A working method for complex discussions
The examples on this page are from a single long-term project. They are here to illustrate a working method for developing collaboration between extremely busy people. In this project the people involved were usually unpaid, and often collaborated in large numbers, with considerable depth of effort, and with people they did not know.
Our working method did not start with this project, and it developed further afterwards. But the five years of the Theory to Practice project were pivotal, a period in which this approach was refined over many related events and experiments.
Theory to Practice, a national project, tackled a problem that is not unique to conflict management but which has particularly serious consequences in a rapidly developing field: the disconnection between what people who see themselves as "doers" know, or think they know, and what those who see themselves as researchers and "idea people" know, or think they know.
We set out to develop more sophisticated and more consistent linkages between these two broad groups. Christopher Honeyman, managing partner of CONVENOR, was the project's director and principal investigator, and Mediation Center (Hamline University, St. Paul, MN) was the grant administrator. The project was generously funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for an initial two-year term (1997-99), and in 1999 the Foundation awarded a major grant for a further three years. (In 2002 the project was succeeded by the Broad Field project.) One feature that was constant throughout was its expert steering committee, including both scholars and practitioners drawn from diverse backgrounds. As you will see, the project also benefited from a long list of other colleagues, in a wide variety of practice and academic settings. Below you can find a summary of the major outputs and results, including links to some of the project's publications.
Events and Presentations (examples from among many)
While the writings resulting from a stream of discussions were numerous (see below), for this particular project's purposes the meetings themselves were just as important, if not more so: We were, after all, trying to get people more used to working together for the future. The following meetings are just a sample.
- Hewlett Theory Centers Conference, March 2002, New York. As the closing event of the five-year project, Theory to Practice collaborated with two Hewlett Theory Centers (CUNY-DRC at the City University of New York, and the Institute for (now "School of") Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University) to host the 2002 conference of the nineteen academic centers funded by the Hewlett Foundation to develop new theory in conflict resolution. This innovative meeting used the deep expertise in practical conflict handling developed by four highly varied "communities of practice" in New York to challenge scholars to make more consistent and more creative use of practitioners' experience. Both the formative questions (What don't we know? What do we need to know? How would we find out?) and the approach taken were designed to create a straightforward and real discussion between experts from many practical and academic domains over several days, as a spur to new thinking. By two months later, dozens of short articles resulting from this meeting were already being compiled. (A description of the meeting itself by Russ Bleemer, editor of CPR's Alternatives, can be found in the journal's April, 2002 issue, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 83-86.)
The outputs of this meeting were expected to include a full special issue of Negotiation Journal, the flagship publication of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. (Intro article, Oct 2002). But in analyzing the actual output of the meeting, the Journal concluded that one issue was not enough, so it also devoted about half of the following issue to this one meeting's results. (Intro article, Jan 2003). This speaks for itself: if in the history of our field there has ever been another occasion when a leading journal devoted more than a full issue to one meeting, we are unaware of it. Even with this, there was not enough space for another twenty-odd papers, which were published on the Web as the meeting's Proceedings.
- A special two-day conference on one book. In May, 2000, a group of several dozen people met at Columbia Law School to celebrate the publication of The Handbook of Conflict Resolution, edited by Morton Deutsch and Peter Coleman, and to begin to discuss how the rich ideas contained in that volume might be turned into working materials that could be readily 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. In connection with the larger meeting, a subgroup of seven scholars and practitioners also held a planning meeting to design a more on-going project. The object was to use lessons learned by working with the Deutsch/Coleman volume to design training and teaching materials drawn from additional sources.The initial outcome of this effort was a two-day conference, focused on the Handbook, and hosted by the University of Massachusetts/Boston on March 2-3, 2001. The basic idea of the conference was to assemble cross-disciplinary groups to create teaching, training, and practice materials, based on the Handbook, on the spot. By tackling a single—though, with 27 chapters and 37 authors, complex—work, we have begun 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 we think are necessary for widespread dissemination of important research-based findings. Article
- Theory to Practice "tracks" at national conferences. At their combined 2000 conference, the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution and the Conflict Resolution Education Network featured nine sessions organized by Theory to Practice, which highlighted unusual combinations of scholars and practitioners, addressing cutting-edge issues. A similar effort was mounted for the 2001 inaugural conference of SPIDR's successor, the Association for Conflict Resolution.
