Assessing a dispute resolution scheme
The Government Centre for Dispute Resolution's best practice principles can provide a framework for assessing whether a scheme is fit for purpose and consistent with best practice.
About the principles
The Government Centre for Dispute Resolution (GCDR) has developed the best practice principles drawing on our expertise and experience, as well as research and literature.
We have also developed a set of questions under each principle for agencies to use as a scheme assessment guide. This has been designed as a high-level guidance tool, rather than a detailed and comprehensive technical review.
The 5 principles are:
- User focussed and accessible
- Independent and fair
Principle 1: User focussed and accessible
Users of dispute resolution services are at the centre of all aspects of the dispute resolution system. Dispute resolution is easy for potential users to find, enter and use regardless of their capabilities and resources.
See Involve users and stakeholders in Developing a scheme guidance.
Questions to determine if your scheme meets principle 1
- Were users directly involved in the scheme design? If not, were they consulted, and what was done with their feedback?
- Are specific user needs considered in all aspects of the design and delivery of the scheme (eg, are the processes responsive to language and cultural barriers and learning disabilities)? What has been done to accommodate these needs?
- Is there a way for users to provide feedback at any time (eg, a suggestions box)? What is done with this feedback (eg, is it considered in evaluations of the scheme)?
Awareness and promotion (find)
- How is the scheme promoted and awareness of it raised?
- What media is used to promote it (eg, online,posters, television)?
- Is information about the scheme easy to find and understand?
- Is the promotion material consistent across the different media and entry channels?
- How easy is it for users to enter the scheme?
- Are there multiple channels of entry?
- Are there any barriers (real or perceived) for particular users?
- Is there a user fee? If so, is it reasonable and appropriate given the nature and value of disputes?
See user fee in Developing a scheme guidance.
- How easy is it for users to use the scheme (ie, engage in the process)? Is the process clear and simple?
- Are users given clear information about the steps in the process?
- Can users track their progress in the process?
- Are users able to use support people or lawyers in the process if required?
- What other help is available (eg, translators)?
- Do staff members have the necessary ability and training to deal appropriately with all users?
See support people or lawyers in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Is the scheme’s jurisdiction clearly outlined (ie, what is in/out of scope and the extent of any powers)? Is the scheme’s financial jurisdiction clear (eg, thresholds for the value of disputes)?
- Is there a referral procedure for matters that are outside the scheme’s jurisdiction?
See scheme's jurisdiction in Developing a scheme guidance.
Access to justice
- Does the scheme allow for appropriate access to the formal justice system?
- Are users given the information they need to access the appropriate tribunal or court?
See access to the formal justice system in Developing a scheme guidance.
Principle 2: Independent and fair
Disputes are managed and resolved in accordance with applicable law and natural justice. All dispute resolution functions are, and are seen to be, carried out in an objective and unbiased way.
Questions to determine if your scheme meets principle 2
- Is the scheme as independent as possible?
- Is the scheme seen as sufficiently independent by users (user feedback) and other relevant stakeholders?
Conflict of interests
- Are there policies and procedures to identify and manage any conflicts of interest (both real and perceived)?
- Are conflicts of interest managed in a transparent way?
See conflicts of interest in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Is participation in the scheme voluntary or mandatory? Is this appropriate to the context?
- If it is voluntary, can users base their decision to participate on full knowledge and understanding of the process and possible outcomes?
- Can users participate equally in the process (ie, what is done to address power imbalances)?
See voluntary or mandatory and power imbalances in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Does the process adhere to clearly outlined and transparent procedural fairness standards?
- Is the process seen as fair by users (from user feedback) and other relevant stakeholders?
- Is the decision-maker independent and objective?
- Is the basis for their decision-making clearly articulated?
- Does the determinative process comply with natural justice?
- Does the decision-maker provide reasons for their decision?
- If a decision is binding, what is the process for review or appeal?
See determinative process in Developing a scheme guidance.
Privacy and confidentiality
- Are there clear privacy policies and procedures in place?
- What is the extent of the confidentiality and does it include outcomes?
- Is the level of confidentiality appropriate to the context?
- Does all monitoring and reporting comply with applicable privacy and confidentiality requirements?
See privacy and confidentiality in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Is funding for the scheme as independent as possible?
- Are the funding arrangements transparent?
- Is the funding model (eg, publicly funded, cost recovery etc) appropriate in terms of independence and fairness
See funding in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Are there policies in place for dealing with unreasonable user conduct?
