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Just Court ADR

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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Reflecting on RSI Focus Groups in Washington, DC

Susan M. Yates, March 1st, 2017

Last week I had the honor of accompanying Jennifer Shack, RSI’s remarkable Director of Research, to Washington, DC. Jen is the principal investigator on an RSI evaluation of the child protection mediation program[1] in the DC Courts. I came along to facilitate the focus groups that are part of the evaluation. Each of the focus groups brought together a distinct group of lawyers who participate in mediation regularly: Guardians ad litem, lawyers for parents and prosecutors. The focus groups provided insight into how differing interests shape how mediation is perceived.

I found that my mediation skills, honed over many years, made it easy to shift into the role of focus group facilitator. Asking open-ended questions, encouraging everyone to participate and keeping the conversation moving were all familiar. Unlike mediation, the group didn’t have a goal of reaching agreement and I found that to be kind of liberating! What was more surprising to me was that it was difficult to remove my trainer/teacher “hat.” When a participant made a comment based on a misunderstanding of mediation, I had to resist the urge to engage in a conversation to educate the participant about mediation.

The groups of lawyers came from very different perspectives and often had different goals for mediation. (more…)

Tough Love

Eric Slepak, July 18th, 2016

A recent study out of Columbia University suggests that nice mediators finish last. Inspired by the familiar trope of bickering siblings setting aside their differences to unite against a stern parent, researcher Ting Zhang created simulations in which student participants attempted to reach resolution using text-based chatrooms. Zhang added a further twist to the experiment by introducing computerized participants and/or mediators in some of the sessions (though all participants were told they were interacting with other humans). The participating students were randomly assigned a hostile mediator, a neutral mediator or a nice mediator. Across all of these different scenarios, however, the data showed that agreement was more likely when the participants teamed up against a hostile mediator, and that the quality of the agreements reached was similar to those reached with a nice mediator. (more…)

Maryland Research Offers Insight into What Works (And What Doesn’t) in the Mediation Room

Jennifer Shack, June 29th, 2016

I had the honor of presenting at the Maryland Judiciary’s ADR Research Symposium a couple of weeks ago. The purpose of the symposium was to inform judges and court personnel of the results of a six-year research project examining ADR programs and processes. It reminded me of just how well Maryland has planned and implemented its ADR system. Because it serves as a model, I’d like to provide a little background about this before discussing the research. (more…)

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. (more…)

A Matter of Degree: If and When ADR Should be Introduced into the Student Debt Conversation

Eric Slepak, December 7th, 2015

Like many of you, we here at RSI have been keeping close tabs on what’s going on with student debt in this country. Perhaps it’s our proximity to the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the improving yet ongoing fallout, but the similarities are a little too close for our comfort. Just as homeowners overleveraged themselves on the road to the foreclosure crisis, so too Americans now stand on the precipice of what could be an equally destabilizing student debt problem. As an organization that has made empirical research its bread and butter for over two decades, we are interested in pulling together all the relevant data we can to see if there is an escape valve for this high-pressure bubble.

What’s a little different from our previous research is our timing. Whether it’s been a response to an explosive crisis like the bursting of the housing bubble, or to more subtle issues, like the gradual erosion of access to courts for low-income litigants which has made ADR such an attractive alternative, we’ve come to study dispute system design as a solution to problems well underway. For the first time, RSI hopes to leverage its skills in designing, managing and evaluating ADR programs to provide insight into a situation that has yet to reach its tipping point.

We think America’s student debt industry could be a prime candidate for action sooner rather than later. (more…)