ODR Around the World

August 14, 2019 by Colin Rule

ODR Around the World

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) implementations are popping up all over the world, from Singapore to Greece to Yolo County. I’ve traveled the far and wide to meet many of the innovators behind these systems and have found some significant differences in the way each locale thinks about how ODR can and should work. While local laws, cultural differences, and simple user preferences shape diverse systems, we can all learn from the way others are evolving their designs.

The Legal Landscape

Because ODR is a direct outgrowth of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), it operates in the legal landscape already created for ADR.

The main differences in face-to-face ADR around the world have to do with:

  • whether the process is mandatory or voluntary,
  • whether it is binding or non-binding, or
  • whether the first step is facilitative (like mediation) or evaluative (like arbitration).

In some countries, dispute resolution remains relatively rare (like Germany) but in other countries it is quite common (like Norway) or even mandatory in every civil case (like Italy).

ODR has inherited some of these predilections. Countries such as Japan, where the judicial system is very efficient, have been slower to adopt ODR because the need isn’t as great; courts are resolving cases just fine. Other countries such as Brazil and India that have large delays in their civil justice caseloads have been exploring ODR much more aggressively.

The global law firm Dentons conducted an international survey of laws governing dispute resolution around the world. The results are in this country-by-country guide. DLA Piper has a handy one-web-page overview as well that focuses mainly on construction disputes.

ODR at Home

In the United States, ODR implementations have focused primarily on convenience, accessibility, and text-based interaction. Modria deployments focus on resolutions achieved asynchronously through mutual agreement. If the parties cannot work out their issue directly, with each party approving a proposed solution, the case proceeds to the court for an in-person evaluative resolution.

American disputants love the convenience of being able to resolve their issues from home, in online “resolution rooms” designed for that purpose, instead of taking time off work to drive in to a courthouse.


In contrast, China is investing significant resources in building a series of “internet courthouses” around the country. As citizens enter the new glass buildings, filled with massive video walls, facial recognition identifies users as they move to voice-enabled consoles. At the consoles, they complete their paperwork by responding to automated prompts. Judges sit in videoconference-enabled courtrooms upstairs, with parties dialing into hearings to appear by video. China’s ODR designs are judge-centric, offering a quick non-binding evaluation option up front, followed by a negotiation and mediation phase, with a binding court resolution as the final step.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, 75% of divorces are paid for either fully or partially by the government. Legal aid in the United States is for low income individuals, but the majority of Dutch citizens are eligible for aid. Because the Dutch Legal Aid Board covers the cost for most divorces, it plays a greater role in dictating how citizens craft separation agreements and parenting plans. Dutch citizens are much more willing to have the government play this larger role in determining how their divorces should occur. By contrast, U.S. citizens usually expect divorce to be a private process, where the couple chooses how they’d like to proceed, be it through a court case or private mediation.

Different Drivers

While ODR in the U.S. is driven by private sector companies, in Canada and the European Union, most ODR processes have been created by public entities. For example, the European Union passed a regulation requiring all professional businesses to notify their consumers about ODR, and eventually built its own intake form to enable citizens to register complaints.

In British Columbia, the Ministry of Justice is taking an active approach to integrating ODR into the courts. The Ministry is pushing many civil cases to a new Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT), which uses ODR to resolve condo, small claims, and motor vehicle accident cases. Instead of focusing only on resolutions by mutual agreement, (e.g. negotiation and mediation), the CRT even provides evaluative outcomes that have the same force of law as decisions rendered in person.

In Mexico, the national consumer protection agency Profeco manages an online dispute resolution program called Concilianet to resolve issues between citizens and large quasi-public businesses like the water board and power company. Profeco convenes a synchronous real-time chat with the consumer and a representative of the company to work issues out in real time. This is one of the only public sector, synchronous chat-based ODR mechanisms operating anywhere in the world.

Continued Evolution

There’s no one right way to design ODR systems. In fact, the best way to refine and improve ODR is to launch many different programs in many different environments and see which ones flourish and which ones wither and die. Even though we in the U.S. may understand the needs of our local disputants better than anyone in the world, we still can learn a lot from watching how other regions design, deploy, and scale their ODR programs. I’m eager to keep watching and to keep learning, while keeping an open mind.

To learn what courts today are saying about ODR, watch my video conversation with Bruce Graham, Tyler’s chief strategy officer.

Colin Rule was recently awarded the Frank Sanders Award by the American Bar Association. This is the third post in a series on ODR by Rule, vice president, Online Dispute Resolution and co-founder of Modria. Check this space on the second Wednesday of each month for more.

Read his earlier articles here:

How ODR Can Benefit Three Criminal Case Types
The Intriguing Evolution of ODR

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