Association for Conflict Resolution, Annual Conference, Tucson, AZ, Day 1, 9/18/19

One the associations that I’m actively involved in is the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR). ACR is the largest organization of professionals engaged in conflict resolution, mostly mediation. I am a co-chair of the Education, Research, and Training Section. (This year we are sponsoring Youth Day at the conference, but I will write about that in a future blog).

This year, the conference, held in Tucson, AZ, started off with educational and training sessions, some day long, others 1/2 day, and others 90 minutes. I attended four 90-minute sessions.

The first session I attending was “Conflict Intervention Service: Preventing Homelessness and Building Community.” Patricia Draves, Roger Moss, and Jennifer Wilhoit presented on the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Conflict Intervention Service (CIS). This program, funded by the city, is designed to assigned individuals in “strike force” like mediation in cases of housing issues including tenant evictions, issues among co-tenants, and landlord issues with tenants. A major issue in San Francisco and many cities (including my own city of Rockville, MD) is affordable housing. As a result, the homeless population is large and growing.

Jennifer Wilhoit stressed mediator wellness

Demographic changes in populations needing housing — immigrants, seniors, single parents, young professionals – are leading to new challenges in locating places to stay. Landlords also face challenges because of city regulations and marketplace forces. We engaged in a “flash fiction” activity to get us thinking about what mediators might face in a situation. The CIS program results in immediate engagement from mediation professionals when a housing crisis is identified — this could be even on the weekends. In many ways, the role of mediators is like a social services worker in helping the tenant or landlord in the process. In this session, we also looked at wellness needs for mediators and other conflict resolution professionals.

The second session I attended was on the “Application of Decision Science to Mediation.” Hosted by Robert Bergman and Jonathan Ewing, this session shared a model – online – that helps disputants to look at problems in a rational way through considering questions about their expectations and needs. A central premise of the program is recognizing that today many are more interested in “satisficing” around a conflict — seeking what is “good enough” than seeking the best result. This tends to be an emotional rather than a logical/rational decision. There is a tendency of individuals to engage in “child logic” in disputes, rather than looking objectively at their options. This process engages individuals in a logic based process to reach a settlement.

Conflict is part of a system as explained by Robert Bergman

The third session I attended was hosted by the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) and was titled “ADRESS: How We Collected Over 1 Million ADR Data Points and What It Tells Us.” The conflict resolution field is in need of metrics that make the case for its applications. The ADRESS (Alternative Dispute Resolution Evaluation Support System) program collects data on satisfaction rates from Maryland courts on mediation, surveying participants and mediators. It’s still in its pilot phase. Jonathan Rosenthal, Sarah Kauffman, and Nick White walked us through the process and various surveys and then look us to the data base which included seven years of data. Collecting data on ADR processes is important if we are going to make the case for them in the future

Jonathan Rosenthal looking at ADRESS data

Finally, I attended “Refugees Healing the Divide: South Sudanese Diaspora as Peacebuilders.” Kuol Awan, David Acuoth Dau, Jany Deng (all Lost Boys of Sudan), and Kate Otting, talked about the contributions that South Sudanese are making to their communities in the U.S. and currently in South Sudan to end the violence there. Dau talked about his work with the Council on South Sudanese American Relations and a USIP dialogue program that uses South Sudanese facilitators. Deng talked about his NGO Feed Our Nations and Awan shared about the Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development.

Kuol Awan and Jany Deng

There was general discussion of the conflict in Sudan starting in 1955 through independence from South Sudan in 2011, and present hopes to end the violence and continue the peace process.

Click here for Day 2 of the ACR conference.


Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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