Imagine you are the owner of a factory producing scarves. Next to your factory there is a place manufacturing sweatshirts. You both use the same fabric for production, but one day, due to delivery problems, only half of the needed amount for both factories is delivered. Together with the owner of the second factory you need to decide whether and how to share the supply. What do you do?

This can be an example of a conflict companies have to deal with. However, conflicts also occur on a smaller scale; whether it’s at work, at school, at university or in the neighborhood, we sometimes find ourselves in situations where the solution to the problem seems almost impossible to reach. Fortunately, there are some approaches that allow us to make a decision as fair and educational as possible. We’re talking about ADR.

What is ADR? The abbreviation stands for Alternative Dispute Resolution and it is an umbrella term for describing different methods of solving problems between different parties of a dispute. ADR was originally used in legal affairs in order to avoid court trials, but now it is being used in a lot of various fields.

Perhaps one of the most well-known ADR is mediation (San Cristobal Reales, 2013). The main characteristic of this technique is that it requires a third neutral party that acts as a mediator and facilitates dialogue in order to help parties reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, taking into account their interests, priorities and needs. But there are also other types of ADR like arbitration (the arbitrator determines the outcome of the conflict), conciliation (the conciliator often proposes the terms of settlement, not remaining as impartial or neutral as the mediator) and negotiation (between representatives of parties involved in a conflict and not necessarily with a third neutral figure).

Considering ADR in the context of youth work at least two things have to be taken into account (Umbreit, 1991): first of all, both parties need to maintain a balance of power between them to avoid an unfair solution; secondly, the participation in the process has to be voluntary, otherwise the parties won’t be willing to reach any kind of agreement.

In Vicolocorto, our interest in ADR is focused on conflicts that can occur in youth work. The reason we focus on youth is because we realize the importance of clear communication in our daily lives. Young people in particular can experience difficulties handling communication issues, since they have never experienced them in a professional context before.

As an association that works with youth, we have to be able to face and solve conflicts as they are an inevitable part of cooperation. Volunteers are a significant part of most of third sector organizations, so it is a fundamental part of our job to maintain good work environment and a good relationship with and between the volunteers. Problems that can occur should be managed immediately  so  that they do not escalate into bigger conflicts and ARD is a useful tool for that purpose. For example, conflicts between teams of volunteers can be arbitrated by their coordinator, whereas a conflict between volunteers and organization can be mediated by a third impartial figure.

However, every theory has to be put in practice. That is why we have decided, along with other associations from five different countries, to develop a two year project called First ADR Kit in order to help other organizations and associations to  implement ADR in their daily work. The final product of the project will be, in fact, a Handbook that contains 10 different workshops that apply ADR methods in Youth Work: the workshop have been developed and tested several times in the five different countries and will be available online at the end of the project.


Umbreit, M. (1991). Mediation of youth conflict: a multi-system perspective. Child and Adolescence Social Work, 8(2), 141-153

San Cristobal Reales, S. (2013). Alternative systems of dispute resolution: negotiation, conciliation, mediation, arbitration in civil and commercial areas. Anuario Jurídico y Económico Escurialense, XLVI, 39-62

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