The 5th International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution in Liverpool, England was above all else, a chance to see Beatles memorabilia and have a pint at The Cavern.
Two of Daewon’s points are worth repeating here:
Paragraph 13 of the Geneva Plan of Action of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) encourages “the ongoing work in the area of effective dispute settlement systems, notably Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which can promote settlement of disputes.” And the WSIS went further, as Paragraph 36 of the Tunis Commitment states that the Members States “value the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to promote peace and to prevent conflict which, inter alia, negatively affects achieving development goals.’ We can thus consider ODR as a tool not just for economic dispute resolutions, but as a tool for peace, health and social development.
In the Asia and Pacific region, ODR also has an enhanced role as an empowerment tool for rural and poor people who have little access to dispute resolution by other means.
In return, the rest of the world will benefit, as the next generation of online dispute resolution systems emerge from Asia and the Pacific, that will reflect cultural diversity of the region, its unique socio-political textures, and the specificity of its ICT, more mobile phone oriented than PC oriented.
These echoed what I’ve submitted as ideas to this august & expanding group of lawyers, mediators, negotiators, system designers and ADR practitioners since 2004. Sadly, not a single of the systems that were displayed during the sessions were sensitive to these points.
I begin then with the worst. All of the ODR systems showcased in Liverpool were around 4 years behind the curve of current developments in technology. Juripax was the most interesting, and most in tune with tenets of inter-cultural negotiations and new media. The rest of the systems looked (and indeed were) old, based on legacy databases, textual, visually unappealing, horrendously complex, operated largely in English and in general, no better than the Groove based One Text system we developed, with absolutely no international support for the design or implementation of, in Sri Lanka 4 years ago.
At the time we had (through the features built into Groove Virtual Office) secure VoIP, synchronous & asynchronous data communications, multimedia support, multi-lingual support through PDF’s, Instant Messaging, direct Windows XP operating system integration for folder content synchronisation, GIS and decision support tools, with more security for on disk storage as well as point to point communications than any one of the current crop of ODR solution can speak of. Though InfoShare soon outgrew the limitations of our Groove based platform, and its a singular pity that leading systems designers and ODR platforms have yet to avail themselves of developments in technology such as Skype, AJAX and new media to create systems that are easier to use, faster to respond, adaptive, multi-lingual, visually appealing and above all else, more effective.
This is not the first time I’ve strongly encouraged ODR developers to take heed of these new developments, but the resistance to change from those who are conceptually prisoners of the PC-based ODR solutions paradigm is significant. Clearly, the need to raise awareness on and develop solutions for mobile phones for ODR is yet to fully take root.
Two other points are worth mentioning. One, as I’ve noted earlier, not a single mainstream ODR system was geared to address, even in a small way, the needs of those who are differently abled and visually challenged. Two, the lack of a standards based data format for ODR makes it impossible to migrate information from one system to another. Although ODR XML standards have been discussed in the past, nothing seems to have been developed to date that provides a standard for information & data exchange between various ODR systems.
On the positive side, this was the most interesting Forum in terms of those who were genuinely interested in the use of technology for peacebuilding. My presentation and ideas resulted in an offer to contribute two chapters on ICT4Peace and Serious Games for Peacebuilding, topics which I’ve covered extensively on this blog, in an up-coming publication on ODR by the University of Liverpool. It was also a pleasure meeting Leah Wing, whose presentation on Northern Ireland’s reconciliation process was insightful and instructive for those who sought to develop technology to support such fragile processes. At the end of my presentation, I urged those present to think of a larger humanity and of more urgent crises such as Darfur.
I hope the message was heard.
Daewon’s points about the use of technology in Asia serving as an example to the rest of the world are prescient. While on the one hand ODR has matured tremendously from even 3 years ago, there’s much to be unlearnt and learnt by this community if mainstream solutions are going to address the protracted and complex ethnic, social & political conflicts I’ve proposed ODR needs to deal with.
Not all have to join in. But the development of better ODR systems will require the collective wisdom of all those who are already designing, implementing & using such systems.
On balance, I think Liverpool was a turning point in the acceptance & awareness of conflict transformation in ODR, which as I said in my presentation, will possibly always remain at the periphery of mainstream ODR, but will be increasingly an important part of the overall body of practice and theory. As ever, the aisle, mens-room and hotel corridor conversations were the most delightful – such as dealing with the English Barrister who came up to me and said that he loved my presentation, but thought that using Second Life for conflict transformation was quite silly given that cricket was a far better way of resolving disputes!
Most everyone quoted their favourite Beatles song’s during their presentations and intros, and I finally found one by John Lennon that captures the essence of what I’ve for years said at these Forums.