Imported from Detroit: the emergence of Alternative Dispute Resolution
20 November 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
- The value and application of the emerging field of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR).
- Applying an improvement strategy known as Six Sigma to strengthen conflict resolution processes
- Cost and time savings, and outcome analysis of court and litigation expenditures as compared to the ADR and its attendant benefits.
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.
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.