NSF Projects

Current project

Professors Katsh and Wing are participating in a three year project funded by the National Science Foundation and overseen by Professor Beverly Woolf of the UMass Department of Computer Science. The project is titled  “The Fourth Party: Improving Computer-Mediated Deliberation through Cognitive, Social and Emotional Support.”

This project will develop and evaluate software to support people engaged in online social deliberation, especially as it relates to dispute resolution and collaborative inquiry. The software will model and monitor deliberative processes skills while people are either in collaboration or involved in settling disputes. Applications will be in three domains that already support online conversations: 1) online dispute resolution (e.g., eBay and the U.S. National Mediation Board); 2) collaborative learning in open-ended inquiry learning environments; and 3) dialog and deliberation on civic and ethical issues. The project will scaffold situations, adding structure or focusing attention on social processes, support improvement of individual skills, and assist participants to produce improved results. This project involves faculty across five departments: legal studies, psychology, political science, computer science and education.

This research advances social issues (collaboration, dispute resolution, and critical thinking) and computation techniques (online dispute resolution, argumentation and collaboration). It furthers research into building social communities, explores issues of coaching and collaboration and develops evaluation tools for measuring the effect of online support.

This project advances the understanding of online human-human communication. It will enable more people to access social deliberative tools, promote interest in discussion among more people and improve the quality of onlinedispute resolution as well as collaborations. The project lays the groundwork for more intelligent communication in online communities, creates new understandings of the complexities of collaboration and produces new modes of synergistic online discussions.

Recent projects

1. Process Families and Their Application to Online Dispute Resolution

Leon Osterweil  (Principal Investigator) 
Lori Clarke (Co-Principal Investigator)
Norman Sondheimer (Co-Principal Investigator)
Ethan Katsh (Co-Principal Investigator)

This research focused on families of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) processes and evaluating them through use at the National Mediation Board (NMB). The generative approach was guided by NMB specifications of process goals, which varied in emphasis according to different weightings of both tangible goals, such as resolving a specific conflict, and such nontangible goals as empowerment and relationship-building. The process families were generated by binding different combinations of process concerns, such as coordination, agent behaviors, and artifact flows, into a high-level metaprocess framework. The generated process instances also included specified instrumentation and measurement vehicles. This facilitated the evaluation of the processes by NMB and project researchers and formed the foundation for evaluation of the overall generative approach. This approach required a process definition language that featured clear separation of concerns. An example is the Little-JIL process definition language, developed at UMass, which was used as the basis for this research. The project was intended to add to understanding of process generation and process technology in general, while also creating useful processes for the NMB, and a superior framework for social science experimentation with dispute resolution processes as well as processes in general. The project team includes computer science researchers, an ODR expert, dispute resolution researchers, and representatives from the NMB.

This project continued the exploration of the value of using software engineering perspectives and technology to deal with processes as rigorously definable objects. The main issue addressed here is the management of families of processes. Previous research indicates that organizations like NMB require families of processes, rather than a single process, and that such processes may not always be aimed at producing a single product nor one that is tangible. Use of a process definition language featuring clean separation of concerns is a promising way to address these needs, and that approach was pursued and evaluated in this research, thus making an important contribution to understanding the formal nature of processes. A process generation framework was built and used to generate real ODR processes that will be used and evaluated by the NMB. The rigor and precision of these processes, and their incorporation of vehicles for evaluation, facilitated the comparison of processes that differ in precisely documented ways.

2. Process Technology for Achieving Government Online Dispute Resolution

Leon Osterweil ljo@cs.umass.edu (Principal Investigator) 
Norman Sondheimer (Co-Principal Investigator)
Ethan Katsh (Co-Principal Investigator)

Dispute resolution is a fundamental and pervasive activity of government, requiring efficiency, effectiveness and fairness. This project proposed applying process technology to develop and evaluate dispute resolution processes through online delivery. The intention was to improve dispute resolution, and deepen understanding of how to be more successful in developing and evaluating processes with the stringent requirements of public governance. The project focus was on the dispute resolution processes and approaches used by the National Mediation Board (NMB).

The project’s intellectual focus was on the applicability of process technology to processes having particularly stringent efficiency, effectiveness and fairness requirements. These, in turn, rested upon the need for strong management of communications and information flow, and strong assurances about security, privacy, and accuracy. The establishment of transparently fair, validated, processes designed by multi-stakeholder collaboration met these requirements. The research included evaluation of the success of innovative process definition, analysis, and collaboration technologies in meeting these stringent requirements and in increasing trust. These technologies have succeeded in such domains as software development, medicine, and scientific data processing.

Most federal agencies must respond to grievances from citizens and groups, and resolve disputes between the agency and individuals and organizations. During the Clinton Administration, it was mandated that federal agencies use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods to resolve disputes. As a result over eighty Federal agencies have such mediation programs.