OMA’s web presence has needed a facelift for a long time and this new site will do much to reinvigorate the organization, its membership, and its ability to support mediation across the state. All along, the vision for a new site was compelling, yet the actual web development process has been fraught with challenges. In fact, at times it seemed like the website redesign had reached its own version of impasse. Given these challenges any evidence of progress was particularly critical to give the parties (OMA volunteers) hope and keep them “at the table” to do the work. As we muddled through the website redesign I was often reminded of Bernard Mayer’s book Staying With Conflict and heartened with the value of continuing the work in spite of the difficulties.
Looking back, I’m struck with the similarities between mediation and our experience with the website redesign. In both situations, people believe in the possibility of a solution, a vision for a better reality and are willing to work towards it. Like in mediation, we see just how easy it is to lose your way with questions and decisions that don’t necessarily have quick solutions. Clarity in communication, in both situations, is a must but requires constant attention. It’s often easy to think you are being clear, only to learn that someone else has understood things completely differently.
Thankfully, like in mediation, we found that in being resourceful, creative, and community-minded, we were able to come through to a better place. Volunteers who stepped up to help were critically important to getting this project “done” and being able to share it with the world. In this, we enjoyed a mix of long-time OMA leadership who could carry the torch of history and content with brand new OMA members who brought fresh eyes and new skills! I’m not being dramatic when I say that we never would have landed on this current solution without a vibrant and growing community of mediators with specially honed skills.
In this last point, this idea of skill, that I see one final comparison to mediation. As human beings, we all have experience resolving conflicts regardless of whether we see ourselves as mediators. Everyday, people with no special training are able to work their way through complex conflicts and arrive at workable solutions. A do it yourself (DIY) approach can totally work in conflict resolution. That said, for many conflicts, the process towards resolution could be significantly faster, smoother, and less painful with the support of a trained, experienced mediator. Mediators bring tools to the table that help parties do incredible work together. Similarly, in the website redesign, we learned to appreciate the value of specialized skill. Website development today is increasingly accessible to amateurs with a DIY ethos. Indeed, within OMA, a small group of primarily website amateurs had made progress in fits and spurts, sometimes in spite of ourselves, for over a year. Ultimately, however, we really depended on volunteers with specialized skills to get us through the finish line. Like with conflict resolution, we could have kept with a DIY appraoch and muddled through on our own, but the process would have been painful and long. With the right skills on the team, however, our vision for a new website became a speedy and relatively painless reality.
In both website redesign and in conflict resolution, I have a new commitment to the tangible value of specialized skills. Currently, anyone can “hang a shingle” and call themselves a mediator or even a web developer. In reality, however, to transform difficulties in to solutions, there is no substitute for specialized training, experience, and a depth of skill. Thank you to the (volunteer) professionals who helped make this new website a reality and to OMA itself, for its commitment to professionalism and quality in Oregon’s dispute resolution community.