Resources / Study / Innovation for Court ADR

Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Lessons Learned from Foreclosure Mediation

Susan M. Yates, June 14th, 2016

It is heartening to see that titles of two recent publications include the phrase “lessons learned” as they explore Illinois’ experience with foreclosure mediation. That phrase reflects Resolution Systems Institute’s perspective that we should consistently seek the lessons from current mediation programs to apply to the next ones to be developed. Not surprisingly, RSI staff wrote one of these articles!

These pieces – the one by RSI and the other by the Woodstock Institute – outline four and twelve “lessons learned” respectively. The publications are:

The Woodstock study looks at the experience in Cook County – the densely-populated northern Illinois county that includes Chicago. RSI’s article draws on our experience with, and evaluation of, six foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois, three of which we operate. These programs are scattered throughout the state and serve counties that are a combination of rural, suburban and small city populations.

The goals of the publications are somewhat similar. RSI’s article offers recommendations on how the growing problem of student loan debt might be addressed by extrapolating from our foreclosure mediation experience and evaluation. The Woodstock study extrapolates from the Cook County experience to suggest how any future crisis confronting the courts might be addressed.

It is especially interesting to see where the lists of lessons converge and diverge. Some of the convergence may be because RSI and the Woodstock Institute share a love of data. In fact, Woodstock has provided RSI with data that has helped us to tailor outreach efforts and service sites to the areas hardest hit by foreclosure. On the other hand, differences between the two organization’s missions may explain some of the difference in emphasis in the lessons learned. The mission of the Woodstock Institute (WI) is to “create a just financial system in which lower-wealth persons and communities and people and communities of color can achieve economic security and community prosperity.” The mission of Resolution Systems Institute is to “strengthen access to justice by enhancing court alternative dispute resolution.” Indeed, if you read the full text of the publications, you will see that the details of the lessons may diverge even more than the summary lesson statements indicate.

Similar Lessons

Some of the lessons learned align between the organizations, and these are shared below. The focus of our article was purely on what we learned from administering and evaluating these programs, while Woodstock’s focus was on administration as well as some suggestions about program design. We are therefore limiting this discussion to lessons about program administration, but you can be sure that we will have much to say on the topic of program design in the future.

RSI Lessons

Woodstock Lessons


  • Make entry to programs as easy as possible.
  • Making access to services convenient for people who need them is key.


  • Provide self-represented borrowers with outside help in navigating complicated debt issues.
  • Helping people who are not familiar with a large bureaucracy navigate their way through the system may be important to make sure they stay on track.


  • Continuously evaluate how well cases are moving forward.
  • Establishing a comprehensive, fully-integrated quality control system is essential.
  • Trying something, a pilot program, and being prepared to adapt if it does not work as imagined, is a good first step.
  • Seeking additional input and changing the response is likely to be necessary.

Continual Monitoring

  • Monitor your program.
  • Defining general goals is not enough; the response needs clearly articulated goals and a clear set of components or processes to reach those goals.
  • Tracking progress helps keep the response functioning within the parameters necessary to be effective and to demonstrate the level of output.


Sadly, RSI’s home state of Illinois continues to struggle with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Nonetheless, it’s a good sign when two Illinois institutions spend the time and expertise to reflect on our experience in foreclosure mediation and think ahead about how to respond to the next crisis that overwhelms our court system. Considering lessons learned from different perspectives will help us be better prepared to address the next crisis that affects our economy and society.


2 Responses to “Lessons Learned from Foreclosure Mediation”

  1. Kent Lawrence says:

    As usual insightful, succinct, and on point. Great job; articles like this are particularly good for those of us who want to keep up with what is happening but have limited time to commit.

  2. Thanks, Kent.
    I’ve often said RSI’s informal motto should be, “we read it so you don’t have to!”

Leave a Reply

Verified by ExactMetrics