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Archive for the ‘Program Management’ Category

New Reports Describe Successes, Challenges in Launch of Eviction Mediation Programs in Illinois’ Kankakee, Winnebago Counties

Jennifer Shack, September 19th, 2022

This article is part of a series of perspectives on eviction mediation program development that is being supported by the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation. The AAA-ICDR’s grant is enabling RSI to expand our outreach to court ADR colleagues working in the fast-evolving eviction field, and we are tremendously grateful to the Foundation for their support.

In late 2021, the 17th Circuit and 21st Circuit courts of Illinois launched eviction mediation programs with RSI assistance. RSI now administers the programs remotely. I had the pleasure of interviewing the judges and program administrators involved in the planning and implementation of the programs. The purpose was to help other courts interested in starting eviction mediation programs by better understanding how the programs work and the challenges and successes they experienced during the planning phase and post-launch. The resulting reports for the 17th Circuit and 21st Circuit are now available.

Photo by eskay lim via Unsplash

Both programs started with the same program design and initially relied on the same program coordinator, who administered the programs remotely with the help of an assistant. For both programs, the program coordinator or the program assistant attended court calls remotely so that when the judge referred cases to the program, they could obtain party contact information and other case details that would help them to administer the program. Parties had access to rental assistance, and mediation was held via Zoom by paid mediators. The programs got off to a slow start but have begun to see more referrals.

17th Circuit Program

The 17th Circuit program, serving Winnebago County, launched in September 2021, but started seeing regular referrals in January. The mediation program was conceived as a partner service to rental assistance.[1] Winnebago County had the benefit of two agencies that could process rental assistance applications quickly and that could have representatives present at the court call. Because rental assistance was readily available to most tenants, the judge decided to refer cases to rental assistance first, then authorize mediation for cases in which the assistance was denied. 

Initially, the program coordinator did not have an easy way to follow up with the tenants to see if they had been approved for rental assistance and whether they wanted to mediate. Seeing an opportunity for the program to do more, the court and RSI decided to have the program coordinator help move tenants through the rental assistance application process. She now follows up with tenants to be sure they have applied for rental assistance and helps get them in contact with a rental assistance agency if not. This helps her to identify cases that need mediation and to schedule them for mediation if the tenants agree to participate.

Lessons Learned

Coordination with program partners may improve buy-in

RSI did not have the staff capacity to take on the role of coordinating program partner communications and needs during program development. According to RSI’s associate director, this resulted in more landlord resistance to the program than in another circuit whose eviction mediation program RSI helped develop. In that program, there was ongoing communication among the program partners, and their perspectives were incorporated into the program rules and process. There, attorneys for landlords and tenants, as well as representatives from the rental assistance agencies and court staff, met regularly before program launch to discuss program development and after the program launched to discuss any issues with the program and its processes.

Communication is essential

The program coordinator and the program assistant both indicated that the open communication with both rental assistance agencies is essential to the smooth running of the program and to ensuring that those who need mediation are offered the opportunity. Communication with the judge is also necessary. The judge initially referred cases to mediation based on a narrow set of criteria. The program coordinator and the program manager have been discussing with the judge the benefits of mediation in other circumstances.

Judge support is key

The judge promotes use of the program both by informing the parties of the resources available to them and strongly encouraging parties to attend mediation.

Tenants need help obtaining rental assistance

Not all tenants are capable of navigating the process of obtaining rental assistance, particularly in the short time frame required by the court’s eviction process. The program coordinator has found that she often needs to explain to tenants what they must do to apply and to follow up to be sure they do so in a timely manner. In addition, she often must explain to tenants what the status of their application is, because they do not always understand their situation.

Good program administration is important

The judge indicated that the program coordinator’s follow-up with tenants about their efforts to obtain rental assistance has helped to move parties through the application process. The program coordinator indicated that this case management has allowed her to identify cases suitable for mediation and has led to more cases being mediated.

It’s helpful to meet with landlords before program launch

The judge noted that outreach to landlords helped to assuage landlords’ fears about the program, reducing resistance to it.

The mediation program may need to evolve

The program may not work the way originally planned, or the original plan may not lead to the most effective provision of services. In this case, the judge’s desire to wait to mediate cases until after rental assistance was denied led to a need to reconfigure the program coordinator’s role.

