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ADR and the Occupy Movement: The Importance of Dialogue

The Occupy Movement has dominated headlines for the past several months and garnered significant attention. Though the movement is inherently political and certainly controversial, there did emerge themes from Occupy that echo values long held in the ADR community. Specifically, both the Occupy Movement and the ADR community place significant emphasis on the importance of dialogue.

Dialogue and consensus emerged early on as a core value of Occupy. Each city’s group handled its own decision-making, and many only issued statements after lengthy discussions where all voices were considered. Whether this was successful is hard to tell. Many criticisms of the movement focused on the fact that there was no central message or theme for Occupy and it was hard to comprehend what, exactly, participants believed. At any rate, it is not this blog’s role to comment on or evaluate the success or failure of a political movement.

What is interesting is how Occupy’s emphasis on dialogue mirrors what happens in ADR. As practitioners, we know first-hand how crucial it is to provide space for all sides in a dispute to bring out their positions. As with Occupy, this can sometimes seem counterproductive as it leads to a cacophony of voices, opinions and interests. Eventually, however, the air is cleared and the real work of finding resolution can begin.

This is, of course, where ADR parts ways with Occupy, it seems. Dialogue in ADR almost always leads to resolution. Parties may not leave the process having received everything they wanted, but there is resolution nonetheless. The reason dialogue moves in a productive way in ADR is, of course, because there is a practitioner in the room guiding the process.

And, perhaps this is why ADR succeeds in its approach to dialogue, where Occupy can be seen to have unraveled somewhat. At the core of any ADR process is the practitioner, who guides parties as they lay out their positions, grievances and expectations. There is someone in the room to give shape to the cacophony, and help parties see points of agreement so the real sticking places can be worked through. As ADR practitioners, our role is not to take a place in the process above the parties, but to serve as a guide and facilitator to move things forward.

Perhaps the Occupy Movement could learn something from the ADR approach. It has, after all, worked very successfully for quite some time.


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