- Are staff trained in managing unreasonable conduct?
Principle 3: Efficient
Dispute resolution provides value for money through appropriate, proportionate and timely responses to issues. It evolves and improves over time and makes good use of information to identify systemic issues.
Questions to determine if your scheme meets principle 3
- How is self-resolution supported or encouraged?
- How is earliest resolution encouraged?
- Are disputes assessed and triaged?
- Are the scheme’s processes proportionate to the disputes (ie, appropriate to the number, size, and complexity of issues)?
- Is there a clear procedure for dealing with frivolous or vexatious disputes?
- Is the scheme flexible enough to be able to change service delivery as necessary?
See self-resolution and triaged in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Is timeliness considered in all of the scheme’s procedures?
- How long does it take to complete each step in the scheme’s process, including acknowledgement, response, and resolution?
- Are time limits reasonable to facilitate speedy resolution without compromising quality?
- Are parties kept informed about the progress of their dispute through the process?
- Does the scheme routinely collect and record dispute data and other information?
- Is scheme data and information regularly analysed to identify trends, underlying issues and systemic problems?
- How does the scheme respond to the trends, underlying issues and systemic problems that are identified?
- What does the scheme cost government or industry to run?
- How cost-effective is it (given the number, size, nature and complexity of issues, the parties, and other contextual factors)?
- Does the scheme have the resources it needs to operate effectively and are they allocated appropriately?
- Is appropriate technology (eg, case management systems, databases, on-line services) used to support the scheme’s work?
Principle 4: Effective
Dispute resolution delivers sustainable results and meets intended objectives. It fulfils its role in the wider government system by helping to minimise conflict and supporting a more productive and harmonious New Zealand.
Questions to determine if your scheme meets principle 4
Does the scheme have clear objectives? What are they?
Is it meeting these objectives?
See Objectives in Developing a scheme guidance.
- How many disputes does the scheme deal with?
- What is the nature of those disputes?
- What are the outcomes?
- What is the durability of those outcomes?
- What is the recurrence rate of disputes?
- What is the escalation rate of disputes?
- Does the scheme assess user satisfaction, of both the process and outcome? If so, what are the levels of satisfaction?
- Is the scheme’s scope appropriate and sufficient to allow it to deal with the majority of the relevant disputes?
- Do staff (including employees, contractors, dispute resolution practitioners etc) have the necessary skills, qualifications, and experience to perform their roles?
- What quality standards are in place for staff?
- How are these standards monitored and upheld?
- Is professional development provided?
Principle 5: Accountable
There is public confidence in dispute resolution. Those involved in its design and delivery are held to account for the quality of their performance. Regular monitoring and assessment and public reporting encourages ongoing improvement and better outcomes across the system.
Questions to determine if your scheme meets principle 5
- Does the scheme outline, apply, and monitor adherence to quality standards?
- Are all required guidelines, procedures and policies in place and available?
- Does the scheme set targets?
- Does the scheme have a system for gathering relevant data and tracking the disputes?
- What data does it collect?
- What analysis does it do of the data?
See monitoring in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Does the scheme have to follow an appropriate evaluation plan?
- Does the plan specify periodic evaluations, preferably done independently (ie, by an external third party)?
- Do these evaluations consider policy settings, scheme scope, user satisfaction levels and unprompted feedback, equitable access, and overall efficiency and effectiveness?
- Do the evaluations involve stakeholder, user and staff views?
See evaluation in the Developing a scheme guidance.
- Does an independent review have to be done of the scheme within an agreed timeframe after it has been set up?
- Does the scheme report regularly, and to whom?
- Does this include performance against its objectives, quality standards, targets, general data including outcome trends, and issues arising?
- How often is it published?
See Reporting in Developing a scheme guidance.
- Does the scheme have an internal complaints process?
- How is it made available to users?
- How is data about complaints collected, monitored, analysed and published?
- How is information about other relevant external avenues of complaint (eg, the Ombudsman’s Office) made available to users?
- Are determinative decisions publicly available?
- Does the scheme have systems in place to support staff well-being and protect their identity and other personal information where required?
How GCDR can help
We can provide advice about interpreting the questions or any of the technical terms used. Once you have thought about the answers to these questions, we can help identify any further work that needs to done or gaps that could be filled. We can also help you interpret what you have found out.