Wednesday, April 29

My last word on the ABA conference

Having put some distance between me and the ABA spring get-together the other week in New York, I am left with a slight hangover.

Not because of nights out on Broadway at God of Carnage or Billy Elliot, or that $25 whiskey sour on top of the Rockefeller Centre or even slugging pints of Brooklyn Brown downtown with Jeff Thompson.

I mean, there may have been some gold nuggets buried deep inside the conference program but, for the most part dear reader, I did not find them. Rightly or wrongly the ABA Dispute Resolution Section annual conference has become a leading gathering of global mediators and I expected more than I found there.

The usual masters of mediation were in attendance, some finding new ways of saying old stuff and some, in at least one plenary I attended, being content just to phone it in.

Now, this blog likes to be opinionated, not outspoken - but I do believe I voice the concern of many. The program was tired and some presenters had no business being at the front of the room.

For instance, if I decide to invest 1.5 hours in a session on starting a mediation practice I expect to hear from people who have actually started their own mediation business, and learn more from them than 'get a good website'.

I also want to be challenged, I want to hear what's around the corner, what's ahead of the curve - why was there not one paper on what Web 2.0 means for mediators? I know one was offered.

It's time for the ABA Dispute Resolution Section to re-evaluate it's conference format and content - maybe less is more as mediation matures and the need for mediation 101 primer sessions diminish.

And maybe, just maybe, lose those cheap boxed lunches.


Diane Levin said...

Geoff, thanks for telling it like it is. While the schmoozing was great, and meeting up with folks like you was my primary reason for attending, like you I was disappointed by the offerings. I came hoping to be challenged, to deepen my understanding, and to get exposed to bleeding-edge ideas. With a few exceptions, most of the programming was ho-hum. And one of the greatest disappointments for me was the failure to account for those of us who have embraced 21st century technology and who arrived expecting wifi would be available to registrants throughout the conference meeting spaces.

Hell, you know what? I'll even volunteer to help out with next year's conference (anybody out there listening?). By the way, since joining the section, I've attempted a number of times to contact section leaders and ask how I can be more involved -- including one who was honored at this spring meeting. Not one of them ever responded to my emails. A section dedicated to promoting dialogue needs to do a better job responding to its members - particularly when they're offering to roll up their sleeves and pitch in.

John Sturrock, Core Solutions Group, Edinburgh, Scotland said...

Geoff, these are perceptive remarks. There were some really good sessions, as always, and it is always useful to hear about new developments and to be extended beyond one's own limited horizons.
I attended a couple of excellent workshops.

Maybe there has been a formula which has served the conference well. Now, with the profession maturing and all sorts of new angles, a radical review would throw up interesting and innovative approaches to conveying news and sharing ideas. Perhaps reviewing the use to which plenary sessions are put and moving away from presentations of awards to leading edge delivery would give a sense of freshness?

The ABA conference is a global highlight and deserves to showcase the latest mediation developments in the most creative way.

Colm said...

Hi Geoff, your comments are spot on and one of the reasons that I rarely attend conferences!

To be fair, the ABA yearly advanced advocacy and mediation programs are well done and at actually live up to the "advanced" billing.

We need to have advanced programs but...