Summary of "Online Dispute Resolution: Resolving Disputes in Cyberspace"

Summary of

Online Dispute Resolution: Resolving Disputes in Cyberspace

By Ethan Katsh and Janet Rifkin

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Ethan Katsh and Janet Rifkin. Online Dispute Resolution: Resolving Disputes in Cyberspace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001, 226 pp.

Online Dispute Resolution: Resolving Disputes in Cyberspace was written as an introduction to the dispute resolution resources that exist in cyberspace. Katsh and Rifkin are leaders in the alternative dispute resolution field and have been studying the effect of technology on dispute resolution since the mid-1990's. Over the six chapters of this book, they offer an in-depth look at the history, process, and practice of online dispute resolution (ODR).

Chapter One, "The Impact of Cyberspace on Disputes and Dispute Resolution," discusses the underlying reasons for and philosophies that guide the practice of ODR. Topics such as what ODR has to offer, why it is necessary in the information age, what types of online activities warrant ODR, where it may be applied in cyberspace (ie. virtual spaces or particular types of sites on the Internet) are covered in this chapter.

Chapter Two provides a brief history of online dispute resolution. This historical review is divided into four different time frames; pre-1995, 1995-1998, 1998-2000, and beyond 2000. Generally, the chapter traces the evolution and development of ODR mechanisms as the user base of the World Wide Web expanded and it began being used for more and more activities that can lead to conflict, especially e-commerce.

The fundamentals of the ODR process are explained in Chapter Three. The authors suggest that every ODR system may be conceptualized as a triangle "with one side representing access, convenience, and ease of use, a second side representing trust in the fairness of process, and the third side representing the degree of expertise being delivered to users" (15). It is said that these three elements must be present in some capacity for an ODR process to be valid, but may arrange in different formations depending on the system.

Chapter Four discusses the beginning of the ODR process and introduces the notion of technology as a "fourth party." This concept is grounded in the idea that technology works with and assists the traditional third party in resolving disputes. Moreover, the concept of the "fourth party" is useful for thinking about how online dispute resolution mechanisms may help resolve offline disputes. Specifically, this chapter addresses the complaint-filing procedure and how to go about engaging the other side in an online resolution process.

Chapter Five, "Facilitating Agreement: ODR and Offline Dispute Resolution," describes ways in which online resources may be applied to offline, everyday disputes. For example, Katsh and Rifkin discuss the advantages of employing a Web site for resolving disputes. A website, in their opinion, creates a special space that is convenient and conducive to resolution.

The final chapter is aimed at conflict resolution professionals who are thinking about or planning to go into ODR. This chapter includes advice about how to use the computer screen creatively and effectively during the mediation process. This chapter also deals with some ethical questions and standards of ODR practice. Other topics discussed include trust building, active listening, non- and verbal communication, transparency, and confidentiality.

ODR is growing very rapidly. Online Dispute Resolution: Resolving Disputes in Cyberspace provides a good overview of what ODR is, who uses it, why, and how it actually works. Although the technology will continue, no doubt, to evolve, this book gives a very useful overview of the state of the field as of the year 2001.