Posts tagged ‘Dispute resolution’

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

December 3, 2012

Mediation “Bots”

“This Listening Bot has been programmed to listen unconditionally.”

My Listening Bot in the Surrey Provincial Court Mediation Room

If you happened to attend the mediators’ session at Mediate BC’s Child Protection Mediation Conference “Moving Toward Meaningful Engagement” last February, you already know that I discovered my new favourite mediation tool a little over a year ago.  My co-presenters, Julie Daum and Joyce Bradley, QC were characteristically patient and understanding about my growing excitement over Mediation “Bots” and my desire to proselytize their use in any and all mediation contexts.  Of course, the audience was limited to child protection mediators at that session and so there is still a world of mediators who may not have been introduced to Gary Hirsch’s wonderful “Bots” as handy tools for mediation.

Let’s start with what a “Bot” is: Gary’s Bots are tiny, handpainted robots – pieces of art painted on dominoes.  Each one is an individual, but there are categories of Bots that address different needs and “help” with specific functions.  For example, the Joy Bot “has been programmed to Create Instant Joy”.  Each Bot is accompanied by instructions.  In the case of the Joy Bot, the operating instructions advise:

  1. Allow your robot to get to know you by letting him watch you at your desk, kitchen, cubicle, or wherever you spend the most amount of time.
  2. Wait till he notices something great about you (it won’t take long) and then listen while he showers you with compliments and accolades.
  3. Share him with your family/friends and create a domino effect: slowly raising the world’s self esteem.

IMG_0054My first Bots arrived during the summer of 2011 when I was taking a short leave from mediation.  As a result, I first tested my Brave Bot on a week-long driving trip with my 16-year old daughter.  My daughter was preparing for her “N” test, but was experiencing considerable doubt and fear.  One of her earliest driving experiences involved black ice, a steep hill and lots of oncoming traffic, and she had not been able to re-capture a sense of confidence despite many hours of safe driving since then.  I proposed a driving trip through whatever parts of BC she wanted to see in the course of a week and we set off on a mission to gain confidence through marathon driving sessions on scary mountain highways.  What helped her to kickstart this trip was a Brave Bot.  The Brave Bot sat on the dashboard throughout the trip, and accompanied us everywhere.  The trip was a success, and I was sold on the Brave Bot.

While our Bots are still used within the family for lots of personal reasons – like the Get Started Bot I’m using to get going on this blog post! – I now think of Bots primarily as part of my mediator’s tool kit.

Jolts for Mediation

I’m sure you can imagine lots of uses for Bots as jolts for mediators, so I’ll concentrate on the use of Bots with parties to a mediation.  In all circumstances, I’ve found that parties are remarkably receptive to Bots.  While it may seem most obvious to provide Brave Bots to children meeting with the mediator to work out ways to bring their voice to a mediation table – and they can definitely be great for that – adults, commercial parties, lawyers, and others have all been willing to play along with my Bots as I introduce them to shift a difficult atmosphere or create a space to try a different approach to communicating.

The following 8 Bots are my favourites for mediation and form a permanent part of my “Mediator’s Toolbox”, but I encourage you to explore others as well. We could all use a Bot for something.

Listening Bots Listening Bot

The Listening Bot’s instructions tell you that the Bot has been programmed to listen to you without interruption, but for mediations I don’t share these instructions with participants.  The Listening Bot box says enough – this Bot is for Listening, and for my purposes is programmed to model listening and to help parties listen carefully and without interrupting.  This is the one Bot that I own multiples of since there’s usually more than one person who needs to be listening, although I expect that it would be quite possible to utilize a single Listening Bot as the opposite of a talking stick (or perhaps in conjunction with one?).

Zen Bot

The Zen Bot is a wonderful mood setter.  When everyone needs a break to regroup, the Zen Bot takes up its position in the centre of the table.  Alternatively, the Zen Bot can certainly be shared with a single participant in a caucus to help find enough calm to rejoin a difficult conversation.

Yes Bot

The Yes Bot is a tricky creature to use in a mediation, but opens the door to discussions of the improviser’s understanding of “Yes, and…” as it applies to listening in conflict.  The Yes Bot is programmed to offer unconditional permission, which does not necessarily translate directly when working with parties in conflict.  The idea of accepting an offer in the improvisational sense, however, can be an interesting discussion in mediation that may lead to greater willingness to engage in problem solving.  If we “accept” what the other person is saying, and that they believe it – even when we have an entirely opposed view of the situation –  we create the potential for future-focused discussion and can move away from our tendency to listen only to rebut.

Given that a discussion of “Yes, and…” deserves a great deal more development than is possible within this post, I’ll simply flag the incredible usefulness of the Yes Bot, and promise a full blog post on Accepting Offers in the new year.

Brave Bot

The Brave Bot certainly offers the learning mediator support in being brave enough to ask difficult questions.  Mediating itself feels remarkably risky when you are gaining experience, and, of course, one’s growth as a mediator depends on one’s willingness to risk learning new skills and using them.  Within a mediation in which the Bots had been introduced, I’ve used the Brave Bot to tell a participant that I am finding it difficult to raise a challenging subject matter with them, but feel that we need to discuss it before we can continue.  The use of the Brave Bot in that instance was simply a means of being as transparent as possible about the difficult nature of the topic.  Brave Bots can certainly be provided to parties as well – likely in caucus – to encourage discussion or support participation in a difficult setting.  And Brave Bots can be a means to encourage and solicit the voice of the child in a mediation.

Time Bot

The Time Bot has helpfully been programmed to “Stop Time” which allows you to “erase the evidence of [a] mistake or repeat an amazing moment over and over again”.  I like the idea of a “do over” or “mulligan” that the Time Bot permits for mediators and parties alike.  I’ve often shared with learning mediators Tom Northcott‘s wonderful advice when he was mentoring in the Court Mediation Program that “there are no mistakes in mediation, just great recoveries”: the Time Bot offers a wonderful tool for this recovery!  “Let’s just wind that back and start again…”  Similarly, the chance to repeat great moments fits well with the mediator’s efforts to underline points of agreement when possible.

Decision Bot

The Decision Bot has been programmed to help one decide.  While not everyone will want or appreciate a point of focus for decision-making, once a few of the other Bots are out in a mediation, this one may just appeal to a person trying to balance possibilities.

Inspiration Bot

An impasse-breaking tool if there ever was one, the Inspiration Bot can facilitate brainstorming, inspire the generation of lots of ideas, and act as a pattern interrupt as the mediator asks parties to transition from a storytelling, past-focused discussion of what happened to a future-focused discussion of what can be done now.

Caffeine Bot

The Caffeine Bot offers everyone a boost when needed, and can act like an Inspiration Bot for tired folks who need to perk up!



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