- Nine sessions at a regional conference. The Theory to Practice experiments at the SPIDR/CREnet 2000 conference were based on experience gained at the 1999 annual conference hosted by the Wisconsin Association of Mediators and co-sponsored by the mediator organizations of several other Midwest states. That conference explicitly adopted "theory to practice" as its special focus. The Theory to Practice project team presented a total of nine sessions (eight workshops and a plenary session) on the issues addressed by the project. As a result of this effort, the conference was co-sponsored in 1999 not only by an unusual number of practitioner organizations, but also by two academic groups—the Institute for Legal Studies of the University of Wisconsin Law School, and Marquette University.
- A "research charrette" drawing scholars and practitioners into collaboration in designing two major studies. Theory to Practice joined with the Institute for Legal Studies of the University of Wisconsin Law School to design and present an unusual symposium. The symposium involved a national group of 35 highly experienced scholars and practitioners, addressing the question "What do we need to know about dispute resolution that studying Florida's extraordinary experience could tell us?" This was designed to follow up on an August, 1999 session which Chris Honeyman and Florida Dispute Resolution Center Director (and SPIDR President) Sharon Press co-designed to provide the Florida State Courts with a cross-section of expertise on how to design a critically important study of a massive caseload.
- A moveable feast on an international issue. One of nine such ventures was held in Washington in February, 2000 in conjunction with the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University. This meeting focused on a growing problem in the field: the problems of (and increasingly, created by) U.S.-based professionals working abroad in conflict resolution. An article describing the discussion, by Christopher Honeyman and Sandra Cheldelin, appeared in the Spring, 2002 issue of Conflict Resolution Quarterly.
- A moveable feast on health care disputes. Another of the moveable feast series was held in Boston in March, 2000. Three to five representatives each from the Tufts Health Plan, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New England, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Plan (among the largest and most innovative HMOs in New England) participated, along with scholars and practitioners with a variety of sources of expertise.
Sessions exploring project issues were held at a number of national and regional conferences, including:
- National Conference on Peacemaking & Conflict Resolution, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1997).
- Law & Society Association, St. Louis, Missouri (1997), Snowmass, Colorado (1998), Chicago (1999), Miami (2000) and Budapest (2001).
- Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution, Orlando, Florida (1997), Portland, Oregon (1998), Baltimore, (1999), and Albuquerque (2000).
- Association for Conflict Resolution, Toronto (2001).
- International Association for Conflict Resolution (IACM), Cergy-Pontoise, France (2001).
- American Bar Association, Section on Conflict Resolution conference, San Francisco (2000), Washington, DC (2001) and Seattle (2002).
- Wisconsin Association of Mediators, Madison, Wisconsin (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001.)
Translating Research into practitioners' language
At one Theory to Practice discussion, held at RAND's Institute for Civil Justice, a highly experienced economist remarked "When I write, almost the entire length of the report is an effort to demonstrate how and why I reached my conclusions, because I know that some other scholar is going to challenge my methodology. But for a reader who doesn't care about that, the essentials could be said in a page or two."
The Translating Research page summarizes what was originally a many-page set of examples of how long, complex and sometimes—gasp!—turgid research reports can be rewritten to make their essential content more accessible.
Here There Be Monsters, by Christopher Honeyman, Bobbi McAdoo and Nancy Welsh (with dozens of colleagues participating), draws together what we have learned in years of work on creating better integration of scholars' and practitioners' knowledge across the conflict resolution field. It became the principal article in The Conflict Resolution Practitioner, a monograph published by the Office of Dispute Resolution, Supreme Court of Georgia to highlight the need for integration of scholarship and practical wisdom in conflict resolution.
Cracking the Hard-Boiled Student is a nuts-and-bolts description of the experiments that led to creation of exercises that "get across" important social psychology findings relevant to practice, but rarely read by practitioners. By Jeffrey M. Senger and Christopher Honeyman, and published in the monograph described above, The Conflict Resolution Practitioner.
Not Quite Protocols: Toward Collaborative Research in Dispute Resolution describes one of the Theory to Practice project's "moveable feasts" -- an effort to start to define terms on which scholars and practitioners might work together more productively, in the face of working environments on both sides whose influence can be insidious. By Christopher Honeyman, Barbara McAdoo and Nancy Welsh, with 21 colleagues. This article was first published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Fall 2001.
