Alternative Dispute Resolution - Types and Features

Types and Features

ADR is generally classified into at least four types: negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration. (Sometimes a fifth type, conciliation, is included as well, but for present purposes it can be regarded as a form of mediation. See conciliation for further details.) ADR can be used alongside existing legal systems such as sharia courts within common law jurisdictions such as the UK.

ADR traditions vary somewhat by country and culture. There are significant common elements which justify a main topic, and each country or region's difference should be delegated to sub-pages.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is of two historic types. First, methods for resolving disputes outside of the official judicial mechanisms. Second, informal methods attached to or pendant to official judicial mechanisms. There are in addition free-standing and or independent methods, such as mediation programs and ombuds offices within organizations. The methods are similar, whether or not they are pendant, and generally use similar tool or skill sets, which are basically sub-sets of the skills of negotiation.

ADR includes informal tribunals, informal mediative processes, formal tribunals and formal mediative processes. The classic formal tribunal forms of ADR are arbitration (both binding and advisory or non-binding) and private judges (either sitting alone, on panels or over summary jury trials). The classic formal mediative process is referral for mediation before a court appointed mediator or mediation panel. Structured transformative mediation as used by the U.S. Postal Service is a formal process. Classic informal methods include social processes, referrals to non-formal authorities (such as a respected member of a trade or social group) and intercession. The major differences between formal and informal processes are (a) pendency to a court procedure and (b) the possession or lack of a formal structure for the application of the procedure.

For example, freeform negotiation is merely the use of the tools without any process. Negotiation within a labor arbitration setting is the use of the tools within a highly formalized and controlled setting.

Calling upon an organizational ombudsman's office is never, by itself, a formal procedure. (Calling upon an organizational ombudsman is always voluntary; by the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice, no one can be compelled to use an ombuds office.)

Organizational ombuds offices refer people to all conflict management options in the organization: formal and informal, rights-based and interest-based. But, in addition, in part because they have no decision-making authority, ombuds offices can, themselves, offer a wide spectrum of informal options.

This spectrum is often overlooked in contemporary discussions of “ADR.” “ADR” often refers to external conflict management options that are important, but used only occasionally. An organizational ombuds office typically offers many internal options that are used in hundreds of cases a year. These options include:

  • delivering respect, for example, affirming the feelings of a visitor, while staying explicitly neutral on the facts of a case,
  • active listening, serving as a sounding board,
  • providing and explaining information, one-on-one, for example, about policies and rules, and about the context of a concern,
  • receiving vital information, one-on-one, for example, from those reporting unacceptable or illegal behavior,
  • reframing issues,
  • helping to develop and evaluate new options for the issues at hand,
  • offering the option of referrals to other resources, to “key people” in the relevant department, and to managers and compliance offices,
  • helping people help themselves to use a direct approach, for example, helping people collect and analyze their own information, helping people to draft a letter about their issues, coaching and role-playing,
  • offering shuttle diplomacy, for example, helping employees and managers to think through proposals that may resolve a dispute, facilitating discussions,
  • offering mediation inside the organization,
  • “looking into” a problem informally,
  • facilitating a generic approach to an individual problem, for example instigating or offering training on a given issue, finding ways to promulgate an existing policy,
  • identifying and communicating throughout the organization about “new issues,”
  • identifying and communicating about patterns of issues,
  • working for systems change, for example, suggesting new policies, or procedures,
  • following up with a visitor, following up on a system change recommendation. (See Rowe, Mary, Informality — The Fourth Standard of Practice, in JIOA, vol 5, no 1, (2012) pp 8–17.)

Informal referral to a co-worker known to help people work out issues is an informal procedure. Co-worker interventions are usually informal.

Conceptualizing ADR in this way makes it easy to avoid confusing tools and methods (does negotiation once a law suit is filed cease to be ADR? If it is a tool, then the question is the wrong question) (is mediation ADR unless a court orders it? If you look at court orders and similar things as formalism, then the answer is clear: court annexed mediation is merely a formal ADR process).

Dividing lines in ADR processes are often provider driven rather than consumer driven. Educated consumers will often choose to use many different options depending on the needs and circumstances that they face.

