A Dispute Resolution Response
to Civil Unrest?
Civil unrest is a critical outlet for our democracy, giving community members and advocates
an opportunity to express deeply held frustration.
The United States has recently witnessed repeated
civil unrest, from suburban Ferguson and Sanford
to downtown Baltimore, to the Malheur National
Wildlife Refuge. No community is immune. I’d like
to challenge you to consider how the dispute resolution community can respond to and address the
concerns that are often raised through civil unrest.
At our core, dispute resolution practitioners enhance
communication and support self-determination.
Perhaps many of us do not have the skill set to
intervene in crisis, but ADR practitioners can play a
role in addressing division before a triggering incident occurs. We support authentic conversations
aimed at understanding divisive issues. We regularly ask parties to consider the consequences
of their decisions and work to develop clarity
and understanding between and among parties.
We work with stakeholders as they engage in
challenging conversations. We are what Nancy
Rogers calls “mediation-wise”: those who are
well suited to support communities who convene efforts to plan in advance of civil unrest.
At Ohio State’s Divided Community Project my colleagues and I propose process ideas for planning in
advance of civil unrest for several reasons: to build
trust across broad segments of the community, to
better understand the issues underlying a triggering
incident like a police-involved shooting, and to anticipate community crisis and division. Critical voices
speak out during civil unrest—we can initiate a broad-based community planning processes (beyond police
departments) to maintain safety and enhance community efforts to meaningfully and resourcefully
respond to crisis. In this planning process, dispute
resolution practitioners have an opportunity to
empower the voiceless and support conversations
aimed at understanding deep community divisions.
Mediation-wise dispute resolution practitioners
and attorneys around the country are supporting
communities in broad-based planning initiatives.
In San Mateo, California, the Peninsula Conflict
Resolution Center’s Strengthening Communities
Project works with the Divided Community Project
to address issues leading to division and polariza-
tion in the San Mateo County community. In Saint
Paul, Minnesota, ADR expert and Mitchell-Hamline
Law faculty member Sharon Press works with the
Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services to facili-
tate dialogue focused on the future of the Saint Paul
Public Schools. In Columbus, Ohio, my colleagues
and I work with the Divided Community Project
to support a group of mediation-wise attorneys
who convened the Columbus Community Trust, a
broad-based community planning effort designed
to build community trust and resilience by planning
in advance of civil unrest.
This short article illustrates my work with law students following the Divided Community Project’s
guidance to conduct a preliminary assessment of
division and resilience in the Columbus community
and briefly identifies how my work with students has
spurred the launch of the Columbus Community Trust.
USING LAW STUDENTS FOR
The Divided Community Project’s help identify
ways community leaders might initiate broad-based
community efforts to plan in advance of civil unrest.
Specifically, a convening group should conduct a
preliminary “assessment of the community’s ability
to handle division; the potential cost, broadly con-
strued, of civil unrest; and the potential gains for the
community when residents can handle their divisions
While my colleagues and I were working to build
consensus amongst local bar leaders to convene
the Columbus Community Trust, we concurrently
About the Author
is the Langdon
Fellow in Dispute
The Ohio State
Moritz College of
Law, where he
He also serves as
of the Columbus
Many of us may not have the skill set to
intervene in crisis, but ADR practitioners
can play a role in addressing division
before a triggering incident occurs.