As the Dispute Resolution Works in Progress Conference wrapped up Saturday, October 20, one of the attendees commented with great feeling on how truly special the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas had been. She and another colleague were seated at the end of a table, taking advantage of later flights to work together on something while they were together in the same state. I responded that we had then accomplished our goal with this conference. Looking back, I realize that we accomplished much, much more.
In this age of emails, PDF’s, cell phones and faxes, the modes for exchanging ideas are legion. We can send a thought or a comment across the world in the blink of an eye, and co-authors can work together on a book (or books) without necessarily ever needing to meet face-to-face. We can easily get a general idea of what someone else is working on through talk pieces, newsletters, articles, etc., and we can get feedback in many, many different forms.
What we were able to accomplish though, beyond our goal of getting people together to talk about their research and writing, was to solidify relationships in a way that can’t be done via email. And, as I reflect on the presentations I saw (and I wish I could have seen all of them), I’m struck once again not only by the passion those of us in ADR have for what we do, but the far-reaching implications of the processes for the wider world. The benefits of having the amount of energy and brain power focused on these issues together in one place for even just a brief period of time is significant well beyond the reaches of academia.
Many of the presentations had a focus related in one way or another to access. Access to appropriate news coverage of conflict; access to culturally competent/sensitive processes; access to collaborative processes to address division of resources; access to processes that are appropriate to the developmental stage of a society; access for the disabled with an understanding that impediments to access may be difficult to identify; access to private methods of dispute resolution; access to information about whether private methods raise larger questions of justice; access to processes that can resolve transnational disputes; access to “self”; access to theory that informs what we do; access to new research agendas – what do we need to know that we don’t know yet, and why; access to ways to train people to address conflicts.
It seemed to me that this issue of voice, raised so well by my co-blogger Nancy Welsh in her articles, and by me in my article on the importance of international dispute resolution, is a crucial issue across so many domains in ADR. As we institutionalize ADR to the point where we don’t have to justify its existence, this issue of access—voice—procedural justice—seems to me to be the key issue of the next generation of ADR