Have Gavel, Will Travel: Dispute Resolution’s Innocents Abroad describes another moveable feast, to begin to examine the risks created by American conflict resolution practitioners and scholars working abroad -- often, in cultures they don't take the time to understand. By Christopher Honeyman and Sandra Cheldelin This article was originally published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Spring 2002.
The Wrong Mental Image of Settlement discusses a distortion in what people think "settlement" means --- a distortion that has serious consequences for the field. By Christopher Honeyman. This article was originally published in Negotiation Journal, January 2001.
System Disorders: Trying to Build Resolution into Managed Care is the report of another "moveable feast" --- this time, examining the huge but often hidden problems created by disputes among health care professionals as well as between HMOs and their plan participants. By Brad Honoroff and Christopher Honeyman. This article was first published in Alternatives, October 2001.
Guide to Dispute Resolution Practitioners and Researchers (no longer available)
The project created the most thorough directory of sophisticated mediators and other neutrals in the field. After publishing two editions on paper, the third edition (2001, and maintained for years, but no longer current) was incorporated into the CRInfo database. It included a "reverse directory" of highly regarded scholars and researchers willing to hear from practitioner groups, and a cross-index intended to serve, in effect, as the field's first speaker's bureau.
ADR Practitioners and Researchers in a "Moveable Feast"
This article by Chris Honeyman describes why it was necessary to invent a new kind of encounter to get some key discussions going seriously. It appeared in the June, 1999 issue of Alternatives to the High Costs of Litigation (CPR, New York).
Theory v. Practice in Dispute Resolution
The initial article describing the Theory to Practice project was published in the July-August 1997 issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, the newsletter of the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, New York. The version shown here has been slightly updated.
A special issue of Mediation Quarterly on the project appeared in Summer 1998. For the first time, this juxtaposed significant scholarly analyses of particular aspects of dispute resolution with the reactions of expert practitioners. Frames of Reference is Christopher Honeyman's anchor article in the special issue, and discusses some psychological disincentives that impede communication between scholars and practitioners.
Not Good For Your Career
This Honeyman article explores some of the disincentives practitioners and academics face when contemplating working together. Published January 1998 inNegotiation Journal.
Confidential, more or less
This short Honeyman article on the disparity between both the academic and the usual practitioner perceptions of what can be kept confidential in mediation, and the realities, was published in the American Bar Association's Dispute Resolution Magazine (January 1999, pp. 12-13.)
The Incredible Disappearing Profession
Another short Honeyman article, on the disparity between the ADR field's development of quality control mechanisms and our failure to implement them broadly, focuses on the consequences for how the field is beginning to be perceived. Recently published in CONSENSUS, newsletter of the MIT Public Disputes Program(Winter 1998-99.)
On covering dispute resolution
This Honeyman article focuses on the need for journalists to recognize a sea change in the handling of conflict for what it is. Published in the January-February, 1999 issue of IRE Journal, the newsletter of the society Investigative Reporters and Editors. A version modified to address dispute resolution practitioners' interests was published as "Viewpoint: On covering dispute resolution--How to report on a systemic change in the legal process" in the August 4, 1999 issue of ADR Report (Pike & Fischer / BNA.)
Doing it Yourself
Getting other groups to adopt the ideas of Theory to Practice was, of course, an end goal throughout. This required not just leading and providing examples, but helping those groups which were willing to take up such experimentation for themselves and with their own constituencies. An early example was the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR; since renamed School/SCAR) at George Mason University, which became a regular partner of the project for years thereafter. In conjunction with the District of Columbia-area chapter of SPIDR and the Northern Virginia Mediation Service, ICAR held a one-day regional symposium on the nexus of theory and practice. The day's program is an example of what can be done locally or regionally in a number of cities which incorporate both strong communities of practitioners and significant numbers of academics interested in dispute resolution.
Upon the conclusion of the Theory to Practice project, we invited others to take action in that "space," and to seek our advice if needed; in the years since, we have responded to many such requests. And the many groups who had already hosted "moveable feasts" and other events in collaboration with the project continued to demonstrated the interest that could be generated locally. Some have gone further, and have mounted national or international meetings, discussions and writings that have drawn in many ways from this initiative.