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Mediate.com

Political Action for Mediation

by Tom Oswald
March 2006 Tom Oswald
Mediation needs a Political Action Committee (PAC). We need strong professional representation for our ‘industry’ among the decision makers in our government at all levels: federal; state; and municipal. We need to communicate what we can do to help elected officials, policy makers, and business leaders better achieve their objectives by using meditative conflict resolution techniques. We require a professional representative arm to distribute information, build relationships, and enhance understanding of what we can provide to increase the effectiveness and productivity of the public and private spheres.

This concept is all about professional outreach.

This concept is all about professional outreach. Outreach to consumers in public and private positions who stand to benefit from understanding how they can effectively utilize the options and innovations mediation offers. If they don’t know about us, they can’t use us. The more they know about us, the more we will be used. Remember the public interest TV advertising series that has the tagline “The More You Know…” The more that is known about what we can do and how we do it, the greater the likelihood mediation will creatively be considered in approach to resolving their problems and situations. As an industry we need to get the ‘good word’ out to a broader range of potential consumers. I see it as part of our professional responsibility. Because conflict is common to all affairs of government, public policy, and business, the mediation process and the consequential win-win outcomes make it a ‘natural’ from many perspectives.

What would a Mediation PAC do and how would it do it?

What would a Mediation PAC do and how would it do it? Just the same sorts of professional outreach activities as would any other PAC representing groups of realtors, accountants, or therapists. We would build positive relationships with decision makers and gatekeepers, dispense helpful information to likely consumers, and show how our profession can be useful in pursuit of their individual sets of self interests. I am not proposing we take plays and strategy from Jack Abrahamoff’s playbook. Don’t allow your evaluation of this proposal to be tarnished by images of the scandalous “pay for play” Washington influence pedaling culture we are sadly hearing so much about lately. Professional industry representation can be performed with dignity, aplomb and gravitas just as it can be executed to unsavory extremes by corrupt ‘fixers’ and ‘rainmakers.’

A mediation PAC would provide professional representation with the objective of improving governmental and business affairs though the increased use of mediation. We would communicate with populations of elected and career decision makers and policy formulators in federal, state, and local governments, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). We also need to perform some measure of outreach directly to corporate and private enterprise entities. Why limit our efforts only to domestic US governmental units, NGOs, and other entities? We could also present to foreign governmental and corporate interests as well.

The mission would be to inform them how principles of mediation could be helpful to them.

The mission would be to inform them of how principles of mediation could be helpful to them. Talk with them, share information, earn their confidence, learn their needs, and propose solutions, or elements towards solutions, that would benefit them by using mediation. As they become better educated about what we can do, they will begin to come up with more applications for us. New applications which we would likely never be able to imagine from our perspective standing outside of their ‘crucibles’ of policy formulation.

Personally, I generally believe in the principles of enlightened self-interest and how most things in life are driven according to those rules. Nothing happens in this world unless it is connected, in one way or another, to the benefit of a set of interests. The parameters of that personal or organizational benefit can span the extremes of the spectrum from selfless altruism to selfish avarice. Accordingly, we need to ‘get out there’ and clearly communicate how mediation pragmatically and practically benefits our target groups. If we cannot formulate our appeal to suit their needs or interests we should respectfully not waste their time or ours.

An Outreach Campaign of Mediation Evangelism in three parts

The first example of what this outreach campaign might term ‘Mediation Evangelism’ stands in politics or public policy. This approach focuses on the interests of political leaders and is designed to spark their self interest in relation to our profession. We demonstrate to them a model for how high-profile and politically dangerous conflicts can be resolved directly by the stakeholders themselves in a collaborative manner. This would be very attractive to elected officials in some situations as it can resolve thorny problems, satisfying all concerned parties, in a way minimizing political risk and vulnerability. This would be win-win for all the stakeholders: the constituents; the officials; our culture in general; and certainly for our profession.

We already have successful examples of this model in mediated land use and water rights conflicts. We need only expand awareness of this model to other centers of conflict to expand our profession.

This example brings to mind a consideration we need to factor into an outreach campaign to both public and private prospective consumers. As mediation and collaborative decision making generally implies the abdication of authority for the outcome of a conflict onto the stakeholders, abdication of control of the outcome is also implied. Releasing that control of outcome may well be antithetical to the interests of the stakeholders of power and their opposition is to be expected. Regardless of this consideration, and similar others, there is a very appealing and interesting basket of valuable mediation benefits available for us to ‘take to market.’ We need to go out into the markets more aggressively and better organized than we have up to now and I propose we create a PAC to do that.

Mediation: It’s not just for family court any more

A second approach involves court mediation programs. This is an example of a terrific win-win use of mediation that has been only glacially gaining acceptance across the country. Courts and court administrators have been slow in their utilization of mediation despite how it is the single greatest cost saving and satisfaction boosting innovation a court can adopt. Personally I feel the reason for this is that there is a conflict present where the interests of a few stakeholders carry more weight in those decision structures than the interests of the users of the facilities or the financial sponsors. While I strongly believe in the abundant virtues of the adversarial justice system, there may be more situations far better served by alternatives to it, such as mediation, than are commonly considered or made available. It is important to note that as court mediation programs might expose more people to mediation than any other single use of mediation, it may deserve some special consideration of mediation advocacy.

Business: It’s all about the bottom line

A third market for a mediation evangelism approach is private enterprise. Long an environment of strictly autocratic conflict resolution and management, business has been slowly getting on board with collaborative conflict resolution within its structures. Not because it may appear to be a kinder and gentler means of resolving and managing conflicts, but purely because mediated resolutions to conflicts are vastly more economical and effective than any other method. As it is the most effective and economical approach business is moving towards it more and more for an ever broadening array of situations. It simply makes good sense for their bottom line. We need to get in front of more business leaders and gatekeepers and make this case more often and with more meaningful illustrations. It is, to a certain degree, a numbers game but concerns of quality are also extremely important.

When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Remember how when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Innovative utilization of mediation will expand as we work to build awareness about it. This is one of the chief objectives of a mediation PAC: to enthusiastically and rather evangelically spread information and awareness about ‘the good news’ that mediation has to offer. When we aggressively seek to get this mediation ‘tool’ into the hands of more and more decision makers, we will expand the use of our practitioners and make a vastly more substantial contribution to the fabric of our world.

Over the last several months, my informal polling of a few national mediation leaders and educators about the concept of a PAC for mediation provided uniform positive results. Initial feedback was characterized by the following responses: “GREAT IDEA!;” “why don’t we have that already;” and “we really need something like that.”

Here’s a recap of this proposal. Let’s form a well organized and highly effective PAC to serve as an outreach mechanism to represent our professional interests to policy formulators and decision makers in the public and private spheres. Let’s set about on a campaign to educate and inform these target populations about how the principles of mediation in general can help them achieve increased levels of success and produce overall improved results.

Now, let’s collaborate: you talk to me. Take 2 minutes and send me a few words of your feedback right now. Click on the link below. Let me know how you feel abut this idea, warts and all. Let’s follow this idea up and see where it goes. There are many, many people in this world whose lives could be improved today by mediation so let’s get busy!

Biography


Tom Oswald is a civil/commercial mediator and conflict consultant from Boston. He practices both domestically and internationally and has been employed as a civil case court mediator.  Professional publishing includes editing the Commercial Section for Mediate.com, several pieces in various Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) publications, and others. He has held national professional leadership positions in his field including 2 years service as Co-Chair of the ACR Commercial Section and previously as Vice President of the Mediation Association of Northern Ohio.



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Website: www.mediationtransformation.com

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