ImprovingMonitoring outcomes of a resolution process and ensuring sustainability

Has the conflict really been resolved? Has justice been delivered? In other words, have the parties achieved the outcomes they needed? Conflicts often need to be resolved iteratively. This means revisiting and improving upon resolutions that no longer work for the parties involved due to changing circumstances or an improved understanding of what the parties need. The purpose of improving is to learn how to better resolve the current conflict and prevent related conflicts from arising in the future.

Why is this a fundamental dispute resolution practice?

Improving is fundamental because it helps ensure that both the parties to the conflict and the individuals or institutions involved in its resolution learn from the process and are accountable for the quality and sustainability of its outcomes. As circumstances change, new needs may arise, or solutions that made sense and worked at one time may fall apart. Next door neighbours may need to revisit and renegotiate the terms of a previous agreement when they realise they are not able to uphold them in practice. A married couple who at first sought legal and financial support to initiate a separation may discover later that there is room for reconciliation. 

In these situations, having a people-centred outcomes monitoring system or other follow-up mechanism in place can help make these changing circumstances apparent and ensure that they are addressed. It can also inform improvements to the relevant resolution processes and mechanisms that make them more likely to meet people’s needs in the future.

What are the active ingredients of improving?

Iterative conflict resolution (learning and improving).

An outcomes monitoring system that assesses the extent to which a particular justice service or resolution process meets parties’ stated needs (ideally over time).

Adaptable decisions and agreements.

What are people actually doing to make this happen?

Parties are identifying the outcomes they hope to achieve at the start of the resolution process and assessing the extent to which those outcomes were achieved by the end of the process. They are conscious that changing circumstances may require that old decisions or agreements be revisited in order for the resolution reached to be (or become) sustainable. 
Mediators and judges
Mediators and judges are monitoring the conduct of the parties involved in a conflict that has been resolved to ensure that their relationship and the resolution they reached remains stable over time. This may require intermittently following up with parties involved, and if necessary re-opening the resolution process to address new needs or limitations. They are also systematically implementing people-centred outcomes monitoring to assess the quality of the conflict resolution or legal services they deliver. 
Mediators and judges
Justice leaders
Justice leaders are introducing standardised, people-centred outcomes monitoring at the provider level to determine whether justice services are meeting people’s needs effectively over time. When they find that they are, they are funding and scaling those services (or innovations) so that they can bring people-centred justice for greater numbers of people. When they find that they are not, they are supporting those justice providers to adapt and improve the quality of their services.  
Justice leaders
Innovators are using people-centred outcomes monitoring to evaluate their services as well. The agile nature of many justice innovations means that they are uniquely well-positioned to introduce such a monitoring system and integrate it within their innovation. Like more traditional justice providers, innovators are using the outcomes data they collect to iterate and improve their product or service to better meet the needs of their users.
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What indicators can be used to monitor this practice?

Decision correctability
Resolution sustainability

What makes improving difficult?

Behavioral barriers

In addition to shining a light on what is working to meet people’s justice needs and resolve their conflicts, people-centred outcomes monitoring reveals what is not working. The introduction of people-centred outcomes monitoring can be a difficult adjustment for service providers who are accustomed to being evaluated or funded on the basis of different criteria. It also requires them to adjust their services to deliver resolutions that will remain stable over time, or else can be revisited. This means committing to parties and the challenges they are facing in the long-term, rather than delivering a short-term solution and expecting never to see the individuals involved again. 

Not everyone will be motivated to transition to this new way of working and learning. Those who do will gain new insight into the tangible differences they make in the lives of the people they serve – and may find renewed purpose and gratification in their work.

More Resources

  1. Jason Colquitt and Jessica Rodell, Measuring Justice and Fairness, The Oxford Handbook of Justice in the Workplace (2015).
  2. Jin Ho Verdonschot et al., Measuring Access to Justice: The Quality of Outcomes, Tilburg University Legal Studies Working Paper No. 007 (2008).
  3. Maurits Barendrecht, In Search of Microjustice: Five Basic Elements of a Dispute System, Tilburg Working Paper Series on Civil Law and Conflict Resolution Systems (2008).