Ombudsperson ADR: “Money Changes Everything”

13 February 2011

I’ve chosen this title as the “theme” for one of the most critical types of situations that I’ve “engaged” for decades in business.  It also creates the most conflict, polarization and chaos in all types of business “personalities”; and it basically has to do with any type of funding to make the entity viable.  Normally I’d practice “ombudsmanship” if this were in my “other practice”, but this time I got a referral from a past client I coached on his dispute as an Independent Contractor.  In this scenario, money acts as a catalyst for change and is regarding the ongoing internal dispute between “owners” of a new start-up e-commerce company.  We handled this using ODR methods with the 6 C’s Of Sociocratic Peace Building process.  The outcome was very successful and it’s been over three months now without any recidivism. As I’ve mentioned previously, a vast majority of our work is “coaching” the dispute process asymmetrically, which continues, but this case was “traditional” and satisfying to handle.

The background on this is that one of the group was referred to me by a previous client and the new client is a 19-year-old “web developer” that has been “informally” participating with a group of about 6-10 guys, depending on the time of year, regarding starting a new web based e-commerce company.  He quickly, verbally, laid out his case as one of the “younger guys” of the informal group, where ages ranged up to the mid twenties.  Key to the informal group structure is that it shrank and grew in its informal membership, where no business plan had been developed, but they would have “lan parties” for gaming and informal pizza and beer meetings over the development of the new start up company.  When I asked how long this “idea” phase of the new business had been going on, my client indicated he’d been “in it from the start” and it has been sporadically ongoing for all of 2010.  What was making things so urgent now was that one of the guys was talking to a “rich guy” about funding their new e-commerce business and got a commitment of $300,000 cash in an email, with contingencies; and so they are all now “rushing” to meet requirements.  Indeed, from this moment forward, money changed everything as every type of dynamic between “business partners”, mostly bad, began to unfold.

To start I simply got my client to email everyone, have a meeting and present me as a person to help them “sort out” their conflict now that “cash” has corrupted everyone. Surprisingly, they all agreed, including more people than has been actively involved.  First step, formally define who’s in and who’s out.  Surprised me again when they had a roster within 48 hours.  Thus we discovered, to my clients elation as he was included out of all the “informal” members to date, a roster of 6 people total.  This process is also indirectly contributing to the planning they overlooked.

Next step, get a one page narrative on the WWWWHW’s (who, what, when, where, how, why) including their role, contributions to date and description of what the conflict is from each individuals perspective.  Again, surprised, all email contact information and cell phone numbers were provided to me and I sent these out… all came back completed within days.

I then did quick 20-30 minute phone interviews with each “member” of the new entity for purposes of building consensus and determining how adaptive each guy would be to formalizing the business structure. I also did some preemptive discussion where I detected an intractable ‘position’ by relaying my years of experience and wisdom in such situations and the “worst case scenarios” I’d witnessed through the years, thus cautioning them all, individually, that if they can’t “play nice in the sandbox”, everyone will be impacted and the financing opportunity they have in front of them would be over.

Everyone agreed that things got “really serious” when the “letter” from the investor offering $300,000 was circulated and this triggered greed and selfishness rather than the continued “fun and teamwork” they had all been demonstrating for a year.  In a conference call I related my previous experiences where the worst I’d seen in my career was a group of  “grown men” who broke from “formal” agreements, business plan and slit throats practically for their own gain over everyone else in their yet to be funded company.  I then asked them, “do you wish to all do the same?”  Verbal consensus quickly came, thus providing the common point of focus to cooperate and continue to have them develop a document that they all sign and agree with so as to have structure and boundaries of membership in the face of potential protest from individuals who are now excluded. Again, I’m surprised, as everyone agreed with roles and titles with responsibilities in the new company based on the “concept” model of the business as discussed.

I then simply laid out, from the interviews, written and verbal, where the “points of conflict” potentially were, got consensus again for a solution as to what would be best based on my business development experience and venture finance, in various areas.  One key point I made was that, “the money is not yours” that you are getting, it’s the funds for the new company as an entity and they are stewards of the money and accountable to each other and their benefactor. It happens in every case I’ve ever had for over two decades that the common misconception is that the beneficiaries think the funds are theirs now.  This fact further stabilized perceptions and brought some order from chaos over “money” issues.

