure. On the other hand, differences between the two organization’s missions may explain some of the difference in emphasis in the lessons learned. The mission of the Woodstock Institute (WI) is to “create a just financial system in which lower-wealth persons and communities and people and communities of color can achieve economic security and community prosperity.” The mission of Resolution Systems Institute is to “strengthen access to justice by enhancing court alternative dispute resolution.” Indeed, if you read the full text of the publications, you will see that the details of the lessons may diverge even more than the summary lesson statements indicate.

Similar Lessons

Some of the lessons learned align between the organizations, and these are shared below. The focus of our article was purely on what we learned from administering and evaluating these programs, while Woodstock’s focus was on administration as well as some suggestions about program design. We are therefore limiting this discussion to lessons about program administration, but you can be sure that we will have much to say on the topic of program design in the future.

RSI Lessons

Woodstock Lessons


  • Make entry to programs as easy as possible.
  • Making access to services convenient for people who need them is key.


  • Provide self-represented borrowers with outside help in navigating complicated debt issues.
  • Helping people who are not familiar with a large bureaucracy navigate their way through the system may be important to make sure they stay on track.


  • Continuously evaluate how well cases are moving forward.
  • Establishing a comprehensive, fully-integrated quality control system is essential.
  • Trying something, a pilot program, and being prepared to adapt if it does not work as imagined, is a good first step.
  • Seeking additional input and changing the response is likely to be necessary.

Continual Monitoring

  • Monitor your program.
  • Defining general goals is not enough; the response needs clearly articulated goals and a clear set of components or processes to reach those goals.
  • Tracking progress helps keep the response functioning within the parameters necessary to be effective and to demonstrate the level of output.


Sadly, RSI’s home state of Illinois continues to struggle with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Nonetheless, it’s a good sign when two Illinois institutions spend the time and expertise to reflect on our experience in foreclosure mediation and think ahead about how to respond to the next crisis that overwhelms our court system. Considering lessons learned from different perspectives will help us be better prepared to address the next crisis that affects our economy and society.


Child Protection Perspectives: Initiating the Conversation

Eric Slepak, April 15th, 2016

As April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we at RSI wanted to shine some attention on the work we are doing related to the development of the new Child Protection Mediation Program in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Kane County, Illinois, as well as the other work RSI has done in using court ADR as a tool to address the issues of child abuse and neglect.

While our work at RSI is often about data, when it comes to child protection (a term which is meant to capture the broad array of cases in which children have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect), it is hard not to talk about the personal element.  Prior to joining RSI, much of my work had been as an advocate at the intersections of special education, juvenile justice and the child welfare and foster systems. These seemingly independent worlds actually collide frequently, and illustrate some of the many complexities involved in handling cases of child abuse and neglect. Read the rest of this entry »

Model Mediation Surveys Are Now Available

Jennifer Shack, April 6th, 2016

I’m so happy to introduce the Model Surveys, a toolkit that enables court-connected mediation programs to obtain reliable data. The toolkit includes post-mediation surveys for parties, attorneys and mediators, as well as a mediator report. The surveys are all annotated, with explanations for the rationale for each question and discussion of the wording. The toolkit is rounded out with advice on how to use and modify the surveys.

The whole idea behind the project is that courts and their associated programs often don’t have the necessary resources to obtain good information about program functioning. In RSI’s experience, the courts’ biggest need was for well-designed participant surveys and set out to develop them in collaboration with the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and with the help of a fantastic group of nationally-known experts in ADR research and program administration. Read the rest of this entry »

Designing Access Part Two: “Dynamic Triage” in RSI’s Foreclosure Mediation Program in Rockford, Illinois

Hanna Kaufman, March 15th, 2016

Welcome back to my series of blog posts showcasing how RSI uses our expertise in dispute system design to improve access to justice in the three foreclosure mediation programs we administer. If you’re wondering how this series came to be, check out my introduction to the series. In my previous entry, I discussed how we at RSI leveraged the data we collected to improve participation in our foreclosure mediation program in the 19th Circuit Court of Lake County, Illinois. By looking at “apples-to-apples” comparison of data among six programs in Illinois, we saw participation went up when judges referred people to the program, and when we only required people to complete a phone screening rather than an in-person information session. The 19th Circuit made these changes, and while it has only been a couple of months since that happened, we are already starting to see more people being able to access the program.

Building off that previous discussion about using data to drive program improvements, my focus in this entry is a different tool in the program administration toolbox: thoughtful, dynamic triage. Read the rest of this entry »

Foreclosure Mediation Still Going Strong in Illinois

Jennifer Shack, March 4th, 2016

In the last two years, the six programs currently funded by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General have helped 476 homeowners save their homes. Almost 100 more relinquished their homes voluntarily, allowing them to make a fresh start. Combined, this means that the programs helped about 1/3 of participating homeowners – and their communities – to avoid the negative consequences of foreclosure. Read the rest of this entry »