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ODR and Ombudsmanship

by Frank Fowlie

May 2013

This chapter is from "Online Dispute Resolution Theory and Practice," Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Ethan Katsh & Daniel Rainey ( Eds.), published, sold and distributed by Eleven International Publishing. The Hague, Netherlands at:

Frank Fowlie
This chapter focuses on the applicability of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) for a specific dispute resolution mechanism, the Ombudsman. The chapter is based on the experiences and observations of Dr. Frank Fowlie, who served as the Inaugural Ombudsman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

It is submitted that ODR is a process that may be applied to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques. Specifically, ODR uses technology, especially the Internet, to augment ADR processes.

It has been emphasized that ODR may be applicable to disputes which emanate from either online or real world activities. For example, ODR may be used as a vehicle to handle consumer disputes relating to online purchasing of goods, or it may be used as a resolution system for small claims in direct business to consumer transactions (B2C).

There are two basic branches of ODR, both based on the role of technology. The first branch may be called “Technology Based”. Technology-based ODR refers to those systems where technology plays an active role in conducting the dispute resolution.

A prominent example of technology-based ODR systems are “blind-bidding” systems. The technology uses multivariate algorithms to help parties arrive at the optimal outcome. Blind-bidding systems are, for the most part, nascent technologies. They are usually most applicable in situations where there is some tangible and monetary remedy sought by the parties, for example, a refund on a faulty good, or a value for an insurance claim following a car accident. The technology-based system will assist parties to determine Best and Worst Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA and WATNA). The technology receives inputs from the parties, and then draws from them to develop an optimal outcome.

Blind-bidding systems are less likely, as nascent technologies, to be able to provide for the inclusion of the non-quantum based variables, such as apologies, or the creation of new alternative solutions or options beyond the quantum values.

The second branch of ODR consists of technology-assisted solutions. Technology-assisted ODR refers to the use of technology to augment ADR processes that exist independently of the technology. As the following discussion will demonstrate, technology-assisted ODR is well suited for ombudsman work, as its tools allow for an increased efficiency of human based transactions and activities.

Read the entire article by clicking on the attachment below.

Online Dispute Resolution and Ombudsmanship  (fowlie.pdf)

Dr. Frank Fowlie is the CEO of Frank was the inaugural Ombudsman at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is the agency which administers the global domain name system which serves as the backbone for the Internet. He served as the Ombudsman from November 2004 to January, 2011.

Frank holds a Doctor of Conflict Resolution (DCR) from La Trobe University, Melbourne. Frank is also an alumnus of the University of Manitoba, University of Regina, and Royal Roads University where he earned a Master of Arts in Conflict Analysis and Management. Frank has taken training as a negotiation instructor at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Frank has been an associate faculty member of Royal Roads University, and is a Fellow with the Centre for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Frank holds the designation of Chartered Mediator.

As the Ombudsman, Frank is a member of the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman, the International Ombudsman Institute and the United States Ombudsman Association. Frank has served as Chairman of the International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution.

Frank was previously employed with the United Nations, where he was on Mission Staff in East Timor for two years. He was the deputy administrator for the capital city, and was appointed as the UN’s Olympic Games Officer, taking the world’s newest country to the Sydney Olympics. He was recently awarded the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal in recognition of his contribution to world peace while serving with the United Nations in East Timor.

Frank’s professional background includes being an Ombudsman Officer with the British Columbia Ombudsman’s Office; Senior Advisor with the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada; Saskatchewan Social Services, and as a Policing Policy Advisor to the BC Attorney General. Frank began his career as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Frank is involved in volunteer activities, such as the Canadian Olympic Committee; Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan American Games; and the Royal Life Saving Society. He is the co-author of, “Prayer Road”, a book about the Olympic Games and East Timor. In 2010 Frank was presented with the University of Regina Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Additional articles by Frank Fowlie
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