The second common “theme” was that everyone was, in their own way, maneuvering and holding each other “hostage” over “ownership of contributions of Intellectual Property” to make the enterprise run.  Everything from one guy hurrying to register the domain name and then charge everyone thousands of dollars to buy it from him, to another guy wanting royalty payments from his programming of the financial interface on the website as money came in from transactions.  There’s more, but again, once it was pointed out that they were “holding each other hostage”, polarizing the group in to “me versus them”; and not cooperating they began to see more clearly.  At this point I simply asked each person, live in the call, “do you want out now or want in for the long-term?” so as to get intentions out in the open for all to confirm.  In addition to this, the solution everyone is to follow through on their commitments, contributes as they said they would all along and then in reality, for a start-up, revenue sharing of net gains improves as the company performs and does well.  If anyone holds back, it affects everyone.

In the end they completed their “terms of consensus” memorandum as a prelude to their business concept and planning.  I reviewed it for completeness from gathered information, they all signed, I have one on file, and they are now moving ahead with a new company and the understanding that before it’s over, more conflicts will inevitably come up and they now know how to resolve them.  Once again, my previous experience and background go hand in hand as I’m in my second year formally as an OO and referrals now come… a pleasant surprise finally.


The New Ombudsperson: Per Se, Pro Se & Economic Austerity

28 November 2010

In the last quarter of the year everyone, from individuals to the largest corporations take stock of the current year, put at least some thought into tax obligations, but also budgeting is now more important than ever; and for once “holding to it” once set.  It’s the time of year where our clients often make a formal or casual call to get our take on what’s ahead and how they can continue to survive given what I am monitoring and seeing is a severe continuance of current economic conditions.  This provides both opportunity and a demand for dispute or conflict resolution services in 2011 for all ombud’s working with individuals, groups and small organizations

The trend is going to continue and has already begun exponentially escalating where complaints and grievances from lower and middle-income Americans need a voice with government and corporate entities.  The paradigm shift from expensive and damaging formal legal services to ombudsman ADR is well underway and beginning next year we will see more formal groups and structures advocate and develop access for informal mediation. We are experiencing and observing a flood of legal issues people are facing as attempts over the last two years by governments, state and federal, to provide a system to resolve economic hardship issues failed or there was never enough capacity in the system to provide equal access.

In my own recent conversations, where corporate America and government continue to demand payment and use their coffers and legal staff to force their will and redefine the law and policies “on the fly”; individuals are screaming for someone to help.   It used to be that legal aid offices would provide legal services for anyone qualifying.  Now, what we are hearing is that many legal aid offices have cut staff and some will close in 2011 forcing individuals to represent themselves.  Indeed, for a few clients I’ve found myself contacting the court on behalf of a defendant to see if there isn’t some other venue to resolve the issue.  Court staff have commented to me that they are taking more and more “legal aid” type calls where gaps in services are rapidly appearing.  The issue now though is will a court empower self-representation including providing pro bono court mediators or allow a case to be dropped if the plaintiff will agree to informal mediation.  Usually, once in “the system”, the case stays in the system.  Given economic conditions and the increased intrinsic demand for self-representation in circumstance where no assets are available (house, car, job gone) the courts seem to be quietly ignoring “non asset” related cases and keeping asset based pleas.

The result is a good level of systemic chaos and dysfunctional limbo as complaints and cases overwhelm the legal system from people with no means to pay for services.  This means individuals will either find an attorney to legally coach them through their civil case or find a system informal and external to the courts to resolve “guilty” issues.  While local government and private benefactors may have provided financial support for legal aid the clear shift must now be to shift efforts to funding and developing local networks or groups for referral by the courts where a quick and “audible review” will allow plaintiff and defendant to have an “informal hearing” as recommended.

To do this, again, it will take courage and foresight in that if you are contacted by a plaintiff or defendant you could advise them to include in the plea or answer a request for an ombudperson to handle the issue.  You would get agreement, consensus, and then contact the court thus taking proactive initiative.  I know this is not traditionally accepted, but if change is to happen and stability and economic well-being restored, we must recognize we cannot depend on government alone.  How this is to be paid for requires the same collaboration that’s taking place now for “recovery” and that would include soliciting the court for partial payment, while possibly seeking grants from foundations and other corporate institutions.  At the same time, where individuals are seeking “debt relief” concerning unsecured assets or lines of credit, this should not be open season for “junk debt collections” and only “real assets” where loss of a business or family are in jeopardy and are a priority.  For “collections” cases Pro Se coaching is the most effective and efficient method as individuals need and seek “relief” to start their lives over.

