Ever since we started this regular column back in 2012, we’ve been defending a basic thesis: for consumer online dispute resolution (ODR) to succeed, it needs to be publicly funded and retailers need to be given a clear incentive to take part. This is the thesis we aimed to test when, on October 7th of 2016, the Cyberjustice Laboratory (the “Lab”), in collaboration with Quebec’ consumer protection agency (the Office de la protection du consommateur or “OPC”), and the ministère de la Justice du Québec, decided to launched a pilot project around the Lab’s Platform to Assist in the Resolution of Litigation Electronically, better know under its acronym PARLe, which is French for “to talk” or, as defined by Merriam-Webster, also means “to speak with another”, or “to discuss terms with an enemy”.
The Cyberjustice Laboratory started working on PARLe back in 2010, thanks to funding we received from Services gouvernementaux Quebec (which is now part of the Conseil du trésor). PARLe built on prior ODR applications we had developed over the years, namely the Cybertribunal, eResolution and, more directly, ECODIR (Electronic COnsumer DIspute Resolution).
Like ECODIR, the first iteration of PARLe – the one currently used for the pilot project – was developed to settle what are commonly known as low-value – high-volume (what we like to refer to as “low intensity”) consumer disputes. In fact, although the coding behind both platforms is obviously very different, their functionalities remain quite similar: A consumer logs on to a platform, fills out a form to describe the problem, and a second form to propose a settlement. An email is then sent to the merchant so that he can log on to the platform and either accept the consumer’s proposal or make a counter proposal. Should the parties be unable to reach a settlement using this simple mechanism, a mediator is invited to log on to the platform and help them resolve their issue. PARLe offers more bells and whistles, but we chose to build on this same general outline.
ECODIR, although it’s still technically available to settle disputes, never reached the levels of success that were expected, or hoped for. In fact, as we’ve expressed elsewhere, the project never really got off the ground. Keeping this in mind, one might wonder why we decided to build upon a project that we ourselves admitted had “never really taken off”. After all, to use a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.