Editor's note, Alternatives, April 2001:
Each year at its January members’ meeting in New York, the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, Alternatives’ publisher, presents Awards for Excellence in Alternative Dispute Resolution in a variety of categories. The accompanying article is part of a series of Alternatives adaptations and updates of the publication awards.
This month’s article by Christopher Honeyman is a different approach: He reports on an initiative that is attempting to turn a recent award winner, focused on theory, into a practice tool. Honeyman details the effort sparked by "The Handbook of Conflict Resolution," (edited by Morton Deutsch and Peter Coleman and published by Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco), which won a book prize in the Professional Articles category at the 18th annual awards presentation in January. Deutsch and Coleman are professors at Columbia University in New York City. For full details, see the CPR News column at 19 Alternatives 72 (February 2001).
CPR has presented the awards annually since 1983. For details about the awards’ history, see www.cpradr.org/awards99.htm.
Boston Meeting Has Practitioners Designing New ADR Tools
This article was first published in Alternatives (CPR, New York), April 2001.
Every so often, a major book is published in conflict resolution. This, regrettably, doesn’t guarantee that anybody actually will read it.
Recently there have been increasing efforts to change that pattern. One particular effort, by the Hewlett Foundation-funded Theory to Practice project, has worked to ensure that one of the most significant recent published works on conflict resolution theory and research gets attention among practitioners. [See box above for recognition of the same work by the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, Alternatives’ publisher.]
The effort started a year ago. In May 2000, a group of several dozen people met at the Columbia University Law School in New York to celebrate the publication of "The Handbook of Conflict Resolution," (edited by Morton Deutsch and Peter Coleman, published by Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco), and to begin to discuss how the volume might be turned into working materials that could be used in teaching, training, and practice.
The meeting was a collaboration between the Theory to Practice project and Columbia University's multidisciplinary Conflict Resolution Network. Theory to Practice is a national effort at improving the relationship between scholars and practitioners of dispute resolution. It is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (see www.hewlett.org); details about the project and copies of many of its publications can be found at www.convenor.com.
In connection with the larger meeting, a group of seven academics and practitioners also held a planning meeting to design a continuing project, which may last several years. The object was to use lessons learned by working with the Deutsch/Coleman book to design training and teaching materials drawn from additional sources. The seven were Carol Liebman, a clinical law professor at Columbia Law School; David Matz, director of the UMass/Boston Graduate Programs in Dispute Resolution; Carrie Menkel-Meadow, professor, Georgetown University Law Center; Jeffrey M. Senger, deputy senior counsel for dispute resolution, U.S. Department of Justice; Nancy Welsh, assistant professor, Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University; book editor Coleman, an assistant professor at Teachers College, Columbia University; and this article’s author.
The initial outcome of this discussion was a two-day conference focused on the Handbook, held last month. The basic idea of the conference, hosted by the University of Massachusetts/Boston, was to assemble cross-disciplinary groups to create teaching, training, and practice materials, based on the book, on the spot.
By tackling a single—though, with 27 chapters and 37 authors, complex—work, the organizers intended to begin to build both a collaborative network and a systematic approach for translation of other major works into the interactive exercises and other working tools that the organizers believe are necessary for widespread dissemination of important research-based findings.
We invited slightly more than one hundred highly experienced practitioners and scholars, hoping actually to attract a group of about 40 people. To the organizers’ surprise, the event became something of a hot ticket: 86 people came to the meeting.
Despite this size, the March 2-3 conference was very much a working meeting. Among the unusual features of this setting were that the participants set the priorities and chose their own assignments. Each participant chose one or two book chapters which struck him or her as particularly important. A dozen teams were thus formed, around an equal number of chapters.
Also unusual was that all the teams were interdisciplinary, including practitioners from a wide variety of backgrounds (ranging from corporate and public policy mediation to diplomacy to family conflict and other kinds of issues), as well as scholars with backgrounds ranging from law teaching to communication theory, anthropology, sociology and other disciplines.
The discussion began with two "beta" examples, prepared in advance by Professor Lela Love of Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, and by Bernard Mayer, a partner in CDR Associates, a Boulder, Colo., nonprofit ADR organization. After an hour’s discussion of the problems found in "translating" each of the subjects Love and Mayer had chosen as examples, the teams went to separate rooms, with the charge to create something that would take a definable section of the Handbook and present it in an exciting way to a specific kind of audience. Each team was free to define the audience it would design for.
The teams were given an afternoon and most of the following morning to complete at least a rough version of a product, and it was up to each team whether to use the audio and video machinery provided, or to create a play or other live demonstration, or some other kind of explanation of their chosen subject. The rules stipulated that each product, to whatever degree it was ready, had to be presented to the whole group on the second day—no ducking allowed!
Despite the great experience represented in the teams, no one found the assignment easy, and a general clamor for "More time!" was respected by modifying the schedule. Were the resulting presentations effective? The organizers thought the answer was yes, within the limits imposed by the deadline. While no one was under the illusion that a final version had been achieved of any of the products, a great deal of hard thinking was visible even in the preliminary versions that were presented.
And you can decide for yourself whether these initial "research translations" speak your language. All the presentations were videotaped, and in the near future, you will be able to see them without charge: The UMass meeting became the occasion for incorporating "streaming video" as a new service of the massive CRInfo database, which is cooperating closely with this venture. [See www.crinfo.org; for details on the Internet’s most comprehensive ADR site see "Design Your Own: ADR Clearinghouse Opens on the Net," 18 Alternatives 209 (December 2000).]
Most important, everyone who participated in this meeting took away ideas they will be developing in their own work for some time to come. Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive, with many saying they had learned something new and challenging. The organizing group was pleased, and are looking forward to adding to the materials produced, with more varieties, from more research and theory sources, for more kinds of audiences.
Perhaps Alternatives readers might consider this a challenge: What among the trove of conflict resolution research might be important to your colleagues and audiences? And how might you best get the substance of it across?