And finally, IF you are a corporate, legal or university institution and currently not at “capacity” per the charter of your organization, why not consider expanding your scope and doing community outreach, be of service to others “outside” the organization and at least take some temporary initiative during these austere times.  Coach, mentor, consult, advise, call it what you will… it’s needed more than ever and provides a great “social responsibility” opportunity to at least help individuals represent themselves or sponsor a move to resolve their issue informally though your entity may even be party to the complaint.  Change is here… it has to happen…

Ombudsman ADR & Online Dispute Resolution Technology

28 April 2010

If you’ve been following the OO Blog since inception you know “we” are just over a year old into our formal practice, which is a “spin off” of our other two-decades old consultancy.  So after just a little over a  year we are right in line with how we envisioned the delivery of services as an extension and “leveraging” of our long established “internal” capacity and in alignment with the current and future demands of the consumer.  We have long been able to easily roll out improvements for any function, process or procedure for most businesses by moving in tiny incremental steps in the development.  More and more though, the Internet and web based applications are providing great “value”, enhancements and cost savings with simple customization of forms, templates and content to achieve very good functional outcomes and at a reasonable cost.

All of our clients to date have engaged us via the Internet to do ODR or Online Dispute Resolution, which is now a pretty standard and accepted industry acronym.  ADR too, or Alternative Dispute Resolution has gained wide acceptance and more inclusive terminology is being adopted and adapted currently to better fit the Ombuds profession.  I’ve stressed the difference and tried to define Ombudsman ADR verus legal ADR too and specific meanings with regarding the term “mediation”.  As we pick up the pace our own proprietary solution to do intake and sequentially process steps for dispute resolution have worked just fine for the majority of our cases.  We are though, fortunately, just after one year, considering ODR Technology or Applications as a next step now in our own progress.

As with any business process or practice the real value of Web2.0, Group Ware and other team based collaborative applications is that it provides a standardized set of processes and procedures for communication, but proprietary processes need vertical applications or extensive customization.  By adopting ODR web based application technology you have a built in checklist from intake to settlement that insures everyone is participating fully, technical detail and steps are not forgotten and best practice compliance is built in with every step of the process.

Of all of the current ODR applications I’ve considered, I like Juripax currently because of it’s emphasis on proper preparation at the time of intake and focus on ethical and transparent  procedures that are built into the application.  There is also the de-emphasis of legal terminology in this package because as participants engage each other in the ADR process I’ve noticed that many times, even breathing a wrong word about “legal alternatives” can be explosive and I have had to coach clients to take care less they wish to escalate in the wrong direction.  The Juripax ODR solution is perfect for streamlined “non-legal” processes that are standardized by default for quick assessment and for a variety of types of complaints in B2B, B2C, institutional and community scenarios.  The platform guides you through the process and easily keeps you on track with where you last left off and with who.  Terminology and content are in alignment with currently practiced Ombudaman ADR “lingo” so as to be able to “facilitate” informal discussion and log it all the way through formal legal mediation if the case needs a “hand off” way down the road.

I won’t labor the benefits and features in detail other than to say this package is perfect for a newer practice that is in their second or third year of the business cycle and more formal business practices are now needed to have quality assurance, best practice and now technology to handle higher intake volume.  Regarding key strategy and still evolving “general practice” versus specialization for handling types of disputes, the package handles it all and does not lock you in, but rather adapts as your need to.  Very important as the external environment shifts year to year and you have to align with opportunity as it presents.

So with all of the changes in terminology in the profession that still being hashed out, much of the time with a big or little “e” in front of it… my take now is ADR and ODR will be locked in and accepted by our industry from now and into the future.  ADR and ODR are the means and method for the most efficient, practical and modern formal process to handle local to national and even global disputes in all industries utilizing the Internet to deliver their products or services and where disputes about something serious invariably pop up.

The New Ombudsperson: Google Voice Technology Review

27 March 2010

Google Voice is the new “single phone number” services application that leverages VoIP telephone services and “integrates communications channels”.  GV is offering a variety of very convenient and functional features for purposes of mobility and managing a network of partners all with their own “stand alone”  POTS/PSTN (plain old telephone service/public switched telephone service) telephones, computers, texting devices and other messaging applications.  Currently Google Voice is FREE, you simply send you email address through their “Request an Invite” button.  It’s probably better to send a Gmail account for priority consideration (hint hint).

There is an extensive and broad background on this “feature type” of telephony technology, but I’ll keep it as simple as possible in what has lead us to this point today.  In the early 90’s, the cellular phone industry was trying to come to mutually agreed upon telephony standards for what was called “single number services”.  These single number services would enable routing of calls to a single point of contact number through a software enabled and enhanced dashboard interface.  This never happened.  Routing of calls became easier over the Internet using “porting” instead, thus VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol  emerged.  Closer to the Holy Grail of “single number services”  in the last decade has been VoIP through companies that are now public corporations, like Vonage or through other players more recently that have been “gobbled up” by Google (SIPphone and Gizmo5 are two of these), but all are personal and small business VoIP telephone service providers.  Yours truly happens to have an advanced Vonage set up currently that routes incoming calls to a single line out to my “softphone” (computer installed software application that looks, feels and works like a “virtual” hand held telephone), home phone and cellular number.  There are also companies offering PBX style and Enterprise wide VoIP for large companies, institutions or organizations with decentralized locations locally, domestically or internationally, but these are outside this discussion here.  There is also Skype (owned by eBay) that is a major privately held player in VoIP services for “in network” free calling like SIPphone and Gizmo5 used to be; and Skype charges to place a call “off network” domestically and internationally.  Enter Google Voice, the perfect application for the New Ombuds small practice “single member” owner or two member partnership with small support staff.  GV pulls together all landlines, Skype, VoIP or even satellite phones into one manageable “back up” virtual location while leaving subscribers free to answer their existing communications lines.

With that said, let’s get to some of the key features and benefits as to why this application “works” for the SOHO (small office home office) crowd.

  • Call Widgets: you don’t have to be an “open systems developer” to use Google Voice Widgets.  Once you send your invite and are accepted, you get to select your phone number and then generate and use a Call Me widget (you have to log into Google account to view this) or the Google Voice Connect , which is demonstrated on MacLitigator’s Blog.  The Call Me widget is for embedding on your blog or website and enables people to call you at home, office or cell through the Google Voice number without disclosing the private number(s) actually taking the call.  As calls come in from the public to your website caller ID and message screening are “on” and you can accept or reject calls.
  • Google Voice Groups: this is for setting up your address book and contacts for personal, professional associates or colleagues, clients and others.  Each Group can be routed and handled differently to ring through Google Voice number, for example Clients Group, can go to your office and/or cell phone and skip the home phone.  Voice Messages can be customized for each Group, friendly and personal for family and friends or professional greetings for incoming new client calls.
  • SMS to Email: I personally prefer a SMS or Short Message Service if in a meeting or out in the field.  This lets me return the call when I “can talk” versus being interrupted or leaving to hear the message just left.  This is the same as Text Messaging on a cellular phone service.  Incoming messages read like email and you use your computer email ( or Email cellphone application to reply and best of all, it’s free as it by passes those 10 cents per message fees from your cellular service provider.  Probably the best thing is you can “sms blast” a message out to a maximum of 5 people in your contacts and groups at one time, again, perfect for the small office to alert and call a conference call or physical meeting giving an out of office location.  More safe and secure than Tweeting.
  • Call Screening: you can listen to incoming calls to your home, office or cell phone through Google Voice and let the call go to voice mail or hit the star key to take the call at any point as the caller leaves their voice message.
  • Mobile Apps: these are not to be confused with Google Voice Widgets.  Google Voice Apps are for mobility and are standard on the iPhone and Google Android, which give complete and full control over all Google Voice dashboard functions.  As usual, Google Voice is an “open application” and developers are working for similar api interface for SMART phones in general.
  • Conference Calls: this is probably the best feature as FREE conference calls with up to 5 group members or contacts can be set up as calls come into your Google Voice number at a set time OR you can call out, connect, and then add callers to the conference call.  For e-mediation this means you can meet with “both sides” on their speaker phone and you should wear a headset to conduct the session.
  • Voicemail Transcription: another handy tool is when you let calls go to voicemail or decline an incoming call, voice message come over as a transcription in Email.  All those times you wanted to get the “statement in writing” this is one way to do it.  The “engine” is still in development and so the actual .wav recording will need to be checked for accuracy against the “transcribed Email”.
  • Voice Recording: If you want to capture a conference call, ADR session  or one-to-one discussion simply hit 4 to begin recording the call and hit 4 again to stop recording.  Very handy for those board meetings too and best practice governance when participants are in remote areas of the country and not able to attend every meeting in person.

