One of the pressing issues in the mediation
field is the need to assure clients of the quality of services provided
by mediators. NAFCM embarked on a two-year project to develop a set of
"best practices" for community mediation centers to meet this need,
resulting in the publication of the Community Mediation Center Self-Assessment Manual. Below is an article by former NAFCM Board members addressing the quality issue.
developed a system for mediation center quality assurance and
improvement. Recognizing the diversity of programs, funding systems,
community needs, and organizational structures, NAFCM's system is not
prescriptive, but is an elicitive tool designed to help programs assess
their goals and values and develop strategies for furthering them
through their work.
NAFCM QUALITY ASSURANCE STATEMENTIn
2000, thanks to a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,
the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) embarked on a
two-year project to develop a new approach to mediation quality
assurance which focuses on ways that community mediation centers could
improve and assure the quality of their services. This
project has culminated in the publication of NAFCM’s Community
Mediation Center Self-Assessment Manual. While the full details of this
quality assurance system will be detailed in the Manual, certain basic
statements summarize NAFCM’s positions on this issue. NAFCM's
self-assessment manual assumes the existence of a community-based
organization which reflects the diversity of its community and which has
an on-going interactive relationship with its community. NAFCM believes
that community mediation centers are intended to be a reflection of
each community including the multitude of traditions, customs, and
values. NAFCM further believes that
an effective community mediation center is a collaboration between
mediators, staff, boards of directors, supporters (including those
agencies referring cases to mediation), and community. The keystone of
quality service is a consistent effort to develop training, services,
systems, and protocols that align the most fundamental ethics and
underpinnings of mediation with the needs and values of the community
being served. NAFCM believes that
quality assurance is a process rather than an end and is best supported
through organizational self-reflection, careful systems design,
collaboration with the community, and continuous improvement.
believes that the most crucial skill of mediators is found in their
ability to apply theoretical knowledge in a variety of diverse, live,
real-world situations. While NAFCM firmly believes that a mediator's
competence and abilities should be observed, evaluated and constantly
enhanced, we equally firmly believe that a mediator's competence cannot
be accurately measured by paper and pencil testing, academic degrees or
hours of training, and other static forms of credentialing. These are
ineffective means of assuring quality service. Many of the tests would
exclude skilled mediators from approval for reasons unrelated to their
competence (e.g. academic degree requirements, written tests,
assumptions about literacy and competence, cultural difference,
language, mediation methodology).
believes that a whole-systems approach to quality assurance is the best
possible method. Community mediation centers provide that approach
through: (a) The center's on-going relationship with the trained
volunteer mediators, the community, and referral sources; (b) A
commitment to a continuous growth and learning process for the
volunteers, centers and the community; and (c) The translation of
current mediation theory and methodology into quality practice that is
congruent with the diverse cultures it serves. Mediators providing
direct services to clients within such quality centers, provide quality
QUALITY ASSURANCE AND QUALIFICATIONSBy Melissa Brodrick, Ben Carroll & Barbara HartAn
important issue facing mediators is an increasing concern with
"professionalization," and particularly qualifications - also variously
described as certification or credentialing. For some, "professionalism"
implies positive movement involving a maturing body of experience,
steps to promote consistent quality, and recognition of the value of
mediation and mediators. Others are concerned that "professionalism" is,
or may become, a code word for commercialization, self-interest, and
de-valuation of volunteer mediators by particular organizations or
occupations. From either perspective, mediator qualifications or
certification is an important element of this dialogue that NAFCM
members will be exploring in the coming months. Most practitioners would
agree that mediation skills are acquired through high quality training
and practice and that degrees and courses don't necessarily guarantee
competent practice. Thus, performance-based assessment provides more
reliable information concerning mediator quality than formal education
or profession. Nevertheless, we are beginning to see more restrictive
legislation that mandates particular degrees or licenses as
prerequisites for certain areas of practice. Community mediation,
because it relies on trained volunteer community mediators, is concerned
with this exclusionary trend. NAFCM believes that this qualifications
dialogue will be most productive if it focuses on the principle of
quality assurance and practices that community mediation centers can
establish to ensure quality. As a starting point, NAFCM has created the
following quality assurance statement.
QUALITY ASSURANCE IN COMMUNITY MEDIATIONCommunity
mediation programs throughout the United States have been preparing
individuals to provide mediation and dispute resolution services in
their communities for over twenty years. These community programs, by
their very nature, are representative of the diversity and differing
environments of the communities they serve. Common to community
mediation programs is the tradition of high quality practitioner
development and the delivery of consistently high caliber services. This
quality assurance is achieved through a process of skill development
and performance assessment which typically includes:
- Screening and Recruitment.
