About Emma-May Litchfield

practitioner and academic in the ADR space

Designing for disputes: 3 lessons I learnt creating an online dispute resolution system 

As editor of the Blog for November, I have invited ‘pracademics’ and leaders in the field of ADR to contribute a blogpost to share the interesting work they are doing.

Our first guest is Winona Wawn who currently works at the Fair Work Ombudsman in the Behavioural Economics Education team. Winona is a mediator and has a Masters’ in Dispute Resolution (DR) from UNSW.

I invited Winona to write a piece about her work designing and implementing DR systems and mechanisms, which she initially undertook for AirTasker (Australia’s largest online marketplace for services).

Over to you, Winona…

By Winona Wawn

‘Conflict is inevitable’ is one of my favourite sayings. As our world becomes increasingly digital, so does our need for resolving disputes online.

After becoming a nationally accredited mediator, I joined a tech startup to develop an online dispute resolution system. It was an amazing opportunity to create a new online DR process from scratch for an open marketplace app. I was so excited to be able to help hundreds (if not thousands) of users each year resolve their conflicts.

But how do you create an online resolution experience for two angry customers who you’ve never met? How might you resolve disputes only via email?

I found by combining learnings from both dispute resolution and human centred design, it’s possible to create a purely online dispute process that works. The research which most influenced this approach was Steve Krug’s ‘Don’t make me think: A common sense approach to website usability’, the ever useful Fisher and Ury’s ‘Getting to Yes’ and Georgia Murch’s ‘Fixing feedback.’     

Below are my top three learnings from the experience. Even if you’re not into ODR, hopefully it helps you keep your practice client centred.

  1. You need to understand your clients’ needs 

Your mediation process is focussed on your clients’ needs, not yours as the mediator.

When I was starting to design the online dispute resolution process, I wanted to understand how disputes were currently being handled by the tech company. I conducted a number of user interviews with our customers who had been in disputes. Hearing first hand experiences of customer’s disputes and how we did (and did not) meet their expectations was illuminating and challenged a lot of my assumptions of what they needed.

This taught me the importance of not falling into the trap of believing your own assumptions of what your clients need – actually go out and talk to them. Survey them before your dispute resolution process starts. What are their underlying interests and expectations? What’s preventing them from resolving their own conflicts? Then start to consider how you can incorporate this into your own practice.

If you can’t survey clients (e.g. for confidentiality reasons) imagine you have a ‘best case’ scenario client. They understand each stage of the mediation process, is willing and able to negotiate with the other party and articulate their interests. Then imagine you have a ‘worst case’ client – who doesn’t understand the mediation process, who isn’t able to negotiate with the other party or articulate their needs. Channelling Fisher and Ury’s ‘Getting to Yes’, consider how their underlying interests might differ, and what positions they may typically take. How might you design a resolution process which caters for both best case and worst case parties interests equally well?

  1. Set clear expectations 

Do disputing parties demand they just want you to make a decision and get it done? How many times have you had to (patiently) explain what your role is, and isn’t as a mediator?

To help get them on the right path, your disputing parties need to know what to expect at all times. They probably need to be reminded more than once what your role is (and isn’t) and what their role is. In Krugs ‘Don’t make me think’, he emphasises the importance of websites helping users achieve their goals as directly and easily as possible, with minimal friction and frustration.

Applying these principles, I found setting clear expectations helps move the online dispute resolution process along smoothly. I had a 4 stage process that was clearly written on our website and was constantly referred to when parties were resolving their disputes. Being reminded about what’s coming next I found helped keep disputing customers engaged and aided in their understanding of how to achieve their goals of resolution as painlessly as possible.

Think about how you run your pre-mediation conference and how you move parties through the stages of mediation. Do parties know what they need to do at each stage to move onto the next? Don’t be afraid to be explicit in writing up your process so parties can follow it along before and during your mediation.

  1. Be open to feedback 

Has a client ever told you they weren’t expecting something during the mediation process? Have they mentioned they didn’t know what to say or do?

