In a follow up to my post [here], Jim Melamed, CEO of Mediate.com replied to the questions and concerns I raised. Below, and with his permission, I am posting his unedited reply.
A few responses:
First, what Mediate.com is doing with our new certification program is not an end-all, be-all answer, but a meaningful beginning, particularly for the private sector. Sometimes it is worth doing "something" in the right direction, even if imperfect, particularly when the leading option is doing nothing and our industry languishing or not being at its best.
Our ultimate goal is to create a context where the best of mediation is emphasized and preserved (voluntary, impartial, self-determination, transparency, disclosure, maximization), rather than mediation coming to be defined as simply another hoop, another cog, in the legal system. As there is no National Mediation Association nor an International Mediation Association to look out for the best interests of mediation, Mediate.com has found itself compelled to act. By our actions, I would expect we will break a bit of a log jam and all kinds of new, progressive geographic and practice area standards will emerge. This is all very good. The world of mediation is so big, literally global, and also both within and beyond our traditional legals contexts of courts and administrative agencies. Because mediation is "everywhere," it is nearly impossible to try to manage the movement from a "regulatory" quality control perspective. This is one of the reasons for so much inertia for so long.
Our most powerful driving force is to grow mediation in the private sector as a wise consumer choice. Our biggest fear is that the historic gatekeepers for resolving conflict, the courts and due process agencies, will come to swallow mediation the mediation industry. Yes, we need mediation programs in courts and administrative agencies, but we surely should not force people to file lawsuits and administrative complaints just to access mediation services. It makes no sense to force people to legalize and polarize so as to gain access to publicly sanctioned and subsidized mediation services. People should additionally be encouraged to seek mediation early, on their own, without the need to resort to a lawsuit. For this, we need a vibrant private sector of mediation services.
And, in fact, there is a huge amount of mediation (most mediation I suggest) that is taking place outside of the courts. Here the goal is commonly to avoid any kind of formal legal filing. So, it is absolutely critical that we do not look exclusively to the courts to define mediation nor mediation qualification standards. We need to encourage early mediation and we need to set in place industry infrastructure to encourage those who want to be mediators (beyond the courts as well as within).
Note such recent and large scale initiatives as foreclosure mediation, mass disaster mediation, marital mediation . . . we need to continue to provide a context and encouragement for all of this wonderful growth. This is Mediate.com's goal: to grow the global mediation industry based on the intrinsic value that we "bring to the table." We should not be exclusvely beholden to courts and agencies to sing the praises of mediation.
And so, it is in this context that I see to directly answer your questions:
Yes, the Mediate.com standards set a relatively high bar. In providing a certification to those with 100 hours of mediation training, 500 hours of mediation experience (and who provide comprehensive required transparency and disclosure), we have moved the bar higher as we think the credibility of our industry requires this. This is particularly the case as many community and court programs may only require 30 or 40 hours of training and perhaps 10 cases or the like. So, yes, we are raising the bar. We think that our industry will only be fully respected when we respect ourselves and setting higher standards is a part of this.
Note that we are operating in the private sector, so our assumption is that anyone can mediate and that "the right mediator is the one the parties want." So, for example, we will continue to display all those who want to be in our directory and we continue to allow mediators to self evaluate as per our Qualifications Disclosure Program (see www.mediate.com/articles/review.cfm). All of this is in the exact same directory as will display our certified mediators.
With our new certification program, for those who meet the standards, we are, in fact, providing (literally) a "gold star," because it is our opinion that this dedication and experience deserve to be rewarded. We are assuming that there will be additional court, administrative, geographic (state) and practice area certification opportunities made available, and we applaud this. We see this as signs of a mediation industry that is maturing.
Now, as to cost, it is important that we develop a sustainable program. For certification programs to be developed and not continued would be a tragedy, and so we have sought to fund this program "on its own two feet (needs to pay for itself). You are correct that the total cost for the first year of Membership, Certification Review and Approval would be $349/yr total and then the annual renewal cost would be $249/yr total. We hope and believe that this is a most reasonable investment for those who want to be successful mediators, particularly in the private sector. We believe that Mediate.com brings huge value to the mediation marketplace and that it is a very reasonable thing for private sector mediators to be involved with Mediate.com as well as other leading mediation associations and initiatives.
One of my takeaways from Jeff's comments is that Mediate.com is well-served to continue to think of the interests of mediation students, volunteers and those getting started as well. In our "defense," Mediate.com does provide robust information (over 5000 articles and resources), video, etc., all for FREE to the entire world. Mediate.com now attracts an average of 14,000 daily visitor sessions. We are an effective bridge between private professional mediators and those who need and desire our services. It is through our membership and certification programs that we are able to fund all of this.
So, this is a long-winded answer to some very good questions. We think it critical to support private sector development of mediation, in addition to court and agency programs, and it is to help promote the best of mediation and to stimulate this private sector growth (critically including for those who are not attorneys) that we have chosen to act. We believe that it is critical that the mediation industry defines itself, at our best, rather than our being reliant or imposed upon by court or administrative definitions that to some extent threaten to turn mediation into just another docket management device.
We are learning and improving every day. This type of dialog is immeasurably helpful to Mediate.com as we seek to ever-improve. If nothing else, we hope that we have stirred the water so that more and more people can become engaged in the discussion of how mediation can be best supported on a global, society-wide basis.
Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.
Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.
He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.
(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)