Community mediation training participants are carefully recruited to
reflect the diversity of the community and screened to identify
individuals whose personal skills and commitment to community service
are well-suited for the role of mediator. Screening usually includes a
detailed application and often a follow-up interview. In addition, many
programs provide a job description, pre-application information
sessions, and reference checks.
- Basic Mediation Training. Successful
completion of a basic community mediation training is mandatory for
participation with a community mediation program. Trainings are
typically about 30 hours. Basic mediation skills training courses of
30-50 hours emphasize interactive participation, encouraging "learning
by doing" in a constructive and supportive atmosphere. Trainings include
a mixture of theory and practice that enhances the performance of
trainees and provides a variety of learning techniques that reflect a
sensitivity to individual learning styles. Preparation and role-play
exercises are designed to reflect specific dispute types handled by the
- Evaluation of Mediation Training Participants.
Evaluation of a community mediation training participant's mediation
skills is ongoing and comprehensive. Evaluation includes explicit
criteria for successful completion of a basic training and is conducted
during and/or directly following each role play by the observing trainer
(with a limited number of participants per trainer) and at the
conclusion of the basic training based on the observations of the
training team as a whole. Evaluations are shared in person or in
- Apprenticeship. Apprenticeship
with a community mediation program follows the successful completion of
a basic community mediation training and offers challenges appropriate
to the general skill level of the newly trained mediator. Apprenticeship
includes observation of actual cases, conducting mediation sessions
with or observed by a skilled mediator who will conduct debriefing
sessions with the apprentice and provide the apprentice and program with
an evaluation of the apprentice's competency, often including formal
written assessment. Successful completion of apprenticeship is necessary
for continued mediation.
- Co-mediation Model.
Community mediation programs support the widespread use of co-mediation
to provide opportunities for peer mentorship and peer review.
- Continuing Education. Continuing
education is either strongly recommended or often required by community
mediation programs in order to retain and enhance the skills necessary
to provide quality mediation services on an ongoing basis.
- Advanced Training.
Advanced training is required by community mediation programs that
provide mediation services in substantive areas such as custody and
visitation, parent-child, housing, victim-offender, commercial, special
education, and public policy. Participants in these trainings must have
successfully completed a basic mediation training and must demonstrate
sufficient competency in the area of advanced practice in order to
provide these mediation services.
- Trainer Qualities and Responsibilities. The
process of helping people improve their interpersonal and facilitative
skills as mediators is an intimate one. It requires a training
participant to demonstrate a willingness to take risks, perform
publicly, and receive critical coaching and an effective mediation
trainer to be sensitive to each participant's needs and individual
learning style and pace. The community mediation trainer will generally
have extensive experience as a mediator in order to be accepted as a
credible teacher and role model. Thorough knowledge of the mediation
process and a mediator's techniques and strategic choices is also
essential. Teaching skills that a community mediation program requires
of its trainers also include flexibility concerning approach, effective
presentation skills, an ability to promote positive group dynamics among
learners, a sense of the developmental nature of skills acquisition,
and a lively stage presence.
- Trainer/Training Evaluation.
Community mediation programs solicit evaluations of the training and
each trainer during and at the conclusion of each training presented.
Feedback from training participants contributes to the ongoing
refinement of effective training materials and styles.
- Standards of Practice. Many
community mediation programs, some in collaboration with their
statewide association, have developed guidelines or standards of
practice which govern the conduct of their community mediators.
Community mediation programs believe that mediators have an obligation
to the public and the profession to conduct their practice in a
competent and ethical manner. Central to the code of behavior required
of community mediators is a commitment to respect for the parties and
the mediation process. Central also is the personal integrity with which
each mediator enhances the quality of the process. Community mediation
programs also believe that the principles reflected in these standards
should be inherent in the training given to mediators and in the
policies and procedures of the centers.
