Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Pandemic Pivot Expands Dispute Resolution Offerings

Court operations during the coronavirus are all about being flexible – a principle of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Dispute Resolution Section.

The department thrives on in-person training. When COVID-19 health and safety orders were issued, organizers had a week to repurpose the interactive practices they’ve crafted for years into a solely cyber experience.

“We had two choices: We could've just cancelled everything, and waited for this all to [pass], or we could continue,” said Kevin Lottes, the section’s program coordinator.

The initial challenge was how to customize interpersonal communication into online methods, including topical conversations or how role-play coaches could guide participants to re-enact real-world scenarios.

“If you find something that works, you stick with it, and then you keep trying different things, and eventually, you find a good framework,” said Dispute Resolution Section Manager Catherine Geyer.

As staff quickly transitioned to an entirely digital product, the results were interesting.

After their first training – a four-day tutorial about specialized family or divorce training – most attendees preferred the online format, in large part due to the need for travel, and overnight stays in Columbus under the previous method.

For coordinators, the quality of communication surprised them. A question at a traditional training many times has limited-to-no reaction from the listeners. But when individuals were quizzed during the videoconference, the responses were at or near 100 percent.

The other unexpected outcome was viewer attentiveness. Despite partakers not being in the same space physically, the virtual platform put participants face-to-face.

“When we're talking, we can see each other, and so, there's this captive audience,” Geyer said.

The formatting change also launched a new way for the section to communicate. A last-minute postponement of the biennial Dispute Resolution Conference in March required a different method to share content from the dozens of scheduled presenters. The result is a podcast series that’s in development.

“We don't want to just let that great information go away. So, the technology is going to provide us a way to share the information,” Geyer said.

All of the department’s innovations are taking place while also providing technical assistance to lower courts. It’s part of a package aimed at alternatives for cooperation, especially when courts are limited due to the pandemic.

“I hope that prosecutors, attorneys, litigants, and judges will continue to see [dispute resolution] as one constant in this time of uncertainty,” Geyer said.