Finally, it is important to realize that conflict resolution is one major goal of all the ADR processes. If a process leads to resolution, it is a dispute resolution process.

The salient features of each type are as follows:

  1. In negotiation, participation is voluntary and there is no third party who facilitates the resolution process or imposes a resolution. (NB – a third party like a chaplain or organizational ombudsperson or social worker or a skilled friend may be coaching one or both of the parties behind the scene, a process called "Helping People Help Themselves" – see Helping People Help Themselves, in Negotiation Journal July 1990, pp. 239–248, which includes a section on helping someone draft a letter to someone who is perceived to have wronged them.)
  2. In mediation, there is a third party, a mediator, who facilitates the resolution process (and may even suggest a resolution, typically known as a "mediator's proposal"), but does not impose a resolution on the parties. In some countries (for example, the United Kingdom), ADR is synonymous with what is generally referred to as mediation in other countries.
  3. In collaborative law or collaborative divorce, each party has an attorney who facilitates the resolution process within specifically contracted terms. The parties reach agreement with support of the attorneys (who are trained in the process) and mutually-agreed experts. No one imposes a resolution on the parties. However, the process is a formalized process that is part of the litigation and court system. Rather than being an Alternative Resolution methodology it is a litigation variant that happens to rely on ADR like attitudes and processes.
  4. In arbitration, participation is typically voluntary, and there is a third party who, as a private judge, imposes a resolution. Arbitrations often occur because parties to contracts agree that any future dispute concerning the agreement will be resolved by arbitration. This is known as a 'Scott Avery Clause'. In recent years, the enforceability of arbitration clauses, particularly in the context of consumer agreements (e.g., credit card agreements), has drawn scrutiny from courts. Although parties may appeal arbitration outcomes to courts, such appeals face an exacting standard of review.

Beyond the basic types of alternative dispute resolutions there are other different forms of ADR:

  • Case evaluation: a non-binding process in which parties present the facts and the issues to a neutral case evaluator who advises the parties on the strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions, and assesses how the dispute is likely to be decided by a jury or other adjudicator.
  • Early neutral evaluation: a process that takes place soon after a case has been filed in court. The case is referred to an expert who is asked to provide a balanced and neutral evaluation of the dispute. The evaluation of the expert can assist the parties in assessing their case and may influence them towards a settlement.
  • Family group conference: a meeting between members of a family and members of their extended related group. At this meeting (or often a series of meetings) the family becomes involved in learning skills for interaction and in making a plan to stop the abuse or other ill-treatment between its members.
  • Neutral fact-finding: a process where a neutral third party, selected either by the disputing parties or by the court, investigates an issue and reports or testifies in court. The neutral fact-finding process is particularly useful for resolving complex scientific and factual disputes.
  • Ombuds: third party selected by an institution – for example a university, hospital, corporation or government agency – to deal with complaints by employees, clients or constituents. The Standards of Practice for Organizational Ombuds may be found at

An organizational ombudsman works within the institution to look into complaints independently and impartially.

"Alternative" dispute resolution is usually considered to be alternative to litigation. It also can be used as a colloquialism for allowing a dispute to drop or as an alternative to violence.

In recent years there has been more discussion about taking a systems approach in order to offer different kinds of options to people who are in conflict, and to foster "appropriate" dispute resolution.

That is, some cases and some complaints in fact ought to go to formal grievance or to court or to the police or to a compliance officer or to a government IG. Other conflicts could be settled by the parties if they had enough support and coaching, and yet other cases need mediation or arbitration. Thus "alternative" dispute resolution usually means a method that is not the courts. "Appropriate" dispute resolution considers all the possible responsible options for conflict resolution that are relevant for a given issue.

ADR can increasingly be conducted online, which is known as online dispute resolution (ODR, which is mostly a buzzword and an attempt to create a distinctive product). It should be noted, however, that ODR services can be provided by government entities, and as such may form part of the litigation process. Moreover, they can be provided on a global scale, where no effective domestic remedies are available to disputing parties, as in the case of the UDRP and domain name disputes. In this respect, ODR might not satisfy the "alternative" element of ADR.

Read more about this topic:  Alternative Dispute Resolution

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