Imported from Detroit: the emergence of Alternative Dispute Resolution

November 20 2012: Detroit has gained an unenviable reputation in recent decades for a combination urban decline and high levels of violence. But despite this negative reputation, Detroit's suburbs are emerging as hubs of innovation in the field of alternative dispute resolution field (ADR).

Of all the large metropolitan areas in the USA, the city of Detroit is probably the best known for its high murder rate, its many forms of crime and gang violence, and urban decline and blight with factories shutting down, job redundancies and economic depression. The Detroit baseball team, the beloved Detroit Tigers, lifted the spirits of the city and the suburbs and burned brightly all too briefly. And yet, despite its somewhat negative reputation, Detroit’s suburbs are emerging as hubs of innovation and forward thinking in the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This has not happened just out abstract mediation ideas but from the necessity to find ways to improve the  well-being of its people.

I want to here highlight the many ways that mediators in Detroit, South East Michigan and Ann Arbor are venturing into the toughest areas of the city as ambassadors of mediation, negotiation and ADR to prevent the outbreak of violent disputes at their source. Here is a brief list of what these ADR advocates are preaching:

  • Conflict resolution in the local schools – Washtenaw Dispute Resolution Centre of Ann Arbor is working with Ypsilanti High School to support peer mediation and restorative justice
  • Cross cultural ADR amongst new and emerging groups of naturalised American citizens
  • LGBT issues vis-à-vis ADR
  • Restorative justice
  • Gang violence intervention
  • So called “brown bag” lunches at the Dispute Resolution Centres, which involve training on topics ranging from forgiveness and authentic apologies to creative conflict management through written processes and procedures
  • Speaking to university and law students about careers in ADR.

My personal initiatives as a mediator

  1. The value and application of the emerging field of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR).
  2. Applying an improvement strategy known as Six Sigma to strengthen conflict resolution processes
  3. Cost and time savings, and outcome analysis of court and litigation expenditures as compared to the ADR and its attendant benefits.

Many of the major community figures operate in an unofficial capacity or as ambassadors without a portfolio for their neighbourhood, and yet their influence on what happens locally is profound.
The Office of Dispute Resolution coordinates alternative dispute resolution services of the State Court Administrative Office and oversees the mediation and Dispute Resolution Centres (DRC) throughout Michigan, which are the hubs for innovation and community outreach. At the Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor DRC, mediation ambassadors are cultivating the support of local community leaders to embrace facilitative mediation as a means to settle disputes at the grass roots level. Many of the major community figures operate in an unofficial capacity or as ambassadors without a portfolio for their neighbourhood, and yet their influence on what happens locally is profound. The Washtenaw DRC Executive Director, Ms. Belinda Doulin, speaks with the community leaders of the many and varied ethnic and diverse groups to teach them the value of mediation on their own terms and in relationship to their specific conditions and community needs. In one particular area, an elderly Korean woman is the driving force, so every major initiative affecting her people must have her approval to succeed. This approval is gained due to the remarkable outreach efforts made to address the key issues as perceived by the decision makers of the new and emerging indigenous groups within the old neighbourhoods of Detroit. Salesmanship is an important component of the skills set for ADR ambassadors.

Fights in local parks between young girls to settle the slightest disagreements and conflicts were occurring often. Today’s mediators would acknowledge that they did likewise when they were younger until they learned how to discuss their positions and to negotiate their needs through constructive dialogue. This presents another application for replacing violence with reasoning and listening to each other’s position. Young people prefer to solve their specific problems through peer mediation in their own words and from their unique perspectives.

John Turley & Mary Morris in South West Detroit

John Turley & Mary Morris

Heroic mediators such as my colleague, Mary Morris of the Wayne Mediation Centre in Dearborn, Michigan, are trained to speak with Detroit gangs about the advantages and value of ADR to settle disputes as opposed to their conventional ways through the use of a gun. This is probably the hardest and most challenging undertaking of any ADR advocate, where progress is measured in small incremental steps. By working in the inner city, Mary strives to stop violence, save lives and help the local communities to heal again on their own terms and by actions that are meaningful to them. Bern Dempsey, the Executive Director of the Wayne Mediation Centre, is leading an effort to train his volunteer mediators in important and emerging areas such as estate, probate, and elder care.

Many and varied ADR breakthroughs are emerging in Detroit, Michigan, primarily because the old ways of settling disputes no longer apply to the changing demographics and the local environment. Michigan is breaking new ground to help its people through the toughest of times. Our ideas are stemming the flow of violent solutions out of fearlessness, personal courage, and an authentic conviction for these new and unique applications of ADR. Our ideas are home grown to address our problems with broader implications throughout our country. The marketing phrase “Imported from Detroit” may take on a deeper meaning in the long run.

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Toni rahe on November 29, 2012

Great article ! We need more like this.

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