Crowdsourced Online Dispute Resolution

For everyone involved, solving disputes often takes a considerable amount of time and money. This also holds true for Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) procedures. Thus, in practice, it is often pointless to pay for dispute resolution in a complex dispute environment.

Imagine buying a new computer mouse that costs 20 euro from a website located in another continent. But after a long time of waiting, you do not receive it. When you call the person responsible for the website, he tells you that it was sent to you. However, the delivery service has no such record. What can you do in such a case? Perhaps you can fill a claim in the court or start an ODR process. The first option would imply hiring a lawyer in the country where the website is located, who will investigate the possibilities for action in your case? Perhaps you will pay 100 euro per hour if you are lucky enough. You will have also to wait one or two years until the legal process is over. A second option is using an ODR provider which will cost you between 200 and 700 euro. Obviously, this is still a great deal of money, especially if you are from a developing country. What you need, in this particular case, is a fair resolution of your dispute, in a short time and at (almost) no cost.

A new type of dispute resolution called Crowdsourced Online Dispute Resolution (CODR) seems to have the potential to offer a suitable dispute resolution procedure. CODR can be defined as a term that encompasses some forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and court proceedings using the internet and crowdsourcing as parts of the dispute resolution process. The crowd which participates in the CODR process is a group of people participating in the dispute resolution process through an open call.

CODR is not a theoretical concept anymore, it exists already and constantly evolves. The present CODR service providers can be differentiated by three types: (1) online opinion polls, (2) online mock juries, (3) CODR rendering decisions enforced by private authorities.

Typical examples of online opinion polls are iCourthouse (www.icourthouse.com), SideTaker (www.sidetaker.com), AllRise (www.allrise.com), People’sCourtRaw(www.peoplescourtraw.com), Truveli (www.truveli.org). While the online opinion polls provide the parties with the opportunity to express their feelings and receive some feedback, they do not have sufficient safeguards guaranteeing a fair dispute resolution.

Online mock juries are not a form of real dispute resolution. But the process used by them is similar to the dispute resolution process and sometimes they are used as an ADR tool, in which parties that are not willing to negotiate may change their mind when they see how the merits of their cases stand when argued in front of neutral evaluators. That is why we classify them as a form of CODR. eJury (www.ejury.com) and VirtualJury (www.virtualjury.com) are two examples of online mock juries. It should be noted that online mock juries can offer a fairer dispute resolution in some respects because juries undergo a screening process ensuring unbiased and impartial opinions.

The third phase of the CODR development is a CODR procedure rendering decisions enforced by private authorities. There are only two websites in this category – the eBay’s Community Review Forum (http://www.ebaycourt.com/) and GebruikersJury (http://gebruikersjury.marktplaats.nl/). These two websites transform into reality the futuristic idea that a dispute can be effectively solved at no cost by a large group of people located in many different countries in 30 minutes after submitting the claim. The enforcement of their decisions is done by a Customer Service Representative, who, if appropriate, removes the feedback.

Since CODR provides fast, democratic, and cheap dispute resolution, it has a potential that needs to be explored. For instance, CODR can be used as a tool for providing affordable access to dispute resolution mechanisms in developing countries. In this regard, at present, eBay is in discussion with leaders at the National Defence University in Washington, DC, regarding the M-Jirga, which is, in its essence, a cell phone implementation of the Community Court.

Before discussing M-Jirga, we have to explain what Jirga is. According to Rafi, a contemporary Afghan scholar, jirga is ‘… historical and traditional institution and gathering of the Afghans, which over the centuries, has resolved our nation’s all tribal and national political, social, economic, cultural and even religious conflicts by making authoritative decisions’. In essence, Jirga is a tribal assembly of elders which takes decisions by consensus. It operated over the centuries as an important mechanism of conflict resolution among the Pashtuns, Eastern Iranian ethno-linguistic group with populations primarily in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, and has contributed to the maintenance of social order in the rest of the Afghan society both in direct and indirect ways.

In order to solve their disputes through M-Jirga, the parties should call a certain number and initiate the M-Jirga process. Once both sides are recorded, the system will call out to elders in the relevant regions, who will listen to both sides and then render their decisions. It should be noted that M-Jirga will be neither self-enforceable not legally binding.

CODR may be the beginning of a new era in the dispute resolution. It could be an era in which dispute are solved by the collective intelligence of world’s citizens.

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