Nobody is a perfect mediator and being open to feedback and constantly improving your practice will put you in great stead. Taking on board constructive criticism can be hard for your ego but very beneficial for your mediation process and your client’s experiences. Georgia Murch’s ‘Fixing Feedback’ discusses the importance of being open to feedback to ‘nip issues in the bud’ and preventing issues from spiralling out of control quickly. Creating space for disputing parties to be honest with how their feeling (for example – if they don’t know what to do next) can help transform your practice to be truly client centred.    

For example, when conducting customer interviews, I discovered our disputes team was often asking for the same information on multiple occasions. This led to incredible frustration by our disputing customers – they didn’t feel heard, that their concerns weren’t taken seriously and they were tired of sending the same evidence again and again. This feedback led to the creation of an online form where all information and evidence was uploaded in one place before the online mediation began. This meant all the information could be easily referred to by the team, was kept confidently and resulted in a reduction in resolution time.

From my experience, having a party-centric ODR process meant faster resolution times and less frustration for all parties involved. Leveraging DR and HCD research helped me create an ODR process that aimed to better understanding party’s needs, set clear expectations and be open to feedback. Being in conflict is hard enough – and as practitioners we can take steps to design processes to make resolving conflict as painless for parties as possible.


If you would like to discuss ODR or user experience design, contact Winona at winona.wawn@gmail.com.  

Spreading the word – making ADR research available to the wider workforce

At a recent VADR presentation on Workplace Dispute Resolution, Fred Wright, Rodney McBride and Sue Ackerly spoke about their dispute resolution (DR) work with the public sector. Focussing on triage rather than direct DR processes, their work is data driven – this struck an immediate chord with me as it connects to my passion for evidence-based practice.

The findings of the 2010 State Services Authority’s implementation guide: Developing Conflict Resilient Workplaces and its companion guide for Managers and Teams were drivers of their work. These reports (part of the ‘Taking the heat out of workplace issues’ project) have inspired me to investigate the findings more closely.


This research holds interest for me, because it has a direct and strong connection to my work in DR. But the research has relevance and significance far beyond those of us practising in the DR field. It has something to say to every business – from the largest to the smallest. How many of these businesses (time poor like we all are) will make time to review the findings and explore their business relevance? I think we know the answer.

This is an important example of a broader issue and a recurring challenge.

Is it enough for us – dispute resolution (DR) academics, pracademics and practitioners – to investigate the research and share it with each other or should we be doing more? Do we have a responsibility to pass on this knowledge to the business community intimately affected by the findings? It is a question I see raised continually in research.

In particular, do we need to find a more accessible way to support businesses to recognise the need to deal with conflict early? Does that mean reconstructing how we approach education about DR processes?

resilient workplace

The Report published Victorian State Services Authority

Today, eight years after the reports were first published, I wish to discuss three points.

  1. What evidence do we have about implementation of the recommendations provided in the 2010 guides?

In the workplace environment, I have seen a move away from more adversarial, ‘grievance based’ processes (often triggered only when they have escalated to a point of ‘no return’), to promoting more informal processes (like conflict coaching, facilitation and mediation) to deal with workplace issues as an early intervention tool. This supports the triage process recommended in the Report.

This suggests to me that we are on the way.

  1. How do we support those who are implementing these ideas to pass the message on to others?

Those organisations who understand the value of early intervention and support it together with more formal processes are a vital resource in education about the benefits of ADR. The DR community needs to provide them with evidence-based support and encouragement that they are ‘on the right track’. We can do this by continuing to collect data on the success of this existing research and publishing the findings. We can also showcase these businesses in case studies and success stories.

  1. How do we promote these ideas to workplaces who are not yet on board?

The current business environment gives weight to and is influenced by evidence-based practice. Our community continually publish literature and presents at conferences about the benefits of ADR for other DR professionals. The blogposts available via the ADR Research Network are a significant example of how we provide accessible information about the benefits of the different available DR processes.