For even more information here is the Google Voice YouTube Channel (Blue “Request an Invite” button at top right of the screen) and Google Voice Website , again, you may have to log in.  Enjoy…

The “Incognito” Ombudsman: A Professional Development Exercise

16 July 2009

I am fully aware of my strengths and weaknesses and more importantly how a personality characteristic for forthright leadership, for example, can be useful in one professional role, but a weakness in another role.  The “trick” is to be aware and let oneself “switch roles” as appropriate, be able to consistently hold to that role and “temper” the skill or strength towards the goal or objective at hand on behalf of clients and not one’s own “interests”.  If you have the opportunity to do this, “practice” it, it can harmonize your strengths in that they won’t become an out of control “weakness” by applying them inappropriately.  It’s also empowering as the “new ombudsman” realizes they can achieve absolute control and mastery over emotions and “ego habits” that could interfere in ADR scenarios where “it’s not about us”, it’s about our client needs.  To the “outside” observer, if you are successfully “incognito”, they might perceive you as practicing “ombudsmanship” style conflict intervention techniques from a business management role for instance.  In “practical practice” this has the distinct advantage of resolving conflicts in an “undeclared informal structure” or process versus having participants become “resistant or intractable” to a formally declared intervention meeting.

The personal background to this is that I do enjoy leading from “the middle”.  In my overall business practice I am expected to provide insight, facts, data, opinions, solutions, experience, wisdom, leadership, best versus worst case scenarios and other attributes, woven and integrated into a document for decision makers.  These are always purposeful to achieve objectives and goals in my engagements and projects in collaboration with clients.  I have though, had to “watch myself” as I personally tend to “see the problem, identify the solution and then get anxious to communicate it”, which is good on one role, but NOT good in Ombudsman ADR and “self directed” negotiation and mediation scenarios.  This IS my weakness I’ve identified and have looked for the opportunity to “balance” it and get a “reign on the animal” in me about it.  Sometimes, this year, I’ve noticed I slip, but this latest opportunity I was successful at practicing it outside of a declared “informal” engagement.

I am a member of on-line communities and groups where I have relationships, collaborators, resources and friends.  Some know me personally, the vast majority only know my “handle” or pseudo ID.  In the last 2 weeks I’ve dropped in on “member posted threads” expressing dissatisfaction, dissent and discontent with a wide variety of issues from the employees boss or company, the melt down of the economy, privatization versus nationalization, to Bush vs Obama policy discussions, member “complaints” about each other and the moderator’s “failures” on the threads; and on it goes.  The moderators in this case actually “contribute” to the heated “polarization” expressing subjective opinions and clearly backed “factions” in the “thread debates” by “moderating” the “opposing opinions off the thread”, censoring speech thus resulting in “oppression and stifling” of “free speech”.  This last issue was getting very extremely heated and enraged some others to say the least.  Me, I’m not a “lurker”, but I do “practice what I preach” and never “inflame” or participate so as to polarize a discussion as a “participant” in the chaos.  For all of you out there who advocate that “conflict is good” and that it presents the opportunity to “engage” your skills, this is it, a way to “walk the talk”, apply our skills in genuine conflict, but without professional consequence.

So, I “incognito” began to step forward in the “threads” posting “neutral” statements and observations in apparent “opposition” to the moderator’s “authority”, my bad (smiles).  This really sparked them to “gang up” on me in the beginning, until I started asking them to “step back, this isn’t personal, remove their ego and subjectivity; and objectively take each ‘rule’ that posters were in violation of and apply it to ALL individuals”, equally and fairly.  I quickly looked around the “threads” and easily found dozens of violations of the posted policies, Terms of Service and “copy n’ pasted” them to the “current debate” with moderators.  This process was “openly visible” to all readers of the thread and moderators, to their credit, let the process unfold fairly without “censoring” my input.  I never disclosed my role, profession, who I am in reality.  I just saw the opportunity and began posting “points for fair and balanced analysis” for everyone, not just moderators.  Some individuals wanted to continue to “agitate” the situation, “taunted moderators”  and so I “intervened” and asked them to “self examine” their recent posts.  If someone were to say that to them using the “charged” language and tone they were projecting, “how would they take it?”.  Keep in mind here everyone was polite, there was not cussing, racism, “battle of the sexes” or other discriminatory “slanderous language” taking place.  People were focused on the points of the issues.  This is what I recognized as the “opportunity” to have good intervention, everyone was mature, it’s just they were passionate about beliefs and mostly, their favorite “political figure” over the other guys.  I participated for about 3 nights, reviewed a month of threads posts; “posted my findings” and for just over a week now, “the peace” has held.  (note: I wrote this article in late May 2009 and have held it till now to determine if the peace would hold and as of this 15th of July date it has, with only one major flare up mid June; however, this last week another “us vs. them” episode was handled with maturity, rational debate and cool emotions by dozens of individuals in the now “healthy debate” over degrees, credentialing, ethics, certification, licensing and other “regulating” practices.  Thus, it’s time to now post this as a “‘measure” of successful “ombudsmanship” methods some 10-11 weeks post intervention.)

