New and experienced mediators seem to have different but equally tough challenges to face.
Ask a new mediator, fresh from a basic mediation training, what he or she thinks about mediation, and what you are likely to hear is: mediation is wonderful, I can’t wait to start mediating, and become soon a full time mediator. Unfortunately, though, if new mediators don’t have the opportunity to mediate - or at least observe - enough cases in the first 3-6 months after their training, their interest for mediation begins to wane.
By the same token, ask an experienced mediator what he or she thinks of some new and innovative mediation approaches -- like transformative or narrative mediation. You are likely to hear something like: On paper those methods sound interesting… but do they really work? And, more importantly, could they ever work in my practice? As a result, as soon as experienced mediators find that their preferred method and techniques seem to work sufficiently well, their interest to keep learning about mediation also begins to wane.
If both situations sound familiar, now you know why in November 2011 our Association for Conflict Resolution - Hawaii Chapter – www.acrhawaii.com - decided to launch a new pilot project, called Virtual Mediation Lab.
1. Goal of the Project
The goal of our pilot project is to show how mediators around the world can practice and improve their mediation skills by participating – with other mediators – in online simulations via Skype.
2. How It Works
As shown and demonstrated in a 2-min video posted on our website http://www.virtualmediationlab.com each simulation consists of 4 steps:
- Mediation (60 minutes) with joint and private sessions.
- Debrief (15-30 minutes). All participants discuss with the coach: What happened? What did we learn? Which decisions did the mediator make? Which techniques did he or she use? And, most importantly, did they work -- from the parties’ perspective?
- Participants receive a private video recording of the entire simulation.
- Participants fill in an online exit survey with their feedback, comments and suggestions for future simulations.
3. Simulations via Skype – Across Different Cities, States, and Countries
From here in Hawaii, we have already run 10 simulations in Italy (on the other side of the world), with mediators who live in different cities -- see map http://bit.ly/xMkggH So far, the results are very encouraging.
As indicated above, at the end of each simulation all mediators/participants grade the usefulness of that simulation – from 1 (it was a waste of time) to 10 (it was a very useful experience). Their average grade is currently 9.5.
4. Simulating Different Cases
We simulate commercial, family, workplace, and international cases.
5. Applying Different Mediation Methods
Since most mediators are familiar with only one mediation method, we will use our Virtual Mediation Lab to simulate cases in which, without prior knowledge of the parties, the mediator may use a different method. That way, the mediators who participate in our pilot project will be able to experience a variety of mediation methods (e.g. evaluative, facilitative, transformative or narrative) - and understand better their key differences.
6. Two Different Settings
Our online simulations work in two settings.
- Simulations with the participation of 3 mediators – they could be anywhere in the world, as long as they have Skype and are available online at the same time.
- Simulations in which all participants (e.g. one mediator or two comediators, two or more parties and their attorneys) sit physically together around the mediation table. This setting, which can be particularly useful to mediation training companies and mediation associations, requires only one PC (with an external webcam pointed at the mediation table) and one microphone on the table.
7 . Simulations Now Available Across the USA and Around the World
After the encouraging results of our simulations in Italy, we now welcome the participation of a limited number of mediators across the USA and around the world. All they need is:
- PC or Mac with the latest version of Skype
- Having attended a basic mediation training
- Being available for our simulations, which start at 1:00pm Hawaii Time and last approx. 90 minutes
To sign up, they can fill in an online registration form.
8. Outcome of Our Pilot Project
Once we run 50 simulations around the world, our pilot project Virtual Mediation Lab will be considered completed. ACR Hawaii will then offer a workshop in Honolulu later this year to present its results and discuss the following points:
- What did we learn? Summary and analysis of the feedback, comments, and suggestions received from the mediators who participated in the project.
- Skype for online mediation skills development and online mediation in general. Is it reliable and easy to use? What’s missing?
- Which critical factors should a mediation association or training company consider to set up and run successfully a program like this?