Hawaii Mediation Center Goes Online to Settle Disputes

Mediation Center of the Pacific - Mediation via Skype

Mediation Center of the Pacific – Mediation via Skype

Honolulu Star Advertiser article on March 11, 2013
by Susan Essoyan – sessoyan@staradvertiser.com
Picture by Krystle Marcellus – kmarcellus@staradvertiser.com

Executive Director Tracey Wiltgen, left, mediation trainer and volunteer mediator Giuseppe Leone, right, and program development manager and mediator Nathan Nikaido held a practice session via Skype earlier this month with volunteer mediator Seth Reiss, left on screen, and Tiare Nakata at the Mediation Center’s office in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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Mediation brings people together face to face to sort out disputes with the help of a neutral party, but Hawaii’s geography can make it tough to get everyone in one room.

To bridge the distance between far-flung family members of other individuals, the Mediation Center of the Pacific is offering a new approach: online mediation.

“More and more, when people are going through conflict, one is off island or one may physically not be able to come to the Mediation Center,” said Tracey Wiltgen, executive director of the nonprofit center.

“With Skype (online video conferencing) you can be face to face. The person who’s off island, or who can’t physically come to the Mediation Center, will participate via Skype. The way we have our big screen and our cameras set up, they will be able to see everybody at the table” she said. “It’s important that you can see each other’s facial expressions because that’s a big piece of how we communicate.”

The center, one of the oldest community dispute resolution centers in the country, appears to be at the forefront in embracing the new technology, especially apt in this remote island chain.

“It’s really exciting to see what’s happening in Hawaii, and I image that will be adopted in more communities across the country,” said Justin R. Corbett, executive director of the National Association for Community Mediation, based in Mesa, Ariz.

He said there is a growing need for online dispute resolution, and the Mediation Center of the Pacific seems to be the first community mediation center to launch a formal program offering it.

“I am not aware of another center that is taking as purposeful an approach to ramping up an online operation,” he said. “I think they are unique in that sense. There may be a program here and a program there that offer it on a case-by-case basis.”

Veteran Hawaii mediator Giuseppe Leone recently donated his time to teach the first cadre of 16 mediators at the center how to handle disputes via cyberspace using webcams. The session was aimed at volunteer mediators who handle cases where parties may be physically apart, including domestic issues such as divorce and paternity or those involving the elderly.

“I think it’s great for Hawaii,” said Leone, a pioneer in using Skype in mediation training. “It shows that the technology makes it possible to do things regardless of whether we are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

The training included a simulation that pulled people from far ends of the globe together on the screen, able to see and talk with the mediator and with each other.

“We managed to Skype with someone in northern Canada, where it was far below zero, and someone in Fiji,” said Nathan Nikaido, mediator and program development manager at the Mediation Center. “We wanted to see how much distance we could cover. It’s amazing. People can be right there with you.”

In November 2011, Leone launched the Virtual Mediation Lab, a pilot project of the Association for Conflict Resolution, Hawaii Chapter. That training lab has helped mediators from more than 20 countries, as far as Kenya and Russia, practice and improve their skills by participating in mediation simulations via Skype. Leone said other communication options are available, but he chose Skype because it is well-known.

Online mediations at the Mediation Center will take place in a newly equipped room funded with donations honoring the late Michael Nauyokas, a mediation champion and former president of the center who died in 2011.

The center, whose mission is to provide affordable, accessible mediation, relies on volunteer mediators. Founded in 1979 as the Neighborhood Justice Center, it has trained hundreds of mediators to handle disputes involving businesses, neighbors, family members, landlords and tenants, and criminal offenders and their victims.

Elizabeth Kent, director of the Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, part of the Judiciary, welcomed the latest option for mediation here. “I think anything we can do to help people find solutions is a good thing,” Kent said. “The best is if you’re all in the same room. But if you can’t be in the same room, how nice that you can be connected by Skype.”

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To watch some examples of how online mediations (simulations) actually work, click here

PLEASE NOTE – We no longer use Skype for our Virtual Mediation Lab online mediation simulations. To learn why, sign up for our 1-hour Introduction to Online Mediation with PC Mac and Mobile Devices. One of the topics we cover during that training is “How to Choose a Video Conferencing Software for Online Mediation”.