is noteworthy about community mediation programs is the evolution of
systems which ensure continual review and improvement among the
volunteer mediator pools, particularly through the mentoring and
apprenticeship process. As noted above, standards and guidelines can be
an important part of these quality assurance systems, but are by no
means a substitute for the integrated programs and procedures. A concern
of community mediators is the promotion by some interest groups of
stand-alone qualifications or certification standards which set up
artificial barriers, exclude competent mediators and limit the
availability of dispute resolution for certain ethnic and socio-economic
groups. Inasmuch as some of these certification efforts are being
presented to courts and other agencies and institutions which govern
access to dispute resolution services, the National Association for
Community Mediation (NAFCM) is reviewing the impact of certification on
community mediation programs and access to services. NAFCM has formed a
working committee and invites other interested NAFCM members to
participate in (1) establishing a
clearinghouse of information on quality assurance, practice standards,
certification movements, and related issues; and (2) developing community mediation policies and position papers on these issues.To
initiate discussion within NAFCM, and without endorsing particular
standards, NAFCM suggests that any standards of practice should:
else is NAFCM doing in this area? It is NAFCM's intent to coordinate
our work in the area of mediator qualifications with other dispute
resolution organizations and practitioners in order to:
- Foster high quality mediation services with an emphasis on performance-based competency rather than academic degrees;
- Strive for inclusion and diversity among practitioners, and by doing so encourage the same among users;
- Promote creativity, innovation, flexibility, autonomy, and evolution of practice while maintaining process integrity;
- Be practical, with a balance between the aspirational and realistic;
- Be clearly understandable to all users and providers; and
upon existing experience and resources in the field, including the rich
history and current practice of community mediation programs.
NAFCM makes certain assumptions in reviewing qualifications and certification issues:
- Provide the experience, expertise and broad perspective available from community mediators and mediation centers;
- Prevent duplication of effort in the research and development of these issues;
- Prevent misuse of qualifications or standards to exclude competent mediators and/or reduce the availability of services; and
- Provide NAFCM membership with resources and assistance on these issues.
How you can be involved? NAFCM is asking all interested parties to assist with the following:
people who practice "professionally" receive their training and
experience as volunteers or staff in the community mediation setting.
The wealth of experience in community mediation in virtually all types
of disputes is unmatched by any other group or sector.
is particularly suited to address the concerns of, and advocate for
mediation participants by virtue of the diversity and representative
nature of community mediator pools, the concern for affordability of
services, and the independence of member centers from concerns of
judicial expediency (e.g., clearing court case backlogs).
schooling/degrees, occupation (e.g., mental health), or professional
licensing (bar membership) are not determinative of competency in
dispute resolution. Some would argue these are seldom even relevant. No
particular type or degree of prior education or job experience is an
effective predictor of success as a mediator.
(allowing "uncertifiable" mediators to practice simply because they are
already practicing) cannot cure or justify exclusionary or
discriminatory certification requirements.
mediation centers have developed a variety of approaches to assure
competence of practitioners which have been tested and proven over the
past twenty years. Formal certification is certainly not the only way to
do this and may not even be a good way.
reaction, additions, suggestions, comments, or criticism to the idea of
NAFCM's Quality Assurance Statement and assumptions suggested above.
Because of the number and diversity of programs within community
mediation, a wide range of ideas is available and needs to be
represented in any such statement.
NAFCM know of any certification standards or requirements in your state
or organization. NAFCM is compiling a database of this information and
will also develop a clearinghouse of these materials.
- If your state is considering implementation of required certification, please advise NAFCM of this effort.
MEDIATOR QUALIFICATIONS AND STANDARDSWhat
has been done in this area? A considerable body of work has been
developed over the last fifteen years in developing and refining
practice standards and ethical codes for mediators. Some of these are
mandatory for members of particular associations or those who practice
in particular arenas (e.g., court programs) but a majority are
aspirational. Over the years, many national groups such as the
Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and Academy of Family
Mediators have devised standards for their practice areas. The latest
and most wide-ranging effort is the Model Standards of Conduct for
Mediators (1995, American Bar Association, American Arbitration
Association, and Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution). In the
area of performance standards, qualifications, and competencies, the
SPIDR Commission on Qualifications and the collaborative Test Design
Project have taken the lead. In their 1989 report, the SPIDR commission
recommended that: "Academic degrees should not be a prerequisite for
service as a neutral. Rather, qualification criteria, whether mandated
by public bodies or adopted voluntarily by private agencies, should be
based on performance, emphasizing the knowledge and particular skills
necessary for competent practice." In addition, SPIDR felt that
mandating such standards would be dependent on whether the client has a
choice of neutral or dispute resolution process. "The extent to which
qualifications for neutral are mandated should vary by the degree of
choice the parties have over the dispute resolution process, the program
offering the dispute resolution services, and the neutral. The greater
the degree of choice, the less mandatory should be the requirements."
The Test Design group, including members of NAFCM's Board, worked to
provide a methodology to implement assessment of mediators which is
"context sensitive" and avoids "premature closure of the field."The following readings provide background for certification:
Competence and Quality in Dispute Resolution Practice, Report No. 2 of
the SPIDR Commission on Qualifications (April 1995).
- Qualifying Neutrals: the basic principles, Report of the SPIDR Commission on Qualifications (April 1989).
Assessment: A Methodology for Use in Selecting, Training and Evaluating
Mediators, Test Design Project (NIDR 1995).