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Mediation in the mainstream: How to make it a successful innovation

What will it take for ADR to reach a real tipping point? This may be the single most important question for practitioners who want to build their ADR practices and market themselves successfully.

There are five critical characteristics that, while not requirements for an innovation to meet success, can greatly affect the rate at which it gets adopted. And it turns out that all five are highly relevant to successful mediation marketing.

Know the five — and how to address them in your marketing efforts — and you have a powerful key not only for your own success, but also for helping ADR gain traction more broadly.

Back in 2000, when a Boston-based environmental sustainability nonprofit was one of my clients, I facilitated one of their retreats for college and university leaders who wanted to green their campuses. I had the good fortune to watch Alan AtKisson lead his Diffusion of Innovation game at the retreat. The point of the game, which I’ve used since in my mediation master classes, is to help participants understand how new ideas take hold in a culture. Alan describes innovation diffusion this way:

Researchers have discovered that the adoption of an innovation in any given population follows a fairly predictable pattern. An innovation starts with an innovator, often a single individual with a new idea. (”New” here means unknown to the culture, even if the idea is very old.) After its conception, an innovation spreads slowly at first — usually through the work of change agents, who actively promote it — then picks up speed as more and more people adopt it. Eventually it reaches a saturation level, where virtually everyone who is going to adopt the innovation has done so.

A key point, early in the process, is called take-off. After the forward-thinking change agents have adopted the innovation, they work to communicate it to others in the society by whatever means they believe appropriate. When the number of early adopters reaches a critical mass — between 5% and 15% — the process is probably irreversible. The innovation has a life of its own, as more and more people talk about or demonstrate the innovation to each other.

AtKisson says there are five critical characteristics for increasing the rate with which an innovation — like mediation or conflict coaching — gets adopted by the mainstream:

  • Relative advantage — The innovation will spread more quickly if it’s perceived as better than the status quo.
  • Compatibility — If the innovation doesn’t fit well with people’s existing values, past experiences and present needs, it won’t spread well.
  • Complexity — The more difficult it is for people to understand and use the innovation, the slower the adoption rate.
  • Trialability — If people can try out the innovation in some form first, without having to commit to it all at once, the adoption rate will increase.
  • Observability — If people use the innovation and the good results are visible by others, the innovation will spread more rapidly.

In part two of this article, I’ll discuss all five characteristics and how to address them in mediation and other ADR marketing.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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