First Online International Mediation Competition: UniTN Students Break the Ice with Zoom Mediations

By Rachele Beretta, LL.M.

Students Marco Bonfiglio, Milena Mottola and Francesca Turrini, with coaches Rachele Beretta and Luca De Rosa.

Students Marco Bonfiglio, Milena Mottola, and Francesca Turrini, coached by Rachele Beretta and Luca De Rosa, participated in the first Online Mediation Competition from 24th to 26th July. The event was organized by ADR-ODR International in partnership with the European Institute for Conflict Resolution and held entirely on Zoom, the popular video conferencing platform.

As the sole representative for Italy at the Competition, the team secured a top-ten finish for Università degli Studi di Trento. Despite missing qualification for the semi-finals by a handful of points, Marco, Milena, and Francesca received praise for the quality of their performances and level of preparation.

More than 180 students, coaches, volunteers, and ADR professionals gathered on Zoom from all over the world to join in the event. During the Competition, 34 teams representing universities from 17 countries engaged in several mock mediation sessions, receiving feedback from 52 certified mediators from 25 different countries.

For the first two days of the event, the preliminary rounds of the Competition took place simultaneously in several virtual rooms. All teams were composed of three students. In each round, two team members negotiated as client and counsel in the same virtual room, while the other member of the team co-mediated in a different virtual room.

Marco, Milena, and Francesca had the opportunity to act as clients, counsels, and co-mediators throughout the preliminary rounds. Performing different roles in mediation was one of the most challenging aspects of the competition, as it required great flexibility and the ability to navigate the mediation process in various capacities.

When acting as a mediator, I had to learn how to intervene and interrupt an ongoing conversation to help the parties better understand each other’s interests. As a client, I had to focus on reaching win-win solutions, whereas my primary task as a lawyer was to support and protect my client.

~ Francesca

That is all the more difficult in a digital environment, where traditional ADR skills need to be adapted to the peculiarities of the online medium. Preparation proved to be a key factor in equipping the team with solid mediation skills and the ability to overcome potential hurdles that may arise in online settings.

We studied many different cases, trying to analyze disputes with a critical eye and develop strategies to tackle the issues at hand. During the Competition, I did my best to implement the practical advice that our coaches gave us. We trained a lot to familiarize ourselves with Zoom so, during the Competition, I felt at ease in the online environment. Needless to say that understanding the parties’ feelings – which is crucial in mediation – is more difficult in online settings. In the end, however, it all worked out: mediating online was fun and even easier than I expected.

~ Francesca

Within the framework of the Conflict Managers of Tomorrow Project, Marco, Milena, and Francesca trained as a team under the guidance of their coaches. Thanks to a practice-oriented approach, implemented through feedback delivery and peer-teaching, students learned how to achieve and facilitate mediated solutions using problem-solving.

We had several hours of training, based on a “learning-by-doing” approach. This does not happen very often in a traditional Italian university and the opportunity that we were offered by Università degli Studi di Trento is proof of its peculiar vision. 
The training sessions were of vital importance and were always a moment of growth. The countless tips from our coaches and the continuous self-evaluation process helped us identify our weaknesses and work on them to improve every time. We learned how to identify interests and goals and to distinguish them from mere positions, how to think strategically, use communication effectively, understand and deal with emotions, make offers and concessions, while at the same time being creative and trying to think outside the box.

~ Marco

Coaches Rachele Beretta and Luca De Rosa, as well as team members Marco Bonfiglio and Milena Mottola, also benefited from the experience gained at Washington University in St. Louis.

Throughout the years, the partnership between Università degli Studi di Trento and Washington University has proven to be a success factor for the development of the Conflict Managers of Tomorrow Project. The synergy between the two universities provides students with numerous opportunities to develop conflict resolution skills and an interest-based approach to dispute settlement.

I was first introduced to the ADR world thanks to an LL.M. in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at Washington University in St. Louis and then continued my training in this field in the context of the Conflict Managers of Tomorrow Project at Università degli Studi di Trento.
The Online Mediation Competition gave me the chance to put into practice what I learned throughout my studies in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

~ Milena

Exposure to diverse and multicultural environments allows students to learn about ADR from different angles, sharpening their skills and cross-cultural sensitivity. To this end, moot competitions are an excellent training field. That is all the more true in current times, where the migration of dispute resolution proceedings to cyberspace requires that practitioners rapidly adjust to the online environment.

The Online Mediation Competition was a valuable opportunity for students to gain insight into the dynamics of online dispute resolution processes and understand how the dispute resolution landscape is evolving. During the Competition, the team experienced an entirely new way of mediating, exchanging, and networking with ADR enthusiasts from all over the world.

What is truly unique about international competitions is the chance to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and with different approaches to mediation. Notwithstanding these differences, it was great to see how the parties and mediators managed to work together to find mutually beneficial solutions. Participating in the Online Mediation Competition was an invaluable experience, the essence of which lies in enjoying the process of mediation.

~ Marco

I admit that I missed interacting in person and establishing human connections during the Online Mediation Competition. However, I felt as if the affinity of the participants for the meaning and value of mediation could compensate for geographical distance. I had this perception as I found myself in a virtual room with people coming from all over the world who yet spoke the same mediation language. In the end, the Competition gave me a taste of how dispute resolution will look like in a future that has been deeply affected by the current pandemic.

~ Milena

Marco, Milena, and Francesca’s success stories highlight the importance of integrating capacity-building opportunities into students’ educational paths. To this end, the Conflict Managers of Tomorrow Project aims to teach students practical skills, with the mission of nurturing the next generation of dispute resolution professionals. Following in their peers’ footsteps, eighteen newly recruited students will soon join the Conflict Managers of Tomorrow Project to train for national and international ADR competitions.

Projects like Conflict Managers of Tomorrow are of paramount importance in shaping the next generation of legal practitioners. Students involved in the Project are encouraged to adopt a positive and responsible approach to conflict. They become acquainted with different dispute resolution methods and develop a holistic vision of conflict dynamics, thus gaining awareness of possible alternatives to litigation. Equipped with a combination of soft and hard skills, students will then be able to effectively match legal cases with the most appropriate dispute resolution processes.
Throughout the years, many students at Università degli Studi di Trento – as well as their talented coaches – have successfully completed this learning journey. Numerous other students will follow in their footsteps.

~ Prof. Silvana Dalla Bontà, Project Founder and Coordinator

Save the Date!

Comunicare, negoziare e mediare online
Communicating, negotiating and mediating online

25 September 2020
2:30 – 6:30 p.m.

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