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Hypothesis Generation & Testing

Mediation Facilitation as a Process of Successive Approximation

One way of thinking about your agreement mediative facilitation work is to imagine yourself working in a three dimensional forest with your goal being to assist the parties to find their "golden path" to their "pot of gold" (what they perceive to be their most constructive and fairest possible agreement.) This approach to mediation is strangely similar to the game of "Twenty Questions."

The way that you assist the parties to find the "golden path" and their "pot of gold" is through a process of "successive approximation." You successively approximate (steadily getting closer and closer) where their "path" and "pot" are. The way that you do this is by asking questions. Your questioning leads to ever-more-accurate hunches or hypotheses as to their perceived best solution. You begin with open-ended questions which lead to increasingly focused "hypothesis testing" questions. To set the stage for all this questioning, it is recommended that you also emphasize three key facilitative techniques: normalization; mutualization and strategic summarization.

Overview of Hypothesis Generation and Testing Style Facilitative Model: 

Strategic Summarization
Hypotheses Development
Hypotheses Testing
Revise Hypotheses
Test Revised Hypotheses
Confirmation and Integration

Strategic Summarization

In facilitating agreement, it is important to appreciate that the mediator does not reflect back all information from the parties as if it was all of equal value. Rather, the concept of strategic summarization is that the mediator reflects back only that information that is "useful" in assisting the parties to reach agreement. Further, the mediator reflects such useful information back in what the mediator perceives to be the most useful way possible. Thus, using this approach, the mediator lets all kinds of accusations, demands, and expressed emotions go right by (you may want to think of being a "teflon mediator") only reflecting back the bits and pieces that hold some prospect of actually assisting the parties to move forward to agreement.

Hypothesis Development

So hearing from the parties, and reflecting back for further definition that information that seems useful, the mediator comes to develop "hypotheses" both as to what type of resolution will satisfy each party and both parties. The mediator's evolving hypotheses about what it is going to take to get agreement are the result of identifying the parties' desired outcomes, their interests, their underlying positive intentions and the principles (standards, criteria and rationales) that make sense to them.

Hypotheses Testing

It is the mediator's evolving hypotheses that drive his or her questioning. Questions allow the mediator to test, revise and refine their hypotheses about what it is going to take to get agreement. The revised and refined hypotheses are then further tested until it seems that the "pot of gold" has been identified.

Confirmation and Integration

Under the mediation as successive approximation approach, the mediator helps the parties to identify their best possible (available) agreement. The mediator in this facilitative model seeks to identify what seems to be the maximized integration of the parties' desired outcomes, underlying interests, positive intentions and principles. This does not mean that all parties will choose to accept that apparently best available agreement. Whether there will be enough "gold" in the "pot" for each party to in fact commit themselves to agreement is an issue that is, appropriately, within the domain and control of each individual party. Under this approach, all the mediator can do is give the parties a best possible opportunity to agree by identifying an apparent maximizing agreement.

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