Organizing ADR

Maria Volpe

Professor of Dispute Resolution, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: ... ADR doesn't just happen. A lot of our work to do ADR requires a lot of organizing work. If we had organized people; we could have held some of the kinds of dialogues that were subsequently held at the South St. Sea Port, and the Jacob Javis Center. As it turns out, it wasn't people who consider themselves dispute resolvers who held them, but America Speaks, I don't know if you're familiar with them down in Washington. They used their technology to hold their 21st century town meeting and they did a phenomenal job. But they didn't know New York, they didn't know the New York people to get the facilitators, particularly for the first listening to the city. And by then, it was January, we had our list serve and they called to ask if we could post a call for facilitators and mediators in New York.

I can imagine that if the dispute resolution community was also geared up to do lots of community organizing work, we could probably do a lot more work. Because in order to bring people together, one often has to do a lot of preparing for people to come to the table, which is a pretty labor intensive. Community organizers do a lot of that. The question is, that when bringing people together they then know how to facilitate that people in this field do, and my sense is that a lot of it is on the job training and many of them can do it very well. So the question again is what do we bring that's so unique if other people can do our work, or if we don't do all that's required for us to do our work.

Q: Yeah, that's a scary question for the field.

A: Well, for the field, we always say that people aren't using mediation; they're resisting it. Well, in order for people to feel comfortable with it, they have to know it. They have to know about you, I mean there's a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid. I mean talk about intractable conflict, where there are layers and layers and layers that need to be dealt with, feelings, perceptions, history, issues, concerns, in order to get those individuals to the table. It takes a lot of organizing work; trust building work and community organizers at the local level often do that. At the international level you've got diplomats and others who are trying to lay that groundwork.