It has been a few years since I attended an Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) national conference. With a limited budget, I have chosen to attend the ABA Dispute Resolution Section annual conference instead because there is more of a court ADR focus and I am much more involved with the ABA DR Section.
But last week the ACR national conference was held in Chicago and I could afford to attend. Here are a few thoughts about the two conferences.
There are a lot of similarities between the conferences. Many presenters participate in both conferences and many of the sessions would be at home at either one. No doubt some sessions are presented at both conferences. Nonetheless, the conferences are by no means the same thing in different locations presented by different organizations. Each conference has its strengths. You will find much more discussion of large civil litigation ADR at the ABA and more discussion of community and juvenile ADR at ACR. No surprise there.
One distinguishing characteristic particularly struck me. At ABA DR Section conferences there is a lot of discussion about how to get work as a neutral. While there was some of that at ACR, more frequently comments were about not being able to support oneself as a mediator. This was often something like, “You better not expect to keep a roof over your head as a mediator,” said with a rueful, accepting smile. I’m not claiming any kind of scientific proof, but it was a noticeable pattern. Observing this difference makes me wonder about our various motivations to be involved in ADR. I suspect that just as there is a lot of overlap in the types of sessions at the two conferences, there is a lot of overlap in the motivations of those attending. Many of us find this work meaningful, interesting and challenging. Also, there is probably a lot of overlap in the desire to perform our roles in a professional, competent manner and to change systems so that alternative approaches are not so alternative. Attendees at both conferences want to make ADR their life work. Perhaps at ACR they are committed to the mission whether it supports their financial needs or not. And perhaps at the ABA, they see ADR as so important that they want to make it their full-time job. I find myself resonating with both approaches. There is much to be learned from one another, no matter at which conference.