The question now is how to provide these to the wider community? The practitioners amongst us are sharing this information as part of the ADR processes and professional development we provide.

Many of us have access to other industries- either because of the focus of our research or because of the careers we held prior to entering the ADR space. Although some of you are already doing this, I encourage the rest of you not only ‘preach to the converted’, but to seek a wider audience with which to share your expertise.

For my own part, I plan to find an industry conference where the audience can be introduced to the value of early intervention through the evidence-based research in which my colleagues and I have been engaged.

I invite others to share their ideas about making ADR research accessible to the wider workforce.

Mediation in Schools- an International Perspective

trouble at the waering hole

The new conflict resolution text for children promoted by the Harvard program on Negotiation

Frances Richards’ thoughtful blog on Mediation in Schools is timely. We have spent the past few days at the UIA 25th World Forum of Mediation Centres in Val d’Europe presenting a forum session, exploring the same theme with colleagues from around the world.

We advanced the idea that dispute resolution skills are becoming organic, flourishing from entry level to postgraduate study. Mediation, at its most valuable, begins when education begins, and is a ‘whole of educational life’ experience.

Our session explored the relationship between education and mediation using concrete case studies and current projects from early childhood through to tertiary education.

In her blog post Frances wrote about peer to peer secondary training and competitions for students – noting the aim of supporting students to develop a life-long problem-solving approach to conflict.

Our forum panel of 5 expanded on these ideas and some new themes emerged.

Panel members brought very diverse experiences:

  • Panel moderator Zeina Kesrouani from Lebanon and Thomas Gaultier from Portugal spoke about secondary school projects they are supporting in their countries;
  • Alina Leoveanu, Manager, ICC International Centre for ADR, spoke of the contribution to student learning made by the ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition and
  • Our (Dr Rosemary Howell and Emma-May Litchfield) presentation shared some Australian experiences at primary and secondary level and this blog post will largely focus on that topic.

Scrutinising different mediation programs in schools made it apparent that the opportunities and the challenges look very different according to the age level and also the particular institutional approach.

Our presentation of two faces of the Australian experience showcased this well.

The first, focussing on early childhood education, was inspired by the newly released text from the Harvard Program on Negotiation, pictured above, which, with its companion text for teachers and parents, presents an introduction to conflict resolution for young children.

It is an ambitious project, particularly given the sophisticated nature of some of the tools being introduced.

The idea seemed valuable but the question to be explored was ‘are primary schools open to this kind of program and do examples already exist?’ The case study exploring the answer to this drew on the program of a small primary school in suburban Sydney. The answer was quite unexpected.

Instead of a program focussed on conflict resolution, the school reframed the context completely to cover 5 elements:

  • The frame – wellbeing;
  • Conflict is not confined to a separate toolbox but is part of everyday life;
  • All students engage in daily wellbeing practice, linking conflict to emotions and wellbeing. (Students were delighted to demonstrate their mindfulness practice in which they engage at the first sign of discomfort – well before conflict emerges);
  • Children design their own tools for intervention and resolution;
  • When conflict does arise students are encouraged to engage in the 3 question approach:
    • What happened?
    • What are we going to do now to fix the situation?
    • How can we learn from this?

So while the Harvard materials were thought provoking, what this case study exposed was an apparently even more successful approach to conflict resolution and early intervention – providing students with accessible, effective tools for life.

The second Australian presentation moved the focus to secondary schools, giving a perspective from the inside – insights gained from working with teachers including a recognition of the resources required to develop and implement conflict resolution programs. The contrast with the primary experience was remarkable. The secondary school environment presents very different challenges:

  • School-wide implementation is much more difficult. The shift from generalist teachers in primary schools – spending all day with the same students – to teachers who are technical experts with limited daily student contact impedes a whole of school, consistent approach. This also increases the likelihood that conflict is not identified early and has become entrenched before intervention begins.
  • A specialised curriculum separates programs so it is much more difficult to embed wellbeing practices across the entire teaching day.
  • Money is not the only resource required for program success. Teachers and dispute resolution professionals need to invest time, energy and other personal resources to maintain the program momentum. Frances’ blog post provides anecdotal evidence of this. On the one hand, the New South Wales Government is providing funding for these programs however, on the other hand she recognises that the mediators involved are all volunteers.

