RSI has heard statements like these from people working with court ADR for many years. In response to the first statement, we often say, "yes, we have researched that question and here are the results" or "oh yes, so-and-so researched that question in this study." And when it comes to figuring out whether programs work, RSI is the go-to evaluator for courts that want someone who really understands how courts and ADR operate and who also meets the highest quality of evaluation standards.
Rock solid evaluation is essential to the way RSI approaches court ADR. While we are passionate about the value of ADR to courts and to society more broadly, we are just as passionate about courts doing ADR well. We also understand that every court ADR setting is different, and resources for evaluation are limited. That's why RSI's approach to evaluation is collaborative and tailored. We work with courts and other stakeholders to identify program goals and determine the key indicators to measure. We tailor the evaluation plan to fit with the program’s needs and its financial and staff capacity.
Evaluation design often begins with a question: what do you want the ADR program to accomplish? While seemingly simple, articulating an answer to that question forms the foundation for the evaluation. We then work with stakeholders to design the process for collecting data that will allow us to assess whether the goals are being met. Our designs have focused on minimizing cost and staff time through strategic use of technology. We have found that the more we can automate data collection processes, the more likely data will be collected. We design full evaluation systems, customize or modify existing ones, and provide a la carte services:
We have found that expertise in ADR is as valuable to conducting a good evaluation as expertise in evaluation methods. When we develop an evaluation plan, we use what we have learned through our long experience designing and administering programs, as well as research, to help programs better understand what to measure, how to measure it and what to do with that information. This has provided our clients with a more complete picture of how their programs are functioning and what they can do to improve.
Our evaluations have ranged from large, multi-year assessments of all aspects of a program to targeted analysis of particular program processes or outcomes. In addition, we can provide analysis and reporting on previously collected data.
At RSI, research informs everything we do. To properly design programs, administer them and evaluate them, we need to stay current on court ADR developments and ADR research, immerse ourselves in the theory behind ADR practice and explore foundational beliefs about the value of court ADR. This not only helps us to conduct our work with greater expertise, but allows us to inform others and help them accomplish their goals. We aggregate information in ways that are more accessible and useful to practitioners and other researchers, allowing our work to ripple through the ADR field.
One of our most important contributions to the field of court mediation is our study of dozens of studies to explore whether court mediation programs really save time and money, and provide participant satisfaction. This is an assumption that drives many court ADR programs, but is it true?
Dispute system design could be most simplistically described as figuring out how to move a particular group of cases efficiently and fairly through an ADR process. Access to justice is similarly described as providing the most effective legal information, advice or representation to poor and low-income disputants. But what if ADR could change the way that poor and low-income disputants access justice? RSI tackled this question in our study Accessing Justice through Mediation: Pathways for Poor and Low-Income Disputants. We surveyed stakeholders and researched the legal and ADR landscape in Illinois to determine the supports and barriers to using ADR to increase access to justice in the state. Then we designed a blueprint for a system whereby poor and low-income disputants could best achieve a resolution to their legal problems.
Our research on foreclosure mediation at the outset of the foreclosure crisis provided the ADR field with reliable information for designing foreclosure dispute resolution processes across the country. See these examples: