The 2016-2017 Global Pound Conferences, Like Those Before Them, Looked to the Future

Deborah Masucci, a member of the GPC organizing committee, reflects on the Global Pound Conference for the spring 2018 issue of the Dispute Resolution Magazine.

Anyone closely connected to dispute resolution can probably point to the event that most of us believe sparked the revolution that created our field: the Pound Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1976. Named for Roscoe Pound, the legal scholar, teacher, and reformer who served as Dean of Harvard Law School in the 1920s and 1930s, the conference had the rather ambitious title “Agenda for 2000AD – The Need for Systematic Anticipation.” (This was actually the second so-called Pound Conference; the first one, at a 1906 meeting of the American Bar Association, featured a speech in St. Paul by Pound called “The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice.”)

The 1976 conference, and especially a presentation by Professor Frank Sander of Harvard Law (now Chair Emeritus of the Editorial Board of this magazine), prompted many changes in the US justice system, including the creation of the “multi-door courthouse” and the popularity of processes such as mediation.

Searching for the “Big Bang”

The decades that followed the 1976 Pound Conference were full of promise, excitement, and growth, a time of “letting a thousand flowers bloom.” Dispute resolution flourished in the United States, supported by court programs, case law, statutes, and even presidential executive orders (such as two signed by President Clinton requiring agencies and certain government counsel to make use of dispute resolution processes other than litigation). Beyond US borders, the movement spread through initiatives such as the Woolf Reforms, which embedded ADR in the civil justice system of England and Wales.

But as with many movements, eventually the momentum slowed. By 2014, almost 40 years after Professor Sander’s thought-provoking speech in St. Paul, the growth of mediation was stalling and some users were disenchanted about its effectiveness. Providers believed – and spoke often about – the many missed opportunities and the public’s poor understanding of the value of dispute resolution. What was needed, some said, was a “Big Bang” to shake up and expand the industry.

Kick-starting the conversation

In the International Mediation Institute (IMI), the non-profit organization that aims to develop global professional standards for dispute resolution practitioners, observers noted that although a plethora of conferences focused on dispute resolution were available, most of those attending were providers who were just talking to each other. In addition, stakeholders around the world seemed fragmented, and despite many surveys about dispute resolution, there was  little reliable, comparative, and actionable information that could help providers really understand what parties need and want to help them resolve their disputes on the local, national, or transnational level.

In October 2014, leaders at the IMI, with several partners, decided to sponsor a London meeting with the goal of gathering information about the future of the field, an event they hoped might be the first of similar meetings around the world: a Global Pound Conference (GPC) series. That meeting was a great success, and organizer