Building Software for Soft Skills. Member Spotlight: Martha Harty

Martha Harty is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Her work focuses on technology-based training in conflict skills and collaboration skills. Currently, she serves on the Internship Task Force to expand MBBI’s partnerships with universities to attract strong interns as well as to create and maintain a mentorship program between MBBI members who are experienced mediators and the organization’s interns.

Building Mediators Beyond Borders

As a founding member of MBBI, Martha played a role in building the language and thought processes of mediation as a global good. Her main early role was as a member, then chair of the Israel Project. This project was one of the first instances of MBBI in action, a major step in highlighting global mediation strategies, particularly narrative mediation. The Project team traveled to mixed cities within Israel and worked to strengthen community mediation centers. Martha also served for several years on MBBI’s Projects Committee.

Martha has been an active community mediator in Pittsburgh for decades. She helped to run the city’s mediation program when it was adopted by The Center for Victims (CV) in Pittsburgh, where it developed a specific focus on trauma-informed peacebuilding. The Center combines an understanding of people’s psychological reactions to trauma and the mediator’s conflict management understanding to ensure peacebuilding efforts are cognizant of the impact of trauma on those involved. This combination was first brought to bear in the Lawrenceville Project, a very early MBBI project that helped integrate Somali refugees in a Pittsburgh neighborhood.

Creating Accessible Avenues for Conflict Resolution Training

Martha’s first foray into technology for training was the creation of Allwyn Hall, an award-winning interactive CD Rom she developed while teaching basic conflict resolution skills at CMU. In the CD, the user’s goal is to resolve dormitory disputes using a three-step problem-solving model that closely resembles mediation. The training process is interactive, and the outcome varies depending on the user’s response. An on-screen coach is available to provide an overview of basic skills, and feedback as the process unfolds.

Allwyn Hall was utilized alongside in-person trainings at CMU, Cornell, and AmeriCorps. It encouraged Martha to enhance and expand the use of technology for skills training. This process has led to her current work, a series of course modules on the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) of CMU, an outward-facing course delivery platform. These modules, CollaborativeU and ConflictU teach basic collaboration, diversity communication, conflict communication, interest-based conflict resolution, and teambuilding skills.

These online modules have proven to be an effective way of sharing trainings to a wider audience, especially as Martha couples each online training session with in-person activities to recap the lessons learned online. She notes that alternative dispute resolution skills are proliferating on university campuses, where they are increasingly branded as ‘professional skills,’ ‘soft skills,’ and/or ‘collaborative skills.’ A controlled study at CMU found the CollaborativeU module to be an effective training tool that affects students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Recently, alongside her partner Tris Jahanian, Martha built Conflict Coach, a new app focusing on conflict coaching and training that can be found here. This recent technology is the best way yet to spread conflict skills to the widest audience possible, building on the original ideas behind Allwyn Hall and CollaborativeU.

Martha’s vibrant career in transformative technology-based training for conflict resolution skills has only recently begun to be more mainstream and accepted. According to Martha, “You are entering the mediation field at the right time. The need for it is increasingly understood and recognized globally as important!”

Article by Ben Lutz, MBBI Writer.