What does Web 2.0 mean for ODR?

  • What does the heady pace of progress in Web technologies mean for Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?
  • How do new ways of producing, disseminating and consuming information impact upon traditional client-lawyer relationships or in a larger sense, the social hierarchies that may hold within them the roots of violent conflict?
  • What are the new issues of trust, esp. of online resources, that bring to sharp relief the ways that we communicate with each other online?
  • What are the ways that through which ODR can be expanded, improve and made accesible to the majority of those who don’t use it and even if they do, don’t yet fully trust the service?

These are just some questions that need to be looked at in an exploration of how ODR needs to shift from current paradigms of design, access and functionality to a new paradigm of open standards based device independent frameworks that piggyback on the developments of the web, internet and mobile technologies.

However, law, seen as a lumbering beast of precedent and tradition, weighs heavily against the rapid adoption of cutting-edge technologies. This may well be a good thing in that guides the development of stable ODR systems. On the other hand, research and development into the future of ODR development, I fear, isn’t keeping up with the smorgasboard of web & internet technologies that may well define the contours of the next generation of dispute resolution, both online and in the real world. For what is the real world? Forsooth, what is considered real today may well be in-game artefacts that don’t exist aren’t to be found in the real world – bringing to mind Negroponte’s ideas on the world of bits and the world of atoms.

How will Web 2.0 and related technologies revolutionise ODR? Quite significantly, the most obvious being that ODR itself may cease to exist. With the ubiquity of broadband wired and wireless connectivity, the ability to roll-out dispute resolution service online is possibly going to be seen as a normal service provision of ADR service providers, just like automated online tech support is now part and parcel of customer support mechanisms of many large software companies.

The more interesting issue is how we design such systems. Today, for instance, ODR is not for the physically challenged or visually impaired. Not a single site I know of employs technologies to make accessible what may well be highly sophisticated ODR mechanisms to those less able to see the screen, read, type or comprehend as well as we do – even though the underlying operating systems (from Windows XP to Ubuntu) use a variety of special assistive technologies.

As I note in The future of Online Dispute Resolution, a paper written for the 4th UN ODR Conference held in Egypt in March 2006:

From multimedia frameworks that enable more intuitive interactions with users through to accessibility on a range of mobile devices, ODR needs to wean itself from traditional PC based architectures to those that are rooted in the geo-political, cultural and communal contexts.

A related PowerPoint presentation is available here.

Already, there are those who are observing the Web 2.0 phenomenon and its impact on the practice of law. Posts on Between Lawyers and Illegal Patterns examine the possibilities of Web 2.0 revolutionising the practice and study of ODR.

These is however a coR, bringing me to my second point – the need to recognise that ODR mechanisms in the future will be accessed through mobile devices as much as, or quite possibly more than, PC’s.

Two years ago, when I presented this idea of designing ODR solutions for mobiles to an august assembly of ODR practioners at the 3rd UN ODR Forum, many scoffed at the idea, though reactions were markedly different in Cyberweek 2005. As I’ve written earlier:

Mitigating the potential of new endeavours in ODR is, as in any other domain, is the resistance of the ancien regime – early adopters and even early visionaries now unable to grasp the significance of new technologies, mobility, mash-ups and the evolution of the web for ODR in the future.

a sentiment shared by Illegal Patterns:

In the firm, technology is still often an impediment to progress rather than a solution to a problem. I heard recently that a big firm partner’s practice is to avoid the complex conflicts check process altoegher and instead scan for human contacts to ask about the situation. Then, I heard another lawyer complain bitterly about the poor usability of a (really popular) litigation tool, and wondered when lawyers were going to stop their “keeping up with the Joneses” behavior when it came to technology.

Anyway, this brief history should tell you two things:

1. If you wait long enough, technology will become more useful, but you don’t have to wait to use technology effectively
2. The revolution won’t be televised, it will be webcast.

On the one hand, as I noted earlier, there is the need to adopt only those technologies coming from the explosive Web 2.0 revolution (a good list of which can be found here) that are stable, sustainable and truly useful. On the other, there is the need for ODR practitioners as well as theorists to explore developments in the technology in order to see how they can be best used to meet the needs of clients.

Just one simple example – many of us now employ blogs, which alienate those who are blind. Could there be wider uses for technologies such as Talkr that allow us to expand the reach of our content and services with a minimum of fuss? Should ODR be looking at these technologies of greater access to create systems that are wider, more efficient, work better and are able to attract more usage from existing users and new business from those who’ve never used ODR before?

Or is it more than business? I’ve certainly espoused a vision of ODR that takes it well beyond commercial interests into the fields of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. The question we need to ask ourselves, wherever we are in the ODR world, think of the future of ODR only in terms of Cybercourts or Law 2.0, or more radically, revise our definitions of ODR to include its application, through the use of new technologies, to processes hitherto outside the commercial domains of ADR and mainstream ODR, such as pervasive technology support for socio-political dispute resolution & inter-cultural mediation.

So what will ODR in the future look like? I don’t know, but it’s not all technology.

Web 2.0 is about a social revolution in the way information can be created, distributed and consumed. It is about disruptive technologies, that can be scaled up on-demand, with geo-political footprints much larger than those at present. It’s about a whole new generation of web savvy individuals demanding services on mobile devices, their primary mode of internet access, that mirror those now found only on PC’s.

More than the monicker’s of Web 2.0 and now, Law 2.0, I’m interested in how new technologies & ODR will help those mired in disputes and conflict help vision ways to bring about order and peace in their lives, whether such conflict is in the real world, virtual worlds or both.

And that’s something that surely any ODR practitioner can identify with. And needs to work constantly towards.

2 thoughts on “What does Web 2.0 mean for ODR?

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