So, I’m glad I had this chance to be “incognito” and be a “practice what I preach” Ombudsman not just in a formal role, but at all times.  In this instance I demonstrated to myself that I can  improve my ability to help others “self direct” and NOT bring my “strengths” inappropriately into a situation where it is not the ethical or best practice to “dictate the solution”.  How about you?  Are you “positioned neutrally” to get involved with or engage any social or business networks where you could practice ombudsmanship “incognito”?

Mediation & Mentoring Technology

9 May 2009

By definition any mediation or mentoring over the Internet between individuals, groups, teams or organizations for purposes of exchanging and supporting products or services is a form of e-Commerce.  This topic alone could have a blog of its own, but here I will provide some concise input on uses and guidance regarding practices including the ever evolving Internet lexicon associated with this topic.

In terms of ethical application ombuds must take care in terms of the types of technology they use in alignment with the ethics and standards of our “best practice” versus the open Internet and evolving social media.  By example, I do participate with an on-line group with members from all over the world.  Everyone calls into a VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) e-Conference “room”.  One of the topics during discussion was “how to use Twitter” in conflict management.  Me, being me, I absolved myself from the conversation with one exception; a statement I made that “Twitter broadcasts ‘conversations’ globally and anyone can ‘join’ in and so where is the ‘confidential’ practice using this social media platform?”  Currently, this is the immediate “danger” with technology and various levels of open source to encrypted data exchanges.  I think that “social media” platforms like Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and LinkedIn, to name a few, are good for marketing, promoting and making contacts, but have absolutely no place in the mediation or mentoring function.

Some of the generic types of technology to fulfill e-mediation and e-mentoring  functions I use or recommend are:

