Sue is employed as a Lecturer in Business Law, Faculty of Arts and Business, University of the Sunshine Coast. She also works with the Suncoast Community Service as a member of that organisation’s management committee and as a volunteer legal practitioner. Sue has been a member of the Maroochydore Neighbourhood Centre management committee for many years. Her particular contribution to university service is as a member of the Human Research Ethics Committee. She has an interest in socio-legal perspectives in dispute resolution and in qualitative research.
Why did you become interested in the dispute resolution field?
I first became interested in ADR as a social worker working in child protection. I conducted assessments around children at risk and would be called to attend the Children’s Court to give testimony. It was very obvious that the adversarial (albeit modified) process of investigating questions of risk was fraught with difficulties for the families at risk. At that time mediation was in its early years and as a movement promised the prospect of an alternative more appropriate to socio-legal issues in dispute resolution.
What is your particular area of dispute resolution research interest?
My particular area of interest is socio-legal perspectives in dispute resolution. My background in law and social work gives me a useful vantage point from which to consider the intersecting contributions of law and the social and behavioural sciences. Mediation, in particular, has really developed from the combination of the social and behavioural sciences and law. Practitioners and scholars recognise this, of course. I am always eager to spell out those connections, develop them and learn from them. I am also keen on developing understanding of DR from the ground up and hence in gathering the perceptions and understandings of practitioners for developing theory. I like talking to mediators about their experience and how they make sense of their practice and I enjoyed this aspect the most in completing my PhD.
Whose research has influenced you? Why/How?
I am particularly appreciative of the work of others in the ADR Research Network and am influenced by the direction of their research interests and enthusiasm. It’s wonderful to have a collaborative forum through which to share ideas and experiences and from which to gain support and encouragement.
I was particularly influenced by Hilary Astor’s work when I began pursuing research into mediation. Hilary’s work demonstrates great scholarship and a critical appraisal as well as commitment to developing theory for practice. Her work on neutrality in mediation was the starting point for my own investigation as the subject of my PhD. Established scholars and contributors such as Laurence Boulle, Dale Bagshaw, Ruth Charlton and Micheline Dewdney and many others have influenced me. I have been keen to understand models that are alternative to the classic, facilitative model and have of course been influenced by Winslade and Monk and Bush and Folger. Narrative and transformative models have particular resonance for me with social work practice and principles. I have also found that the mediators I have interviewed for research purposes like to include at least aspects of these models in their practice.
What dispute resolution research are you involved in at the moment?
I am pursuing two projects in Family Dispute Resolution Practice (FDRP) with the Maroochydore Family Relationship Centre (FRC). I really enjoy the contact with the FDRP’s there and the manager/ co-ordinator of the service. One project is an investigation of what the FDRP’s see as ethics issues for their practice and another is an evaluation of a joint project between the FRC and the Suncoast Community Legal Service in providing legal advice.
Where would you like to take your dispute resolution research work over the next ten years?
Ten years is a long time ! I would like to be doing a series of qualitative studies with practitioners and see what issues emerge for them and from that survey larger populations around key issues. I would like to do more in relation to collaborative research projects. The Network certainly has the potential to harness the energy of participants into lots of interesting, engaging and relevant collaborative projects.
What advice do you have for emerging dispute resolution researchers?
It can be very isolating when doing a higher degree by research and there are perhaps very few research positions in the DR industry. It’s helpful to be part of a peer group for support and encouragement. The Network is also a forum for introducing and encouraging newer researchers, for sparking enthusiasm and new ideas, and for lending experience to emerging researchers. There is always so much to learn about research and new avenues to explore; it’s always emerging even for those with experience.