Collective Wisdom Symposium: Initial Report PDF Print


Initial Report
            On September 25 and 26, 2008, 32 professionals met in Ann Arbor to explore the foundations of client-centered work with divorcing families. Included were lawyers, mental health professionals and financial planners from across Michigan. There were more than 500 years of practice experience present at the gathering. The meeting was organized to explore the common ground between the disciplines of mediation and Collaborative Practice. It was sponsored by the Michigan State Bar Foundation, The Collaborative Practice Institute of Michigan, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the State Bar of Michigan and the Family Mediation Council—Michigan. It featured nationally know trainer Chip Rose, who donated his time to the project. 
I. Origins and Beginnings
            Chip Rose proposed that such meetings be held during a workshop offered at the International Academy of Collaborative Practitioners Forum held in Toronto during October of 2007. This workshop attended by several people from Michigan. Believing such a meeting of interdisciplinary professionals could be done in Michigan, several of these people formed a committee to explore the concept. Chip was approached and readily agreed to attend, a date was selected, funds raised and the conference organized and held as scheduled. The goal established by the committee was to attract a cross-section of experienced practitioners from across Michigan to a meeting where the discussion would explore what each participant believed to be the fundamental elements of effective practice and look for common threads and patterns. This goal was achieved.
II. Planning
            A.        Fundraising: The committee first obtained approval and co-sponsorship from CPIM, the Collaborative Practice organization in Michigan and FMC-M, the private mediators’ organization. The committee then approached the State Bar of Michigan ADR section which provided financial support and support for a larger grant from the Michigan State Bar Foundation. The committee applied for and received a significant grant from MSBF. Each participant paid $200, which covered the cost of food and facilities.
            B.        Structure of Organization: A steering committee of three, a lawyer-mediator, a mental health professional, and a professional process consultant as formed to organize the Symposium. The steering committee maintained liaison with the boards of the sponsoring professional organizations and identified key leaders in the professions involved. These leaders were contacted seeking input, support and attendance.
            C.        Promotion: A variety of promotion activities were completed, beginning with telephone networking. Most of the promotion was done with targeted email, directed to the membership lists of the two sponsoring organizations. Email began with a “Save the date” teaser in March for the September meeting. Committee members made appearances at board meetings and local practice group meetings promoting the concept and encouraging attendance. With significant help from the Process Consultant an online survey of values and perspectives was sent to the email list in June, followed by a general emailing with registration information in July. Individual email invitations were sent to about 90 potential participants about 3 weeks in advance of the Symposium.
III. Conducting the Symposium
            The Symposium was conducted over one and one-half days, beginning on a Thrusday morning and ending with lunch on Friday. It began with a plenary session featuring a presentation by Chip Rose on the history of the two disciplines represented from his perspective as one who had participated in that history. This was followed by three rounds of small group work, two on Thursday and one on Friday. The Symposium concluded with a plenary session and lunch. The core of the work was done in small groups of 7 to 8 participants. These groups were carefully designed to include a cross-section of the professions and geographic locations of participants. Each group had a facilitator who had been thoughtfully recruited. Each facilitator was a recognized leader in either the Collaborative Practice or Mediation communities. Each round of group work had a common set of questions. The first round focused on principles and philosophies, the second on techniques and tactics used in client work and the third round focused on community education and promotion within the larger professions working with family law cases. Following each round of small group work, a plenary session was held to compare the work of the small groups. Extensive flip chart notes were maintained and presented during the plenary sessions. These notes have since been transcribed and distributed to the participants.
IV. Observations and Recommendations
            A.        From the materials which were developed during the Symposium and from the discussion at the closing plenary session, several conclusions are clearly justified. They are:
                        1.         When mediators and CP practitioners talk to each other about what they believe and what they do, the conclusion that these practices are facets of the same jewel is inescapable. 
                        2.         One important theme tying these practices together is the interdisciplinary approach. 
                        3.         There is a large, unmet need amongst practitioners, particularly those with less experience, for skills training in the practice of interest based negotiation in an interdisciplinary context.
                        4.         There should be deliberate liaison and combined effort of CP and mediation organizations to promote these options to professional circles and client bases.
                        5.         There is unrealized potential for practice improvement when CP and mediation are not in dialogue.
            B.        Several good ideas for carrying on the work started by this Symposium also emerged from the notes and discussions. They are:
                        1.         Repeat the program at other locations around Michigan, beginning with a program on the west side of the state.
                        2.         Report the process and the results to national meetings of interdisciplinary practitioners. IACP, ACR and AFCC were specifically mentioned.
                        3.         Promote a national summit on a similar format.
                        4.         Develop cross-discipline skills training in interest-based negotiation using the interdisciplinary approach.
V. Conclusions
            The disciplines of mediation and Collaborative Practice are not two separate practices but rather stylistically different methods of working with divorcing couples. The continued separation of these practices encourages competitiveness amongst practitioners, confuses clients and limits everyone involved in either practice. The best interests of both clients and professionals would be served by professionals who continue to seek increased knowledge of what works and why.
Prepared and submitted by Tom Darnton, December 12, 2008

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