  • e-Payment: the most popular payment system is PayPal to send funds, request funds, create simple payment pages on a web site or simply invoice using an e-mail address.  Once you have negotiated your fee(s) schedule then make sure your e-mail address and business banking are “linked” and certified to your PayPal account and send the invoice to your clients e-mail address.  Clients then have the option to pay by credit card, EFT or PayPal funds.  If you bank on-line with any major national or regionally chartered bank you can also receive funds by EFT (electronic funds transaction) or increasingly anyone can get an e-Check sent to them.  Check with your bank for procedures.  These types of  payments by e-mail and electronic banking are just as if they were buying off
  • VoIP Communications: Voice Over Internet Protocol enables one very key function important to e-mediation and e-mentoring and that is you can install a “soft phone”.  A soft phone is a software telephone application, that when installed on your notebook/laptop computer, enables hands free conferencing by telephone over the Internet.  So if you are on the road, at home, in your office or anywhere you have “cellular telephone” access, you can “talk by phone” to anyone.  Use the laptop/notebook speakers and microphone to gather a group or team around to “conference”.  There are many companies, Vonage is well known, but there are many “open source” VoIP phone companies now and they offer soft phones free with the service.  Additionally, VoIP enables me to have my office phone, soft phone, cell phone and e-voice mail all accept a call “concurrently” or “follows me” from office to soft phone to cell in sequence until the call is answered or drops into e-voice mail, you set the “ring duration” in seconds or minutes.  I have no secretary and am a one person office, so I need this constantly or you lose business.  Often, my computer, cell and land-line all ring together when I’m at my desk.  If I don’t take the call, it goes to e-voice mail and shows up in my personal e-mail inbox as a WAV sound file that can be saved to a client folder if needed for future reference.
  • Audio Recording: the soft phone installed on a computer with VoIP technology enables recording of “what you hear” menu selection for most audio recording tools.  I have a Creative 24bit sound card and it comes with “recording” tools, which enables me to record conversations taken by answering my “soft phone”.  I have had people not want to write out a statement, but are willing to “talk it out” and so get permission to record their statement, which they have always given in my experience.  Alternatively you can go to Radio Shack and tell them you want to get an “analog” tape recorder to attach to your office phone to record conversations and they will show you what they have and how to use it.  I have both, but have not had to do an analog set up in years now.
  • Wireless G & Wireless N: to enable your notebook or laptop to “talk” over the Internet, access web sites, send e-mail, chat and other communications you need Wireless 802.11g and/or 802.11n built into your newer Vista OS computers or PC card enabled older operating systems.  The newer the better as data rate transmission performance for Wireless N is now the same as cable or DSL Internet access that you have on home networks.  You can get “burst” speeds during low traffic times of up to 110 Mbits or “down speed” to your computer.  All of the cell phone companies have “contracts” by the month available to enable mobile computers with built in network cards, just sign up and “install” it.
  • WEB 2.0: for teams working together on projects that need to share and update information for purposes of collaboration and “division of labor” tasking the new generation of WEB 2.0 web based applications is very good.  I do NOT use this with clients, but will often set up an “account” on any one of a variety of application providers to collaborate with my team.  You should be VERY comfortable with working over the Internet and understand the “nuances” of web based applications in order to actually get work done in this “environment”.  I have had circumstances where “not everyone” was comfortable.  Slow Internet connections will make work frustrating is one key factor I’ve discovered.  I use MS Live for short term projects.  Everyone needs a MS Live ID to participate, which is simply getting a e-mail address or “linking” an existing e-mail address to your Live ID account; and it even works with Gmail in this scenario.  Once you have your Live account, load the home page and go to the top menu bar and pull down the menus for features such as SkyDrive (5GB storage), Groups  (discussion area, calendar, team roster) and Spaces (Personal or team web site).  This is ideal for university study groups.  The next serious step up from this is MS Live Office, which I use for my OO Web site and it comes with all of the WEB 2.0 bells and whistles if you need it.  I have not used all the features, but it’s been “tested” and is ready.  MS will NOT work “cross platform”, by this I mean MACs need not apply.  Instead, is a new cross platform enabled secure and collaborative environment.  It’s free right now and in BETA, but you can video conference, chat, upload and share documents and “administer” document sharing rights linked to your team members e-mail.  There is no separate ID to get, very simple, clean and straightforward, though I’ve not tried it myself yet.  These two systems are 256bit encrypted for security, but do reside on servers in the open Internet environment globally.  They both allow Gigabits of storage for audio testimony files, video files, word docs, PDFs too and most anything that you can create using an application resulting in a file.  Finally there is Google Docs on-line file storage to share files and view them virtually and make changes to the uploaded version during team collaboration.  Combine this with a Google Group or SIG (special interest group) that is passworded and you have another WEB 2.0 environment to work in.  I use it now with one group and have used it once for a project some years back and it’s “okay”.
  • P2P Networks: My favorite application for Peer To Peer networking with clients and team members is TeamViewer4 and best of all it is MAC and PC cross platform compatible (MAC OS 10.x and MS Vista/XP).  This is a 256bit encrypted and proprietary virtual network interface over the Internet that enables ANY SIZE file sending and receiving, chat, remote presentations (powerpoint) AND if you leave your home computer on in “server mode” you can access your home based PC from any computer anywhere in the world to access that “forgotten document” that didn’t get onto your notebook for instance.  If you have produced video statements that are hours long and 100s of MB in size, this application moves them effortlessly and you can retrieve them if someone on the team forgets them for a conference or seminar.  I initiate a “client” invitation on TeamViewer4 when a client has a file larger than 10MB (default e-mail attachment limit for ISPs) to give me for a case or project.  There’s a free version of TeamViewer4 that enables one P2P connection at a time, or you can buy the business license for 3 simultaneous connections at once.  You can also “brand” the “client” window for clients to see your logo and banner for your company.  One last function of TeamViewer4 is it lets you “record” the P2P collaboration session.  This is handy when presenting documents and getting “acknowledgement” from participants that they have read, reviewed and understand what they are “seeing and reading”.  TV4 is one handy application with other capabilities not discussed here.
  • Blogs: just a quick word on blogs.  WordPress is set up to enable password access to the whole blog or “tabs” of a blog and you can keep it private and away from search engine “crawlers” and indexing.  This is a simple environment that I’ve seen set up for small teams to work cross platform with a focus on lots of content providing, such as writers of all types, technical, books, print media, etc.  There is a “book” configuration for private publishing of case findings, journals or research.
  • Chat & IM: On “open source” Chat and Instant Messaging, as provided by Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and many others is also “dangerous” and should not be used for transmitting files, sharing information or having “conversations” about any confidential information.  The TeamViewerer4 chat function is fully encrypted and secure and only between “peers”.
  • Video Broadcasting: I have not used or had a request for video broadcasting, but some time back I used Yahoo Video Broadcast services in a “focus group” and “mock jury” situation to resolve and mediate out of court.  Currently, the best technology and very easy to use is USTREAM.TV.  You can set up and embed a live video stream from your notebook computer linked to your blog or web site where the “player” has a proprietary web address or URL and you “invite” open access by e-mailing the URL or hyperlink or you can have passworded access to view the live stream by providing the password to unlock the URL access.  You need a video camera connected to your USB port on your notebook and a “studio” set up with good lighting and professional seating.  Mediation’s can be watched “remotely” from anywhere and mentoring can be done by “recording” the video stream using included “tools” and then use the session for discussion at a later time.  USTREAM has a private CHAT function where the moderator or mediator can take question from the Internet audience globally.  This provides state of the art Internet collaboration and very responsive “learning” environments.  I’ve not used this yet, but have tested it and it’s very easy to use and set up.

