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Assessment of the Dispute Resolution Field and Possible Steps Forward

The January 2022 issue of Dispute Resolution Magazine’s survey of past contributors prompted me to write a three-part series of blog posts described below.  The survey asked them:

  1. what they valued about the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution
  2. what they wished they had known when they first read the Magazine
  3. what surprised them about the field in the past 25 years
  4. what voices are missing from the field
  5. what case, statute, regulation, or standard of practice has had the biggest impact on the field
  6. what change in case law, statute, or rule they would like to see

In Assessment of the Dispute Resolution Field, I note that the Magazine survey reminded me of a 2004 study I started but never published about the future of the field.  This post presents data from that study summarizing interviews of 36 American ADR experts.  Their responses collectively provided a very perceptive and prescient portrait of the field, outlining their expectations, hopes, and fears.

The Magazine survey and my study portray an idealistic movement whose members have strong desires to help people manage conflict as constructively as possible.  We espouse important principles – and don’t always live up to them.  We innovate – and also become routinized.  We develop pragmatic solutions that solve real problems – and also promote unrealistic ideas.

Although this is a mixed record, it reflects some significant achievements.  It would be amazing if we didn’t have significant failings.  We have undertaken an immense task of trying to reform processes of managing extremely difficult problems in every realm of life in almost every place on earth.  We function with relatively modest resources.  Yet we have achieved some impressive successes in a remarkably short time.  Of course, there still is much to do to fulfill our aspirations.

In The Legal Profession, Judiciary, and Dispute Resolution, I quoted responses from the Magazine survey indicating that we used to be “alternative” dispute resolution, but not anymore.

I suggest enlarging and redefining the dispute resolution “tent” to explicitly include lawyers and judges.  Many lawyers and judges share values and aspirations of people who identify with the traditional “ADR” field.  We might think of the legal profession, judiciary and dispute resolution fields (without the “A”) as three overlapping circles reflecting shared values and interests.  Part of each circle is part of the others – and part is not.  Being part of overlapping fields doesn’t require membership in the same organizations or regularly attending the same events.  It can involve shared visions, goals, and actions.

In How Do You Want to Improve Dispute Resolution?, I list significant achievements and desired future initiatives identified in the Magazine survey.  This post summarizes the steps in developing and implementing a theory of change, starting by identifying high-priority goals.  

Clearly, there still is a great hunger in our community to develop idealistic, principled, innovative, and pragmatic initiatives to help people manage conflict as constructively as possible.  This is evidenced by the enthusiastic responses to the Magazine survey and pieces in the Theory-of-Change book.  If we develop realistic theories of change, we will continue to make this a better world.


John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE >

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