The UIA panel presentations made it clear that mediation in schools is a burgeoning field. There are challenges and there are opportunities. Those of us who teach and practise in this space are an important resource in the development of global thinking and program enhancement. Congratulations to the UIA for promoting an international conversation.

Rosemary and Emma-May

Dr Rosemary Howell and Emma-May Litchfield France 2018

From Conference Series to Global Community-What’s next for the GPC?

As the GPC Series 2016-17 draws to a close,  it is time to take stock and consider how both the data analysis and conversations from each event might inform the future of Dispute Resolution.

As an academic, I am wary to avoid drawing conclusions before the final analysis is complete; but as contributor to the series from design to data analysis , I would like to share some of the themes I see emerging from this ambitious project.

Emerging themes:

  1. The move from ADR to DR
  2. Consideration of the sophistication of parties may prove crucial
  3. Education is key
  4. Lawyers see things differently from other stakeholders, including parties.

1.The move from ADR to DR

When we started the project, there was contention among committee members about the definition of different dispute resolution processes. In particular, the definition of ‘ADR’. Is it alternative DR, appropriate DR..?

As the project gained momentum, conversations moved from the idea of there being two distinct poles of DR. At one end, the adjudicative processes (such as litigation and arbitration) where the process and outcome are determined for the parties, and at the other end, the non-adjudicative processes (such as mediation), where parties have the opportunity to be decision-makers.

From these conversations, two things became clear. First, many stakeholders were starting to see the benefits of hybrid processes such as med-arb. Secondly, there was a realisation that dispute-savvy parties desire tailored processes that require DR practitioners to be familiar with a range of skills across the DR process continuum.

As such, we are now in a world where we no longer have a strict delineation between adversarial processes and non-adversarial processes. Now, all processes can co-habit within the DR landscape.

Facilitating the London Pilot, February 2016

2. Consideration of the sophistication of parties may prove crucial

The GPC Series invited participants to pay attention to the parties’ perceptions. As a result, we now have evidence (see pp 48-50) that parties who are unfamiliar with DR processes have different wants, needs and expectations from dispute-savvy clients.

The GPC has revealed that the ‘experienced user’ and the ‘sophisticated user’ may not always be the same. Parties who are familiar with a single DR process may not be dispute-savvy, as they will view a dispute through a limited lens. A dispute-savvy client will be able to look at each dispute individually, and may anticipate a tailored solution that draws on  a variety of DR skill-sets.

As a consequence, if practitioners want to satisfy the wants, needs and expectations of their clients, they must consider the sophistication of the parties participating in DR processes.

Facilitating the collection of the data at the inaugural conference GPC Singapore, March 2016

3.Education is key

This is not a new concept in the DR space. What has been made clear from the conversation is the importance of reviewing and reframing our educational focus.

This means education to facilitate change, rather than our current focus of building a heightened awareness about DR. Without careful thought,  DR professionals and academics may miss the opportunity to keep pace with the rapidly changing business world, which routinely incorporates pre-escalation and/or de-escalation systems into business models and dispute clauses into contracts.

Practical and skills-based training and education for both the legal and business communities will be the way of the future for those who do not wish to be left behind.

Participating as a delegate at GPC Sydney, May 2017

4.Lawyers see things differently from other stakeholders, including parties.

Unsurprisingly, the cumulative results of the GPC quantitative data supports the idea that lawyers play an important role in DR. It is both a strength and a weakness. At many events lawyers were seen as having the most influence in bringing about change, but they were also seen as the most resistant to it.

As our colleague Dr Olivia Rundle has identified, there is ‘a spectrum of contributions that lawyers can make‘ in DR. Combine this with the idea that clients at different levels of sophistication want different things from their lawyers (see pp 66-69), and it becomes abundantly clear that, to move with the times, some lawyers may need to adopt a more flexible mindset, with room for both adversarial and non-adversarial strategies.

