Keynote Speaker: Dr. Michael Saini
Title: Losing My Neutrality
Dispute resolution professionals are, in its simplest characterization, described as “neutral third parties”. In fact, the concept of neutrality has historically been viewed as the cornerstone of impartiality in dispute resolution services. Best practices, guidelines, ethical standards and the general dispute resolution literature are replete with statements about the importance of ‘being neutral’, ‘impartial’, and ‘fair’. Despite its central focus, the term neutrality has been poorly understood with various definitions that sometimes contradict linguistically, conceptually and/or practically. As a result, there remains little guidance to assist dispute resolution professionals who want to increase their skills so that they can become “more neutral”. This presentation will explore perceived roles as a ’neutral third party’ within the context of dispute resolution services. Based on an extensive video-recorded analysis of interviews with simulated standardized actors, this presentation will highlight several emerging patterns of ‘neutrality pitfalls’. Four typologies will be presented, including: the ‘sympathizer’, the ‘educator’, the ‘distancer’ and the ‘flooder’. Implications will be discussed, including the need to transparently illuminate biases and to create multi partial alliances and engagement with parties based on self-reflective practice, transparency and non-partisan fairness.
Michael A. Saini, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto and holds the endowed Factor-Inwentash Chair of Law and Social Work. He is the Co-Director of the Combined J.D. and M.S.W. program with the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and the Course Director of the 48-hour Foundations to Custody Evaluations with the Continuing Education Program at the University of Toronto. He has over 75 publications, including books, book chapters, government reports, systematic reviews and peer-reviewed journal articles. His publications have been in the area of access to justice, high conflict, alienation, supervised visitation, virtual visitation and parent competencies post separation and divorce, He is a Board Member of the Association of Family Conciliation and the Courts and an editorial board member for the Family Court Review and the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage.