Archive for February, 2013

February 6, 2013

“Apps” for Mediation

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London

Mediation Apps

My mediation apps folder

This post is for everyone with an unused iTunes gift card lying around or for mediators wanting to dabble in new technology.  (Ben Ziegler and I have been exchanging preliminary thoughts about a session we will be presenting at the Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference on “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” in mediation, so this post is definitely partly inspired by those exchanges. Technology can certainly act as “jolt” – perhaps all the more so for the digital immigrant.)

And okay, mediation apps for impasse breaking may not quite be going “after it with a club” as the quote above suggests, but …  I get the impression from several friends that pulling out a smart phone or a tablet during a mediation may seem just as counter-intuitive at first blush as Jack London’s assertion that inspiration might come best to those actively chasing it.  Sometimes, however, a little technological jolt is just what it takes to kickstart a discussion, provide a tool for reflection, or settle a minor distributive dispute.

I’m an iPhone and iPad user, so my list of favourite mediation apps is decidedly “iCentric”.  It looks like a fairly high percentage of the apps are available for other operating systems – or there is a very comparable (if untested by me) app that might well serve the same purpose.

I’m hopeful that others will add their favourite apps to the list I’ve created below!

Jolts for Mediation and Mediators

I’m framing the following list of apps as jolts for mediation – in that many are recommended specifically as a tool for breaking impasse in the mediation room – but also as a jolt for mediators.  I know of a few mediators using apps in their work, but most of the folks I’ve spoken to are surprised by the very idea.  Hopefully this list will provide a jolt for a few mediators simply to consider the many different ways that apps might be of use in a mediation.

1. Tie-breaker apps

You quite like the idea of offering parties the option to roll dice to break a small deadlock – typically some final item like court filing fees that has suddenly come back to the parties’ attention when everything else is worked out satisfactorily.  But you can only carry so many things around with you from mediation to mediation, and dice didn’t make it into the mediation kit.  Never mind, you probably have your cell phone and lots of tiebreaker apps available!

  • Dice Roller offers just what you’d expect: the option to roll one, two or three dice.  You can also choose colour of dice and background.  Simple and convenient.  Try offering a dice roller when parties are stuck on that last, minor but still “a matter of principle” issue.  You may be surprised by how often the offer to resolve things this way is exactly what creates the space for a party to let go of her position and propose something new.  On at least a couple of occasions, I’ve been surprised by the complete turnaround that follows the suggestion to “roll for it”.   For example, I’ve seen the offer of a game of chance to settle things evoke a proposal that one tradesman take another to lunch instead of letting it get that silly.  Similarly, I’ve seen exchanges of concert tickets and even haircuts.  Of course, some people happily accept the dice roll, too.  In any event, the selection of decision-making process and the eventual outcome are still in the hands of the parties.
  • iChoose is a simple, free app for choices.  Use a coin toss, dice roll, card choice, random number, etc. to choose between two options (or positions, or parties).
  • Coin Flip is just what it sounds like – prettier images of the coins than iChoose, and you can switch the automatically loaded American coin to a Canadian one without needing to upgrade to the premium version.  Allows you to flip by tapping or flicking the screen upward (which is kind of fun).
  • rpslsRock/Paper/Scissors and Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock come in a wide variety of free and paid apps.  I don’t have a favourite RPS version, and it’s not quite the handy addition to the toolkit that a dice roller is since there’s only so much added surprise value from pulling out a phone to run the game rather than simply playing it “old school” – with the parties’ own hands.  RPSLS, on the other hand, is tricky to play because almost no one remembers the rules the first few times they hear them.  The game gained much attention when it was used to resolve disputes on The Big Bang Theory (though note it is credited to Sam Kass and Karen Bryla) so it’s not uncommon for people to have heard of it, but not mastered the rules.  Hence the app saves everyone the embarrassment of yet again forgetting that “Paper disproves Spock” and makes the game run smoothly.

2. Polling apps for larger groups

Playing with Clickers in law class settings has been so much fun over the last several years, that I knew I wanted to find something that allowed me to “poll the audience” in other large group settings. Happily, the app world has developed a wonderful range of such tools – many created for the classroom (to make use of students’ phones rather than requiring the purchase of a “clicker”).

My daughters and I played with eClicker during the holidays and I’m looking forward to testing the system out in my Mediation Clinic this term.  It requires everyone to have an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.  That does limit the range of situations in which it’s going to be handy, of course.  The presenter needs to load eClicker Presenter and others need to download eClicker Audience.  The presenter can enter a variety of question types (and can even include illustrations/photos in the question) and then deliver the question to groups of up to 32 (or 64 in some circumstances).  Responses are then collected as a “poll” result, which can be either a useful guide to what one needs to revisit or a decision-making tool for process choices.

Now it would be unusual for most mediators to be in situations where polling 32 parties might be useful, but imagine instead sending a few small groups out of joint session to discuss settlement options and polling them in their respective rooms.  A multi-party scenario like a leaky condo dispute, for instance, might have a significant number of defence counsel consulting with their clients and examining a particular offer.  One or more may be very circumspect about their own willingness to settle and holding back on discussions of specific numbers.  Rather than shuttling amongst parties and nudging all to share their settlement ideas with the mediator, there might well be value to polling everyone as a group on a specific proposal.  There might be potential to discover common ground or possible scope for settlement which could be followed up by discussion.  Why not just discuss first?  For some, the chance to reflect and then respond to an anonymous poll might simply be an easier, and more face-saving, way to shift one’s firmly stated position.

3. Creativity stimulators

whack packI’m not a fan of apps that simply provide you with the contents of a book.  If you want the book, then downloading/purchasing/borrowing the book seems simple enough.  But I do enjoy an app that takes book content in an entirely different direction and makes it into a useful tool in and of itself.  One good example I’ve found for mediation is Creative Whack Pack ($1.99).  I’ve used my Creative Whack Pack cards to choose a method for idea generation in mediations (and classrooms) for years now, so was thrilled to find the app is, if anything, even handier.

Creator Roger Von Oeck has created a collection of 84 “creativity strategies” divided into 5 “suits”: explorer, artist, judge, warrior, and Heraclitus.  Each card (which is also how they are referred to on the app) provides a story and questions to “whack” you into creative thought.  You can “draw” cards in a variety of ways:

  • Give Me A Whack offers a randomly drawn card
  • Card of the Day offers a new card each day
  • Do a Workshop offers the ability to “Ask the Oracle” which provides 4 randomly drawn cards or “Four-Suit Classic” which provides a card from each suit (except Heraclitus).
  • Choosing intentionally from the Card Index

I particularly like asking the oracle – in part because it’s simply fun to say “let’s ask the oracle,” but also because it’s a good stimulus to receive four random ideas about how to generate ideas and then try to figure out how any of them might apply to the issue at hand.  The process of jointly trying to apply the cards to the problem at hand is itself a tool for transitioning everyone into joint problem solving.  Parties and the mediator are challenged to thinking creatively about something that is not in dispute which frequently leads to creative problem solving about the issues that are in dispute.

There are simply too many other possibilities to cover here, ranging from Pro & Con apps, to mindmapping tools, to negotiation and litigation specific apps for calculating settlement values.  If you’re interested in testing some of them out, consider coming out to the CoRe Clinic’s Mediator’s Toolbox workshop on April 11th where one station will be devoted to the smartphone toolbox.  For details or to register, email

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