Theory of Change Symposium – Part 1

A combination of several things prompted me to organize this Theory of Change Symposium.  In January, noting a combination of indicators, I wrote this post worrying about the future of ADR in legal education.  Last summer’s “Past-and-Future” conference inspired me to think about what our community might do to counteract some of the troubling trends.

After most conferences, people go home without planning any significant changes.  Given the serious challenges we can clearly foresee for our field, this summer’s conference provided an opportunity for our community to begin to coalesce around some actionable ideas to address the challenges.  That’s the hope for this symposium.

I wondered if this Theory of Change Symposium was another one of my crazy ideas that would go nowhere.  I’m thrilled that so many people jumped at the chance to write something, which I think reflects the idealism in our community and commitment to improve people’s lives.

The assignment was to identify realistic strategies that would advance important goals for our field.  Readers might adopt these ideas in their own work, connect with writers to exchange ideas and resources, or develop initiatives for some collective action.  While some initiatives may require commitments by established organizations like the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution, among many others in our field, other initiatives can be the work of small ad hoc groups.

The anthropologist Margaret Mead is quoted as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Although I am skeptical that small group action is the only way that the world has changed, I believe that small group actions have more potential than you might expect.  So, as you read contributions throughout this symposium, please consider how you might apply these ideas without waiting for others to take the initiative.

This first part of the symposium is a great illustration of ideas from various people (many of whom are not the usual suspects) for our field to “step up our game” in many different ways.

Ben Cook, Chris Honeyman, and Tom Valenti focus on legal education with suggestions about what to teach and how to organize competitions to maximize student learning.  Brian Farkas suggests how our community can cross-pollinate with members of various ABA sections.  Barney Jordaan describes how to stimulate the use of mediation for negotiation of transactions.  Michael Buenger and Heather Kulp provide big picture ideas about reconceiving courts and the DR field.  I recommend that we start now to systematically engage people in our field as we anticipate the aging of a large cohort of leaders in US law schools.

Here’s more detail with links to the pieces:

Michael BuengerDesigning the Courts to Truly Meet Users’ Needs Michael argues that the modern court system should – but does not – adequately meet the needs of actual and potential users of the courts.  He recommends a “zero-based” approach to designing the courts as if we were starting from scratch.  He is the executive vice-president / COO of the National Center for State Courts.

Ben CookWe Should Teach More About the Connection Between Theory and Practice as well as Dispute System Design.  Ben encourages continued efforts to narrow the gap between theory and practice, and more opportunities for law students to learn about and practice dispute system design.  He is an associate professor of law at Brigham Young University.


Brian FarkasA Modest(ish) Proposal: Enhancing Impact Through Joint Spring ConferencesBrian argues that our field’s largest annual gathering, the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution’s spring conference, is too insular.  To expand the field’s impact and broaden our base, he suggests that we should change its structure by collaborating with a different ABA section each year.  He is an adjunct professor at Cardozo School of Law.

Chris HoneymanWe Need an Inventory of What We Are TeachingChris is concerned about slow “takeup” of multiple large-scale efforts, over the past 15 years, to find more diverse sources of wisdom in our field, and make them easier to access and use in teaching and in practice.  If your perception is the same as Chris’s, would an effort to compile a cross-section of syllabi and compare them to what could now be taught be possible?  Would it help?  Chris is managing partner of Convenor Conflict Management.

Barney JordaanPromoting the Economic and Other Benefits of Transactional Mediation, An Under-Researched and Under-Utilised Process.  Barney believes that businesses are missing great opportunities to improve their deal-making and that our field should promote transactional mediation to help them gain the benefits that this process can offer.  He is professor of management practice at Vlerick Business School in Belgium, and has been active in the ADR field for more than 30 years.  He firmly believes, perhaps a little naively, that with the right mindset, leadership, and sometimes a little help from peacemakers in business and politics, organisations and societies are capable of profound positive change.

Heather Scheiwe KulpReframing Our Field to Focus on Improving People’s Ability to Handle Disputes on Their Own.   Heather believes our field’s survival depends on refocusing on conflict management, negotiation, and communication – skills people readily identify they want – rather than on the narrower “dispute resolution.”  In building capacity for people to better manage conflict, we also improve the downstream effects of conflicts.  She provides examples of how we have done this and can do this.  She is the alternative dispute resolution coordinator for the New Hampshire Judicial Branch Office of Mediation & Arbitration.  This article is an expression of her personal views and does not represent the opinion of the New Hampshire Judicial Branch.

John LandeWe Need an All-Hands-On-Deck Strategy Now to Maintain the Vitality of Our Field in the FutureJohn is alarmed that the DR field is facing a foreseeable shriveling in US law schools as retiring faculty are not replaced by faculty specializing in DR.  He worries that this will lead to a downward spiral and that the field will become a fading shadow of itself.  He recommends that everyone in our field take this seriously now, before the trend becomes harder to counteract, and he suggests several strategies to counteract this trend.  He is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Tom ValentiImproving Student CompetitionsTom has worked in the area of student negotiation and mediation competitions for many years, and he is concerned that we are not doing as good a job as we could in using these competitions to achieve their intended goals effectively.  He is a Chicago-based conflict resolution specialist offering mediation, arbitration, and facilitation services and training around the globe.

Going Forward

I got a lot of emails from people who would have liked to write something for the symposium but are crunched for time, especially at the beginning of the semester, who didn’t want to make a commitment, or wanted to get some ideas from the initial posts.

Some good news for people who weren’t ready to write something initiallyThere’s still time – and you don’t need to make a commitment.  This symposium can continue as long as people have things that they want to write.  You may read something in the symposium or elsewhere that you want to elaborate or take issue with or that just sparks some relevant idea.   The pieces are short – the ones in this part range from 1½ to 6 pages.

If would like to contribute to this project, please take a look at posts that provide the basics about writing for the symposium and give more information about what does and doesn’t fit into the parameters of the symposium.

I plan to post a collection of contributions every week or two as long as people want to write pieces for the symposium.

I created this post as an index of the contributions to this symposium.  As I add posts, I will link to them all in this index post so that you can find them all in one place.  You can bookmark this post if you like.

One thought on “Theory of Change Symposium – Part 1”

  1. These are all terrific contributions – thank you all for taking the time to write these, and to John Lande for organizing the symposium.
    In particular, I wanted to give a shout out to Tom Valenti and his perceptive piece on ADR competitions (much of which I agree with 100%). There are many fantastic competitions out there that help our students learn and grow in important ways that can’t be achieved through ordinary classroom instruction alone. However, there are also some *serious* issues with the design of ADR competitions out there. Has anyone given any thought to the idea of creating a uniform ADR competition protocol (or one each for arb/med/nego competitions)? An independent advisory or rating body for competitions? My sense is that competitions have the power to influence the actual practice of ADR in important and sometimes high-profile ways. If so, getting these competitions right may be vitally important not just for educational purposes, but also for purposes of influencing and safeguarding the development of ADR practice, both here and abroad.

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