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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Posts Tagged ‘mediation’

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.

Findings from an Evaluation of Eight Foreclosure Mediation Programs

Jennifer Shack, December 5th, 2018

As I mentioned last month, I recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of eight foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois. One great benefit of evaluating eight programs with different approaches to resolving the same cases is that it allowed me to uncover program design factors and other variables that promote program success. The three big takeaways from the evaluation are that proper program design is essential, provision of services has an impact on homeowner outcomes, and data is crucial to program improvement. The evaluation was a final look at the eight programs that were funded by the Illinois Attorney General, encompassing up to four years for each program. Seven of the eight programs used relatively uniform data that was collected on the same online case management system. Further, I worked with each program to define the variables used so that we had a clear understanding of the meaning of each variable. This allowed me to develop uniform measures for the programs that enabled comparisons of program performance across them.

First, some basic findings. The eight programs helped 4,766 homeowners, representing 23% of all foreclosure filings in their jurisdictions. They saved 1,100 homes. Once homeowners entered the programs, 21% to 40% saved their homes, depending on the program. More than 90% of homeowners who completed surveys said that they gained a better understanding of their options and how to work with their lenders. Almost all homeowners felt that they were treated fairly and with respect. Most felt that they were able to talk about the issues and concerns that were most important to them and almost all felt the mediator understood what was important to them. Most were satisfied with their experience.

Now to the takeaways. Program design played a significant role in how many homeowners a program was able to help and how many homeowners participated in the program. The two variables are different because most programs helped homeowners to understand their options and the foreclosure process, even if they could not or decided not to participate. Those programs that told homeowners that they must appear for their initial session and provided a date and time for that had significantly higher proportions of homeowners appear and participate than programs that had them contact the program in other ways. And those programs that told homeowners they had to call the program coordinator, provided a deadline to do so and sent additional reminders had significantly higher proportions of homeowners contact the program and participate than those programs that informed the homeowners of the program and told them how to start the process to participate.

Participation rate is very important, not just because higher participation means that more homeowners are helped. The greater the proportion of homeowners facing foreclosure who participate in the program, the greater the proportion of homeowners who save their homes.

Other aspects matter as well. Having the homeowners meet with a representative for their lender from the outset appears to improve program completion rates and possibly improves the probability that participating homeowners save their homes. Within individual programs, those homeowners who worked with a housing counselor are more likely to complete the program. Those who worked with attorneys were much more likely to complete the program. Interestingly, they weren’t more likely to save their homes.

It was very gratifying to see that those programs that made changes based on the data they were collecting and the recommendations from my first evaluation were improved by those changes. For example, the 19th Circuit and 20th Circuit programs made changes to the manner in which homeowners contacted and entered the program, significantly improving participation. The 16thand 19th Circuits worked with mediators to improve their skills, leading to fewer mediator issues and more participants leaving mediation with a good experience.

For a quick take on the evaluation, see the Executive Summary.
To access a digital summary of the evaluation, click here.
For the Full Evaluation, download PDF .

Saving Homes, Building Understanding

Eric Slepak-Cherney, November 29th, 2018

Resolution Systems Institute is proud to share its latest publication, Saving Homes, Building Understanding: An Evaluation of the Eight Foreclosure Mediation Programs Funded by the Illinois Attorney General. This new evaluation looks at four-plus years of data across eight different programs to provide a comprehensive analysis of foreclosure mediation in Illinois, and to highlight how differences in program models impacted outcomes. (more…)

End of One Era, Beginning of Another

Susan M. Yates, August 31st, 2018

August 31, 2018, will mark the end of an era at RSI. Our five-year foreclosure mediation grant from the Office of the Illinois Attorney General will come to an end.

This grant, which we received 15 years into our operation, was our opportunity to prove that when given sufficient resources, RSI could deliver the kind of quality court mediation program that we had been recommending to others all those years. I used terms like “practice what we preach,” “proof is in the pudding” and even, “put up or shut up!”

At that time, we promised to:

  • Work with courts and other stakeholders to design and operate three foreclosure mediation programs in three judicial circuits in northern Illinois
  • Develop and conduct training for mediators in our programs and those operated by our partner organizations farther downstate
  • Develop an online system to collect data about the programs enabling us to produce regular statistical reports and two comprehensive evaluations

I am happy to report that we delivered!

In the process, we confirmed some maxims about how to do quality court ADR and added a few corollaries.

  1. Study first

Before we start working with a court on their ADR program, we update our knowledge of the particular area in which we will be working. In this situation we researched what was happening across the country with foreclosure and how courts were using alternative approaches.

Corollary: Sometimes you have to build the plane while flying it. In the midst of a national foreclosure crisis, courts across the country were scrambling to keep up. While it was helpful to see what others were doing, we needed to figure out how to do foreclosure mediation in a way that worked in Illinois courts with their particular needs and resources.

  1. Work with stakeholders

We know that it is critical to bring together all the stakeholders while developing a court ADR system so that their various needs can be considered. In foreclosure mediation, the usual stakeholders – judges, court administrators, mediators and lawyers for both lenders and borrowers – were joined by a new addition: housing counselors, who were critical to the success of many of the programs.

Corollary: As important as it is to have all the voices heard, in the end, judges often have to make decisions about exactly how court ADR programs will work, and these decisions may not satisfy everyone. Fortunately, RSI doesn’t “have a dog in the fight,” so we can offer unbiased, expert advice about pros and cons of various approaches.

  1. Value the people who do the work

Never underestimate the importance of visible, capable staff. These programs are being continued because of dedicated program coordinators, who kept the cases moving and kept the courts informed of program progress, and because of skilled mediators who worked with intelligence and compassion in the midst of foreclosure – which is a crisis for each homeowner, even once the nation’s crisis has abated.

Corollary: These programs are not easy to administer. Juggling spinning plates is an apt metaphor for the challenge of administering programs with sometimes complex court rules that apply to everyone from sophisticated lawyers to overwhelmed homeowners.

  1. Collect and use reliable data

Turning data into meaningful information means different things to different stakeholders at different times. In the foreclosure mediation programs, we produced everything from monthly statistical reports for judges about numbers of cases in their programs and how they were being resolved to a mega-evaluation of all the programs that compared strengths of the various approaches and made recommendations about how each might improve.

Corollary: In a situation like this one in which every program was different, finding ways to make “apples to apples” comparisons was critical. Doing that successfully allowed RSI to make recommendations for improvement from a place of knowledge, not opinion.

Success and a New Era

September 1st will mark the beginning of a new era, as all three of our foreclosure mediation programs continue to operate thanks to the support of their local courts! We take this as the surest sign of success, that the courts value these programs enough to find a way to continue them when outside funding ends. We are grateful to the Attorney General for supporting these programs, to courts for their partnership and to the skilled mediators for conducting the mediations. We are pleased to continue to provide services to homeowners and their lenders when foreclosure looms.

Mediators, Can We Shift Perspectives on the “Blind Men and the Elephant” Story?

Susan M. Yates, August 11th, 2017

I have a problem with a story that we in the conflict resolution field use and I’m hoping we can find a replacement for it. It’s the story about people who are blind encountering an elephant. It’s a metaphor and it’s used to make a point about differing perspectives, but from my perspective it sends a negative message about people who are blind.

If you don’t know the story, the idea is that several people who are blind encounter an elephant and because they each touch a different part of the elephant, they perceive it differently. Someone touches the tail and says an elephant is a rope, someone else touches the trunk and says it is a snake, etc. You get the idea. Only a sighted person – who can see the whole – understands that it is an elephant.

My problem with this story is that it defines people who are visually impaired as inherently limited and lacking in capability. (more…)