A just society requires a justice system that is accessible to all. In our more than 25 years, RSI has worked relentlessly to advance the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to improve access to justice. RSI’s efforts have produced an incomparable trove of knowledge on best practices for designing, operating and evaluating ADR to create systems that are cost-effective, timely and fair. And as technology and societal challenges evolve, new questions arise, along with new potential solutions. RSI remains on the leading edge of their exploration.
Here are some recent highlights of our work:
- We have begun groundbreaking research into the intersection between mediator behaviors and party trust. The Trust Project will provide concrete information, based on objective data, on which mediator behaviors are more likely to engender party trust in the mediator and result in a satisfying, successful mediation for the parties.
- We kicked off our OPEN (ODR Party Engagement) Project, conducting focus groups in three low-income and low-literacy communities across the US to get feedback on sample communications that courts use to explain online dispute resolution to self-represented parties. Findings will be used to develop a communications guide for courts.
- We conducted two of the first independent evaluations of online dispute resolution in US courts, Online Dispute Resolution for Post-Judgment Family Law Cases: A Report to the Ottawa County, Michigan, Friend of the Court and Online Dispute Resolution for Debt and Small Claims Cases: A Report on a Pilot Program in a Justice of the Peace Court in Collin County, Texas. These studies found that for those who use ODR, the process is an easy, convenient and effective method of resolving disputes. However, it raises barriers for those who lack digital literacy or broadband access.
- We have designed effective court mediation programs addressing problems ranging from small claims to federal litigation and from foreclosure to family.
- We have administered effective mediation programs in eviction, foreclosure and child protection cases in several northern Illinois judicial circuits. For example, in the two years after Illinois ended its COVID-era eviction moratorium in October 2021, our Kane County eviction mediation program helped over 1,500 households avoid a sheriff’s eviction. Several years before that, beginning in 2013, RSI responded to the mortgage crisis with foreclosure mediation programs that ultimately helped prevent 1,100 foreclosures.
- We studied the potential for online dispute resolution (ODR) to serve thinly resourced families, courts and communities, including convening dozens of experts from across the United States. We found that family ODR can improve access to justice if it is provided in a manner that is accessible, ethical and effective. Doing so will necessitate comprehensive screening conversations with all parents prior to ODR, standards for family court ODR, and resources to support the provision and evaluation of ODR.
- We developed the most comprehensive and respected source of information on court ADR available anywhere — RSI’s Resource Center, including a Guide to Program Success, a library of Mediation Efficacy Studies, Model Surveys, Model Tools for Mediator Peer Review, Court ADR Basics pages, and a series of Special Topics.
- We explored and reported on how technology might improve screening for intimate partner violence prior to mediation.
Read the success stories behind a few of our most impactful projects:
Designing, administering and evaluating mediation programs that help children and families, Child Protection Mediation: Charting a Positive Path for Children and Families
- Evaluating the District of Columbia Superior Court’s mandatory Child Protection Mediation Program, including helping the court to zero in on what specifically needed to be evaluated, A Comprehensive Evaluation of a Child Protection Mediation Program
Designing, administering and evaluating eviction mediation programs in northern Illinois as an eviction crisis loomed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eviction Mediation: On the Front Lines in a Housing Crisis
Conducting our comprehensive foreclosure mediation programming, including designing, administering and evaluating foreclosure mediation programs in three northern Illinois judicial circuits, Foreclosure Mediation: Practicing What We Preach