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RSI’s Complete “Guide to Program Success” Now Available!

Susan M. Yates, September 15th, 2020

As the pandemic wears on, courts have been transitioning services online and exploring how ADR and ODR can aid their communities in new ways. Given the challenging nature of the situation, I am pleased to share a newly completed resource from RSI that can help.

RSI’s entire Guide to Program Success is now available both online and for individual download. Together, RSI’s Director of Research Jennifer Shack and I wrote this step-by-step guide on how to design, manage and evaluate a court ADR program. Each chapter of the guide contains an in-depth examination of an element of program success. Topics include:

  • Why a court ADR program may be beneficial
  • How to gather a planning team
  • Exploring the legal and ADR environment
  • Articulating program goals
  • Figuring out budgets and funding
  • Applying standards for court ADR
  • Deciding which ADR process to use
  • Designing mechanics of an ADR program
  • Selecting and managing neutrals
  • Writing court rules
  • Designing systems to track the program
  • Creating court program forms
  • Launching a court ADR program
  • Managing a court ADR program
  • Evaluating a court ADR Program

This guide can be used for any type of court ADR process and may be used at any stage of a court ADR program. If you are responsible for a court ADR program or are looking to design a new court ADR program, this is the guide you need.

We hope that this resource is valuable in your work. If you are able to support Resolution Systems Institute, please make a donation. As we all struggle to do our best in challenging times, your support is deeply appreciated.

Susan M. Yates

Executive Director

Resolution Systems Institute

Guiding Dispute Resolution into the Future: Read RSI’s 2019 Annual Report

Susan M. Yates, April 24th, 2020

Hello Friend of RSI,

Even as COVID-19 has yet to crest, the adjectives associated with it such as “unprecedented” and “uncertain” – are becoming increasingly uniform. The adjective most associated with the future – at least in my mind – is “unknowable.” 

So, what do we do? First, at RSI we express gratitude. We are grateful that our staff can safely work from home. And we are grateful that – thanks to our steadfast supporters – we can continue to make a significant contribution in a struggling society. 

Next, we figure out how to apply our expertise to make the most meaningful contribution. As you will see from our Annual Report for 2019, much of our work recently has focused on how technology can help improve access to justice. The current situation calls for us to leverage that expertise to do our best to help courts through this unprecedented, uncertain time.

Improving access to justice through court ADR and ODR is not as fundamental as food, shelter and medical care. Nonetheless, a reliable and accessible justice system is essential to a functioning society. If you are able to support, please make a donation to Resolution Systems Institute. Your support will enable us to continue guiding courts as we all face an unknowable future.

Be well,

Susan M. Yates

RSI Executive Director

Support RSI this Holiday

Susan M. Yates, December 16th, 2019

Dear friend of RSI,

With the giving season upon us, I want to tell you about how Resolution Systems Institute is directly and profoundly helping people through mediation services – and ask for your support. These services are some of many ways RSI helps improve access to justice by enhancing court ADR.

Did you know that along with our research, resources, evaluation and dispute system design services,RSI operates two foreclosure mediation programs and a child protection mediation program in northern Illinois?

The media may not be covering foreclosure any more, but many homeowners who experience job loss, high medical expenses and divorce still find themselves in danger of losing their homes. In Kane and Lake counties, RSI works with homeowners, lawyers, lenders, the court and experienced mediators to help work out whether there is a way for homeowners to retain their homes. This past year, our programs served 423 homeowners, resulting in 83 homes saved from foreclosure.

RSI also works to help keep children safe and minimize their time in foster care. Through our Child Protection Mediation program in Kane County, RSI brings together volunteer mediators to help families and social workers achieve those goals. Here’s what one party said after a mediation: “I was finally able to talk to [the other party] as an equal and I feel like they finally heard me. I don’t think I could have done this without [the mediators’] help.”

We are grateful for the support we receive from the courts and from funders like the Illinois Bar Foundation for these programs. But those do not cover all the costs of these programs. Your donation will support access to justice through mediation and through RSI’s research, resources, evaluation and dispute system design programs.

Please make a contribution to RSI. We are a tax-exempt, 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law. You will be helping families and homeowners and supporting everything else RSI does to improve access to justice through court ADR.

Thank you!

Susan M. Yates

The Twelve Hours of Conflict

Susan M. Yates, December 9th, 2019

In what has become a holiday tradition at RSI, here is my ADR-themed parody of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Happy holidays!

For the first hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me a round table with a great view

For the second hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the third hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the fourth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the fifth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me five as-pir-in
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the sixth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me six tested realities
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the seventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the eighth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the ninth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the tenth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the eleventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eleven cookie breaks
Ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the twelfth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me twelve resolved issues
Eleven cookie breaks
Ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

Have a great New Year!

Characteristics of Quality Court ADR Programs

Susan M. Yates, September 18th, 2019

What characteristics do you think are shared by quality court ADR programs? I took a swing at a list here. What would you add? Change?

1. Goals

There must be a shared understanding of the goals of the ADR program so that there can also be a shared understanding about whether it is succeeding.

  1. The court must be clear about its goals for the ADR program
  2. Those goals must be shared with stakeholders

 

2. Principles

The ADR program must operate on a common set of foundational principles, including ethics as appropriate for the ADR process being provided.

