The Mediation Industry, Qualifications & the Mediate.com Certification Program

by Jim Melamed
June 2009 Jim Melamed

It is challenging to have any short discussion on mediation qualifications, the mediation industry and new Mediate.com Certification Program, but I will try.

First, as context, it is critical to recognize that we have been grappling with qualification issues as a field for at least 25 years, with precious little to show for it. It is our view that, to the extent that mediation does not effectively define itself so as to compete in the broader dispute resolution marketplace, we are at risk of mediation being diluted, condensed, hybridized and crippled in its ability to grow during these opportune times and for the future.

Also worth note is that the field of mediation has become remarkably diversified over the past couple of decades. In the case of Mediate.com, and we seek to create a a powerful national and global marketplace that is not based upon any particular court or agency program or jurisdiction, a private marketplace that best supports mediation industry development and a marketplace that is open and transparent.

We believe that there should be encouraged direct access to mediation services, without the need to file due process litigation or administrative complaints. We want to provide an infra-structure that will allow mediators to move up the professional ladder in terms based upon comprehensive disclosure of mediation training and experience.

Finally, as context, we believe that the Internet has dramatically changed the equation in terms of mediator qualification issues and that our industry, if any, can effectively utilize the Internet to provide consumers of mediation services with ever richer information about the professionals they may want to select. We believe that, in the context of a voluntary mediation process that participants can leave at any time for any reason, informed disputants and their advisers can protect themselves.

The Mediate.com Directory remains wide open for all mediators. Our Certification Program is also open to all and allows those who meet the described standards to have a "gold star" acknowledging their accomplishments and commitment to quality mediation practice.

The primary driving forces for Mediate.com's Certification program are then:

1. To capably define mediation as a voluntary and confidential process involving 100% participant decision-making. We need "industrial strength" establishment of these core concepts for mediation to be properly practiced and best grow.

2. Mediate.com acknowledges and encourages judicial, agency, state and practice area mediation certifications. The marketplace benefits from this development. For the best interests of our field's overall growth, we believe that Mediate.com is in a unique position to provide a measure of credibility to private sector mediators on a statewide, national and global basis, especially as we move into new areas of mediation service delivery.

3. Mediate.com Certification (an open marketplace - available to everyone and fully transparent) will support the growth of an expanding private sector of mediation services, including such new applications as foreclosure mediation, mass disaster mediation, privacy mediation, elder mediation, health care mediation and marital mediation (to name just a few currently growing areas). We benefit from a "meta-mediation" structure to serve as a foundation for these and other new initiatives. We can not and should not be beholden to due process courts and agencies or even to particular states for new mediation development. We want to best support private sector development. New areas of mediation growth take time to mature and consolidate. Mediate.com acts as a sort of incubator and the Mediate.com Certification Program will provide a measure of legitimacy and credibility to mediators bringing the mediation process to expanding realms.

4. The leading options to Mediate.com acting are seemingly: 1) no mediation-wide certification; 2) standards at the embarrassing 30-40 hour training level; or 3) fully specialized practice-area and jurisdictionally defined mediation development. We see great benefits in presently elevating mediation field standards (if we do not respect ourselves, who will?) and in establishing standards that can be easily integrated with other initiatives. In no context do we suggest that mediator availability should be limited to Mediate.com Certified Mediators. In all cases, this is just one more piece of valuable information for consumers to consider.

5. We have sought to define our standards in ways that dovetail with enunciated ACR Certification Task Force recommendations (that have never been implemented). We encourage ACR practice area certification for Family and Divorce, Workplace, and other mediation practice areas, as ACR may see fit. We also compliment the development of IMI commercial mediator certification. These developments are signs of a maturing mediation industry.

6. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no current "National Mediation Association," nor an "International Mediation Association," that capably embraces all mediation practice and that can buttress the development of mediation as an industry for the future. In this context, Mediate.com has sought, for 15 years now, to satisfy many mediation industry needs, including the publication of over 5,000 free mediation articles, our offering over 200 hours of free leading mediator video interviews, and our now offering 1000's of news items and blog postings. We think and hope that Mediate.com has earned a respected place in our industry as a leading center for the growth of mediation as an industry. Mediate.com now averages over 11,000 daily visitor sessions, with an average visit lasting 16:04. See http://www.mediate.com/visits. This is no small accomplishment. With the Mediate.com's Certification Program, we are seeking to provide additional valuable infrastructure for mediation industry growth.

In sum, we think that our acting, even if imperfectly, is far better than our not acting. As our field endlessly tries to get certification "perfect," nothing will get done. Paper and pencil tests or skills evaluation options should continue to be explored, but these approaches are difficult to apply on a field wide basis. We are far more likely to have success with any such desired evaluation mechanisms in specific subject matter programs and in particular jurisdictions. Even in these narrower contexts, it is always worth asking "what is the incremental gain" of such evaluation programs, especially when they threaten all development on the qualifications front. Evaluation programs have huge challenges in terms of cost, access, relevance and validity, and that is just to get started. I will repeat: As a general concept, informed disputants can protect themselves in mediation. Going to extra-ordinary lengths to "evaluate" mediators by tests creates so many challenges that it simply does not get done, and so our field has been frozen on these issues. In the case of Mediate.com, we see diminishing returns to paper and pencil or alleged skills evaluation. We would rather act and act now in ways that we have confidence will be of benefit, are sustainable and that can be steadily improved as we move forward.

The Mediate.com Certification Program remains a work in progress. Most mportantly, we believe that we have established a solid business foundation (and traffic base) that bodes well for the sustainability of the program. The sustainability of the Mediate.com Program is an advantage for the long term growth and expansion of the mediation industry.

Full information on the Mediate.com Certification Program is at www.mediate.com/Certification

Biography


Jim Melamed co-founded Mediate.com in 1996 and has served as CEO of Mediate.com ever since.  Mediate.com received the American Bar Association's 2010 Institutional Problem Solver Award.

Before Mediate.com, Jim founded The Mediation Center in Eugene, Oregon in 1983 and served as Executive Director of the Academy of Family Mediators (AFM) from 1987 to 1993. Jim was also the first President and Executive Director of the Oregon Mediation Association (1985-86). Jim's undergraduate degree is in in psychology from Stanford University and his law degree is from the University of Oregon.Jim has received the following awards: The Oregon Mediation Association's 2003 Award for Excellence; The Oregon State Bar's 2006 Sidney Lezak Award of Excellence; The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) 2007 John Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award; and The 2012 Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) "Getting To Yes" Award.



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