Contributions to the Theory-of-Change Symposium

I am thrilled that so many people already have expressed interest in participating in the Theory-of-Change Symposium described in recent posts.  So far, 26 people said that they will write a piece and 10 more people are considering doing so.  I expect that others will participate as well.

These include faculty, practitioners, directors of mediation programs, association officials, and others, from five countries.

I plan to upload about 5 to 8 pieces per post and space the posts out over time to give people a chance to digest them.  So there will be quite a number of posts in the coming weeks and months.

At the beginning of the academic year, it’s a lousy rotten time for faculty to add things to your agendas and can’t write a piece now.  Some of you may feel inspired to write something as you read the posts and your time opens up.

What to Write

Several people have asked questions about writing contributions to the symposium and this is a good opportunity to provide more guidance generally.

The only requirement is that your piece discusses what you consider to be one or more high priority goals for the DR field considering the current situation and your expectations for the future as well as your ideas about how to advance those goals.

Think of this as a collective brainstorming process in which contributors identify key interests of the DR field (i.e., goals) and then describe realistic options (i.e., strategies) to advance the interests.  (In brainstorming, people sometimes invite unrealistic options to stimulate creativity.  In this symposium, however, pieces should be as realistic as possible.)

In other words, the pieces should be explicitly prescriptive, not just descriptive.

This is important because there are ominous warning signs about the future of our field and we should pursue promising strategies that might be most effective given our limited time and resources.

Some pieces will focus on specific issues they encounter in their work and will suggest how others in similar situations might grapple with difficult problems.  For example, faculty may describe strategies to help their students to learn important ideas and skills.  Practitioners may describe techniques to help clients to make better decisions.

Some pieces will have a broader focus for (part of) the field generally.  For example, these pieces might propose policies to accomplish specific goals or initiatives for groups to undertake.

It may be helpful to discuss past efforts – successful or not.  If you have found that certain strategies have been successful in some contexts, you might suggest that others use them in their situations.

We also should learn from what hasn’t worked.  A practitioner emailed me about a sensible procedure that he has urged courts to use but none have followed his suggestion.  This symposium provides a good opportunity for him to analyze why his efforts haven’t been successful in the past and what he (and others) might do differently in the future to be more successful.

Consider the distinction between strategies and goals.  Most dispute resolution procedures really are strategies, not goals.  For example, some people describe a goal of increasing usage of mediation (or a particular approach in mediation).  This really is a strategy for accomplishing some intrinsic goal (e.g., increasing party control or efficiency).  Be careful about your assumptions (e.g., considering differences in contexts and procedures, and that increasing usage of mediation may not advance your desired goals).

What Doesn’t Fit

Several people have contacted me about potential pieces for the symposium that don’t fit the general framework.  So if you are considering writing a piece, please bear this in mind.

A friend from another country sent a draft describing how the situation is different in his country and the US, and he identified questions to study that might explain the differences.

Some folks emailed about writing predictions for the future, along the lines of a series that published.

Others have identified trends suggesting challenging issues we may confront in the future.

Although it is useful to describe conditions and to identify predictions and questions for the future, these do not, in themselves, provide explicit prescriptive advice about how to advance important specified goals, which is the focus of this symposium.

Moving Forward

Feel free to contact me if you have an idea for a piece and you want to check if it would fit in the symposium and get suggestions about how to frame it.

I also am happy to answer general questions about the symposium.  I suggest that you check this post, which provides guidance about what to write and may answer your questions.

Hopefully, this symposium also will stimulate ideas to use a theory-of-change lens in presentations at this year’s wonderful Works-in-Progress conference at UNLV on October 3-5.

Faculty also could give students the option of writing a theory-of-change paper for the kind of practice they aspire to or for some part of the field generally.  This might be an option for a required or extra credit or independent study paper.  Students are welcome to submit pieces for this symposium.