Association for Conflict Resolution's Blog

Case Study: How Maryland Used a Large-Scale Collaborative Process to Come From Behind the 8-ball to Become One of the Leaders in the Use of Alternate Dispute Resolution

Posted in Uncategorized by Association for Conflict Resolution on May 27, 2010

Note: Many readers of this blog may know of the USA moderator and presenter for this session, Rachel Wohl. She’s the Executive Director of Maryland’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO), and a founding Board member of Mediators Beyond Borders (about which we blog separately).

For more information about MACRO and the work referred to here, please visit MACRO’s website,


I’m a great believer in the power of collaboration. In Maryland, we were at the bottom of the heap among the states, in terms of little going on in conflict resolution and mediation about 12 years ago. We started a statewide collaborative process that has greatly advanced the use of ADR in Maryland in criminal and juvenile justice programs, schools, courts, government agencies, and neighborhoods.

Without the collaborative process, this wouldn’t have happened.

Collaboration is fun. It usually starts out that people are suspicious. But when people really get it—that they don’t have to agree on anything, but that it really is a search to figure out what can we agree to do that is actually doable, and feasible, and which will make a significant difference in moving things forward—that’s where we start.

When people really understand the lack of constraints, then they get inspired. They drop the suspicion and start looking at each other as people (and collaborators). The judge, the lawyer, the mediator—these labels fall away.

And importantly, we get better outcomes.

A caveat: Collaboration takes time and effort—so it’s not the process if you need quick results. But if there’s time for you to collaborate, you get a rich outcome because you obtain everybody’s perspective.

When you come up with solutions that meet the interests of the greatest number of people, you get very rich outcomes.

In time, when people work together collaboratively, it builds a huge base of support to see things become a reality; people own it.

Maryland’s ADR commission process took a year and a half and involved roughly 700 people. And by the end, there was tremendous support to see the action plan the commission developed become a reality. (You can find a map illustrating the collaborative process here.)

Our office of 9 gives out $2 million a year in ADR grants to support neighborhood, court, school, community, juvenile justice and other ADR programs.

As far as I know, there are no comparably funded ADR offices that deal with such a broad scope.

The reason we do, is due to the collaborative process.

I proposed to Maryland’s Chief Judge Robert M. Bell that we bring high-level people together to advance ADR across the state.

We put together a 40-member ADR committee (perhaps a better term is “Appropriate” Dispute Resolution), comprising state and local government and community leaders, lawyer-mediators, non-law mediators, business, state and local officials, and others.

The Commission’s first job: Fact-finding—at home and around the country.

We formed 6 committees, which in turn recruited their own people. We also put together a national advisory board of experts in the field, plus 4 regional advisory boards throughout Maryland.

The committees reported out to the Commission about what they found happening, locally and nationwide.

Then we moved into the collaborative consensus-building part of the process, beginning with brainstorming within each of the 6 committees. We prioritized the wish-list to ensure the proposals were based on broad general consensus; were feasible; and would make a significant difference.

Our resulting report, Join the Resolution, contained our action plan.

MACRO was created to implement this action plan. This office is in the Maryland judicial branch of government, and is supported by the judiciary (and funded through our state legislature), even though MACRO’s grants are made both within and outside the court system.

Having Chief Judge Bell as a champion was a critical component and key to making this a successful process.

Another factor is that Maryland’s court system was burdened with cases. The Chief Judge was persuaded that this approach would reduce that backlog. In time, he came to realize that ADR can prevent cases from reaching the courts, and that people can achieve better outcomes in some cases because they can make better decisions themselves, and obtain relief the courts cannot offer.

Mediation in Maryland generally is not required. The court may order you, but you can opt out. But once our judges started understanding that mediation was not ‘second-class justice,’ and did not diminish their role, then we started getting more cases referred to mediation.

MACRO  has collaborated with the mediation community in Maryland to continue advancing the appropriate use of mediation, restorative justice processes, consensus-building, and other forms of conflict resolution.

A large-scale collaborative process that may be of interest is the Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence, a quality assistance program that now has over 800 members in Maryland.

A final note: Maryland has begun sharing its model and its experiences with other states and nations, including, for instance, Scotland.

As David Semple of Scotland’s Mediation Network reported at this session, “Our relationship with MACRO has fostered a collaboration culture. We set up the Scottish Mediation Network and created a Scottish Mediation Register. This is a self-regulating profile, where mediators post their own qualifications, training, and the types of mediation they do. This was truly a collaborative exercise that enabled us to achieve the achievable. It’s not a perfect accreditation system, but it’s a ‘cheap and cheerful way’ to encourage self-regulating.”

He noted that Scotland’s ongoing collaborative relationship with Maryland has been enriching to both parties.


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