To sum up, I most often use my Vonage VoIP with e-mail and then TeamViewer4 for large document transfers and “private chat” in a virtual proprietary connect that is “tunneled” and not “open” on the Internet.  I “virtually” get paid by PayPal from all clients using MasterCard and VISA after sending an invoice.  For a secure and passworded virtual “team office” I use MS Live when the team can post comments to the main blog, upload files for sharing during the coarse of the project.

This overview is just the tip of the capability and capacity of the technology as discussed.  Many features were not discussed here and “tactics” for utilization left out.  There is  no “fully integrated” application, but no doubt, some company like Adobe will move in this direction in the future.  Always, please, keep in mind the privacy and ethics we must comply with when using technology and be sure to select and use technologies that enable “secure” and private interactions.

Ombudsman ADR: e-Mediation and e-Mentoring

3 May 2009

Recently I was contacted via email by a university student enrolled in a Negotiations Program at a prominent “east coast” school.  Her current “team” assignment was to develop a Conflict Resolution solution in the form of an agreement for a “community in conflict” case study.  She had discovered my blog and web site while researching on-line and just decided to give a call after reading all the articles and content.  The single thing that prompted her call was that my content states that OO uses “on-line” engagement methods, so she too thought we could work together in her study group.   At my suggestion, after getting an emailed copy of the case, I “accepted” my role and was invited  into a conference call with the study group to be a Community Ombudsman between all parties and groups.  This added the real dimension of “independent and impartial” as it would have been difficult for anyone in their study group to “act” the role since they all are associated already.  Each member of their team then took a role to “act out” or do “role play” based on a complex case study where multiple elements of racial discrimination, violations of personal and property rights and “us versus them” verbal tensions were building due to poor communications and poverty issues.  I had them “act out” the catalytic moment to start the e-mentoring phase, put “feeling” into the context of the case and to demonstrate the “surfacing of deeper community tensions” between the three established community groups.  This was very interesting and set the stage for “real” problem solving to now get done.

I learned a lot working with the “20 something” college group during this e-mentoring and e-mediation session.  I didn’t let them stop until every “point of conflict” was “self identified” and “self directed” as presented from my analysis of the case.  Deeper discussion on how to formulate and weave more than a half dozen complex issues into a “Terms of Agreement” followed resulting in a solution for the current issue while providing a new “community group” to handle future incidences as needed.  To some degree, “forcing” them to look at issues and take the “time” to do it raised tensions in the members of the group and thus added an additional degree of reality.  Several times, by me “hearing” and verbalizing their “stress” and impatience back to them, this  seemed to help them realize what confronting conflict is “really” like and perhaps a level of sensitivity in their future profession also developed.  I was reminded of fundamental requirements that were brought out by each “player” as they attempted to resolve their conflict and in a way that they could “hear it in action”.  Their individual perspective and level of awareness is something I don’t often get the chance to “engage” with.  I would not only provide input in moment to help move towards resolving the conflict, but also, for my first time, actually “training by example” in my role as Community Ombudsman.  We would stop on each point and discuss it by “mirroring” interactions existentially, then verbally and then through vicarious actions until each individual came to understand “symptomatic” behavior versus “root causes” of conflict.  I had fun providing this insight and we all ended up with a very comprehensive “consensus” regarding the initial incident and how to move forward and provide a “cell” of peace makers in a community as an ultimate solution and not just focus on a single incident.

One of the major hurdles and challenges for me was to help everyone to “get over” wanting “legal action” against the “other side” for the violations of law, rights and other issues.  Their overall “natural” approach was to negotiate from the start from a position of “who has done what wrong, to whom and how should they be punished”.  Defining ADR at the beginning was initially overlooked by me, but once understood the “sides” moved away from the “struggle” and towards the “goal”.

The thing I relish the most was that there was no continued focus on “legal requirements”, rather it was a process of more ethical, psychological, community oriented and socially responsible “points of negotiation” of which they eventually appreciated.  I like planting these new “seeds” for a different way to mediate conflict, Ombudsman ADR style and hopefully a new “generation” and type of Ombudsmen and conflict managers .  I really enjoyed not being “on the spot”, having fun and the opportunity to “play” outside of a real situation with real consequences… the pressure was off for sure.

I’ve been informed they’re  going to provide me a copy of their “agreement”… will I get a good grade too?  Fun…