21st Circuit Program

The 21st Circuit program, serving Kankakee County, launched in December 2021 but saw its first referrals in March 2022. In the 21st Circuit, the reasons for the slow start were complicated. The judge, who was assigned to hear evictions after the program planning phase, was supportive of mediation but had a narrow view of which cases were appropriate. Further, there was no funding for the program during the planning phase, so RSI did not have the staff to engage with stakeholders to get their input and their buy-in. This may have played a role in resistance to mediation among the plaintiff’s bar.

The mediation program was conceived as a partner service to rental assistance,[2] with parties having access to both at the same time. The judge was given the authority by local court rule to order cases to mediation, which she uses when she believes referral to mediation is warranted. Though the court and its partners did not integrate rental assistance with mediation, in practice, the judge refers cases to mediation when she determines the tenants do not know about the resources available to them. The program coordinator has thus taken on the role of helping self-represented tenants, who make up the vast majority of defendants, navigate the rental assistance process. The rental assistance agency has been less involved in the program than the agencies in the 17th Circuit, and has determined that it cannot inform the program coordinator of the status of rental assistance applications due to privacy concerns. This has made it more difficult to help tenants, and mediations often take place without knowledge of whether the tenants have been approved for rental assistance. 

Lessons Learned

Many of the lessons learned were similar to those for the 17th Circuit, but for different reasons.

Coordination with program partners may improve buy-in

Because of a lack of funding during program planning, RSI was understaffed and could not take on the role of coordinating program partner communications and needs. According to the associate director, this resulted in more landlord resistance to the program than in another judicial circuit, in which there was ongoing communication among the program partners and the incorporation of program partner perspectives into the program rules and process.

It helps to remain flexible

The mediation program went through some growing pains, and both the court and the program coordinator needed to figure out how to best work together and to best manage cases. This effort is ongoing but appears to be bearing fruit.

Communication is essential

Lack of communication with the court led to a slow rollout of the program. This has changed as communication has improved. Lack of communication with the rental assistance agency has made it more difficult to assist tenants and to reach agreements in mediation.

Judge support is key

Although the eviction judge came onto the bench after the program had been planned, and therefore needed some time to acclimate to the mediation program, she believes there is a place for mediation in eviction cases. This has led to a greater number of referrals as time has passed.

Good program administration is important

The judge relies on the program coordinator to help tenants navigate resources and to gain access to rental assistance. This has broadened the scope of the position and has required greater case management skills. 


[1] State and federal funds have been made available that provide eligible tenants up to $25,000 to pay past and future rent. The county disburses the funds, which are sent directly to the landlord.

[2] State and federal funds have been made available that provide eligible tenants up to $25,000 to pay past and future rent. The county disburses the funds, which are sent directly to the landlord.

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

Two New Chapters of RSI’s Guide to Program Success now Available!

Nicole Wilmet, November 27th, 2019

We are thrilled to announce that two new chapters of our Guide to Program Success are now available! RSI’s Guide to Program Success combines the expertise of Executive Director Susan Yates and Director of Research Jennifer Shack and discusses how to effectively design, manage and evaluate successful court ADR programs.

Newly released Chapter 12: Create Your Program Forms addresses how to create forms for court programs and includes a set of exemplary sample forms from courts around the United States. Chapter 13: Launch Your Program, focuses on the successful launch of a court program takes a look at things that court sometimes don’t think about when starting a program.

We hope you find these resources valuable in your work!

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

 

New Mediator Self-Reflection Tool

Susan M. Yates, January 9th, 2019

The Supreme Court of Virginia has developed a wonderful new self-reflection form for mediators. While the Court developed this tool for their certified mediators as part of their re-certification process, it is a valuable tool for any mediator (just ignore the instructions about continuing mediator education credits). There is a lot of content, so if you are using this on your own you will probably want to pick and choose among the questions. This new tool coordinates with Virginia’s excellent Mediator Self-Reflection Treasury.

Even though mediators work very closely with people when we mediate, typically no one else in the room shares our mediator perspective. There are exceptions, such as co-mediation or when we are observed by new mediators, but mediation can be an isolated activity (made especially so by the limits of confidentiality). This isolation makes self-reflection particularly important.

I can imagine many uses for these tools beyond self-reflection. A group of mediators could pick a few of the questions to discuss over lunch. For co-mediators, the tools could aid their debriefing. The forms might help a new court or community mediation program get clear about what they expect from mediators. The tools will probably spark other ideas when you read them.

Many thanks to the good people of the Supreme Court of Virginia for taking the time to produce and share these tools. They are a real gift to the mediation community.