Lawyers who understand these challenges and adapt to them have the opportunity to play an integral role in the future of DR. Without this, they will be left behind.

Celebrating how far we have come at the final GPC London, July 2017 

When considering the themes discussed in this blogpost, it is important to remember that the GPC Series 2016-17 collected data in relation to commercial dispute resolution. That said, there is feasibility for the insights gained from the project to prove fungible to other areas of DR. For example, family or community disputes.

I invite other academics to use the GPC to inform further research as we move from a series of Global Pound Conferences to a Global Pound Community.

Seeking Volunteers for Global Research Project

GPC Logo 2

Resolution Resources is seeking volunteers with experience/training in either research or dispute resolution (DR) to assist with the preparation of the Final Report for the Global Pound Conference (GPC) Series 2016-17. The GPC Series in a not-for-profit project initiated by the International Mediation Institute (IMI). The purpose of this project is to investigate the future of dispute resolution and access to justice.

Volunteers may assist with a range of tasks including:

Benefits of participating include the opportunity to:

  • Develop skills in research
  • Gain experience working on a global project
  • Work in a multi-disciplinary team


  • Equivalent to two days training
  • Minimum of 10 working days between July 2017 and April 2018

Please send a CV and cover letter of not more than one page to:


Resolution Resources Australia Logo (Horizontal) with service line V2

Beyond the Roundtable: Hobart 2016

Roundtable 2016.PNGOlivia Rundle’s recent blog post outlined the agenda for the 5th Annual ADR Research Network Roundtable – a unique event for those of us in the ADR research space.

To follow, this blog post offers our view as to why the Roundtable is such a valuable and important event, particularly for those who have not yet participated.

A brief introduction: We are both ‘pracademics’. Rosemary is a Roundtable frequent flyer, while Emma-May was a first time contributor to the conference.

This year the Roundtable was funded by the University of Tasmania (UTAS). Our host, Olivia Rundle, co-ordinated an outstanding programme, including a diverse selection of papers – and typical of Tasmanian hospitality, we did not go hungry!

Picture this: a meeting of like-minded academics, practitioners, ‘pracademics’ (those straddling research, teaching and professional practice) and other ADR professionals, investing their time to workshop academic papers and projects that are in various stages of development.

Becky Roundtable.PNG

In the high stakes academic landscape, the Roundtable is an oasis for the encouragement of new approaches and bold research initiatives. This is a generous-spirited environment that is rare for most of us. As Olivia noted in her blog post, the Roundtable offers ‘an opportunity for risk taking and community building’.

This is not a soft space. However, the critique from academic peers is constructive and sensitively delivered. Commentators are driven by the desire to support and encourage their fellow researchers:

  • to see their work three dimensionally
  • to be thought leaders in the field
  • to present their work in a way that demonstrates academic rigour.

While this forum has traditionally been devoted to the non-adjudicative space, this year two papers were welcomed from the adjudicative space – a signal that the ADR Research Network is committed to adopting an inclusive approach to DR research across the DR continuum.

The Hobart Roundtable offered significant challenges and benefits to us both, despite being at very different stages of our professional development. It has enabled us to:

  • refine some of our ideas
  • enhance our understanding of current research and
  • be assured that there is a supportive environment that we can draw upon as we develop our personal research initiatives.

The next Roundtable is planned for 6-8 December 2017 on the Sunshine Coast. We encourage you to apply to participate if:

  1. You have an idea for future research/academic pursuit and would value the opportunity to workshop your ideas in a safe space with accomplished professionals;
  2. You seek to build your ADR network; or
  3. You are a practitioner or making a career transition from practice into the ADR space and want to pursue some research initiatives

Watch this space for blog posts about the papers that made their debut at the 2016 Roundtable…

See you next year!

Emma-May Litchfield and Rosemary Howell