  1. Confidentiality (in mediation)
  2. Fairness of process
  3. Fairness of outcomes
  4. Procedural justice
  5. Accessibility
  6. Neutral quality
  7. Self-determination (in mediation)
  8. Timeliness

 

3. Accessibility

Everyone – including litigants and lawyers – must be able to readily access the ADR program.

  1. Parties who are unable to pay for ADR are afforded the opportunity to use ADR
  2. Parties who are representing themselves are able to participate fully in ADR
  3. Parties with disabilities are able to participate fully in ADR

 

4. Process Quality

Notwithstanding the importance of other characteristics, the true quality of a court ADR program boils down to what happens during each ADR session.

  1. Whichever ADR process is being used, it adheres to the foundational principles of that process
  2. Participants have an experience of procedural justice when engaging in the ADR process:
    1. They feel they had a voice in the process (e.g., had a chance to talk, felt they were heard)
    2. They feel they were respected in the process
    3. They feel the process was fair to them

 

5. Program Support

The ADR program will only succeed if it receives steady support from a number of sources.

1. Stakeholders understand and support the ADR program

  • Judges
  • Litigants
  • Court staff
  • Neutrals

2. The program has sufficient, stable financial support

 

6. Neutrals

Neutrals are the face of the program to litigants and lawyers, so they must provide quality services.

  1. Neutrals share a common understanding of the service they are to provide
  2. Neutrals provide services in the manner expected by the program and its stakeholders
  3. Neutrals operate in an ethical manner
  4. Neutrals have the necessary skills and knowledge
  5. Neutrals are selected for the roster fairly
  6. Neutrals are appointed to cases in a fair manner
  7. Neutrals receive appropriate initial and ongoing training
  8. Neutrals provide a sufficiently uniform version of the ADR process
  9. Parties have a way to lodge complaints about neutrals
  10. Neutrals are treated fairly when a complaint against them is made
  11. Neutrals are compensated fairly (which does not preclude volunteer mediators)
  12. Neutrals are assessed fairly
    1. Participant surveys
    2. Peer review

 

7. Lawyers

Lawyers must support, or at the very least accept, the ADR program.

  1. Lawyers are often repeat users of the ADR program, therefore their support is especially important
  2. This applies equally to those who typically represent one side or the other, e.g., landlords’ lawyers and tenants’ lawyers.
  3. Lawyers should:
    1. Find the program useful
    2. Be educated about the program
    3. Fulfill their responsibilities in the program

 

8. Program Safety

ADR processes must be safe, both literally and figuratively.

  1. Participants, neutrals and staff are all safe when participating in ADR and otherwise interacting with the ADR program
  2. Participants are screened prior to ADR, when appropriate, to identify intimate partner violence and other potential barriers to participation

 

9. Data Collection and Dissemination

Reliable data must be collected regularly and shared appropriately, or it won’t be available when it is time to sustain or improve the ADR program.

  1. Data is collected regularly and includes both quantitative and qualitative information (e.g., statistics and success stories)
  2. Changes in the program are tracked and acted on, e.g., changes in:
    1. The number of cases being sent to ADR
    2. The number of agreements being reached
    3. The number of mediators signing up to mediate
    4. The number of parties showing up for ADR sessions
  3. Data is turned into reports that can be readily digested
    1. Easy to read
    2. No use of insider language or acronyms
    3. Fitting use of charts and other visuals
  4. Reports are adapted to their particular audience and disseminated appropriately, typically as follows:
    1. Judges and court administrators with direct responsibility get the most detailed reports
    2. Those higher up in the court system get summaries with explanations
    3. Funders’ reports depend on what the funder requires. They may also get some anecdotes about how parties are experiencing the program.
  5. Reports include recommendations for action when appropriate
  6. The program is evaluated near the end of the first year, after a substantial period of time, or when there has been a major change in the program or the context in which the program operates

 

10. Program Promotion

Reminding stakeholders of the value of the ADR program will help maintain its support.

  1. Brochures are made available in courtrooms and other locations as needed
    1. Brochures are only produced if they will serve a particular purpose, such as giving parties the number they need to call to schedule a mediation
    2. If brochures are targeted to self-represented litigants, they must be in easy-to-understand language
  2. News about the program is publicized via:
    1. Local radio, TV, newspaper, news websites
    2. Court newsletter
    3. Bar association newsletter
  3. Program is featured on appropriate websites
    1. Information about the ADR program can be readily found on the court’s site
    2. If the program maintains its own site, instead of appearing as part of the court’s site, it must be easy to find and navigate and kept up to date
  4. As members of stakeholder groups change, the new individuals are familiarized with the program
    1. Judges are educated on how it works, ethical limitations, what to expect
    2. Lawyers, e.g., child protection attorneys, assigned to courtrooms are trained in how to use the program
    3. Staff at funders are educated about the program’s benefits and history
    4. Court staff are educated about the program’s benefits and how it fits into court processes

 

11. Program Administration

Someone wakes up every morning with the feeling that it is their job to do everything on this list to ensure the quality and continuity of the ADR program.

  1. Individuals with power over the program, e.g., funding or case referrals, are kept informed about the program
  2. The ADR program operates in accordance with applicable laws, court procedures and rules
  3. The program functions efficiently and effectively, e.g.:
    1. Cases are referred to ADR in a consistent manner
    2. Cases are scheduled promptly
    3. Reports are provided to court on time
    4. The benefits provided by the ADR program are reasonable in relationship to the costs of the program
    5. Changes in the program are tracked and potential responses suggested when needed