Mediate.com Announces Mediator Certification Program: An OO Editorial Review

21 May 2009

This week Mediate.com announced their new Mediator Certificate Program.  I quickly redirected all of my early morning mouse clicking over to the web site for a “review” in hopes of reading something truly innovative and inspiring.  What I’ve discovered is “not bad”, but not fully developed and integrated either in terms of the “total practitioner” wholistic (sp) model that’s needed.  For me, personally, this is yet another organization telling me “you don’t qualify for our club”, but that’s okay with me.  Here’s why.

First, on the announcement page for the program, Mediate.com really got something “right” and that is a focus on the “consumer” of mediation services; and the goal of empowering them with information so as to be able to select a mediator that suits them and their needs.  This is very good, progressive, especially in contrast to other organizations that for decades have “dictated” what a consumer needs and how they should give up control over their own “destiny” and leave it to “experts” in the law.

Next, and not so good, is the program borrows too much, clones itself directly, from the Association for Conflict Resolution.  The MCP (Mediation Certification Program) provides a “mirrored view” of the ACR Model Standards of Conduct in their own Values and Principles AND  MCP openly states they adopted core educational and experience standards from the ACR Task Force.  Where did ACR get their “guidelines”?  The ACR Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators was adopted from the American Bar Associations resolution on Dispute Resolution.  Does this all sound familiar to you?  It should, the International Ombudsman Association “took” the same guidelines and made them the defacto standard for IOA standards and practices at the same time, way back about 1995.  Wouldn’t one think that after a decade and a half and a third iteration or “generation” of opportunity to change, something “satisfactory” for ALL practitioners of mediation and other forms of ADR would result?  Clearly Mediate.com intended this, but have they achieved it?

By example, the MCP announcement page speaks to many “troubling” issues that they’ve observed “recently” about how the courts have “adulterated” the meaning and intent of mediation.  Recently, all in 2009, my own conversations on the telephone with “peers” and members of various associations and certifying bodies have recognized that “you can’t tell the difference between mediation and arbitration” anymore.  Gee, I wonder why that is?  Why did Mediate.com adopt and invite the very “infrastructure” for the new MCP so as to continue the status quo?  Will they next seek a “direct blessing” in some way shape or form, another resolution perhaps, from the ABA?  I hope  not.  There is here the opportunity to truly “differentiate” mediation from arbitration, mediation from legal mediation, but what’s needed is a totally “consumer centric” definition and model that reflects that difference… and MCP does not have that yet.  They need to distance themselves from any ABA approved practices first.  It’s not too late.

On the same announcement page Meditate.com states that “there is no national mediation association” and I just can’t resist, again, to point out that the ACR along with the ABA blessings and proprietary web content on their site, positions themselves as the “national mediation association of choice”.  Again, another association in a strategic alliance with a legal association “declaring themselves” the authority on mediation for all the land.  I know that a lot of fine people, practitioners from parallel fields are purposefully excluded as a result and there is no attempt to be “inclusive” when it comes to “other” education and experience.  This is, to me, very “conflicting” and says “we are aligning” with previous models and organizations, but we “reject” them as a “national mediation association” even though they “declare” superiority.

Next, some more “good stuff”, well, almost.  On the Mediation.com Certification Program Values and Principles page you’ll also find the “program charter” so to speak, with a concise and detailed outline of great core elements that are well intended and in the end provide for a “quality technician” certification.  The “bar” is intended to be very high and certification is “weighted” towards years of “vertical industry” technical mediation and arbitration experience.  No testing or other educational formalities are administered or “regulated” by the MCP.  By default, anyone that has been in the legal field as a career will easily qualify… anyone NOT in the legal field will NEVER qualify for this certificate without 5 years of “reorientation”.  I’ve written about this “certification” strategy in other posts on this blog (The Gordian Knot) and the current situation is no different here.  My background is in corporate, business and organizational development with an educational foundation in social and behavioral sciences and an undergrad degree concentration in organizational, social and behavioral psychology.  My very first “job” was as a “change management coach” dealing with internal and external conflict between individuals, external “threats” and internal “quibbling’ without end.  I paid my dues.  I have continued this role “informally” for over 2 decades as a “skill” towards successful completion and favorable economic outcome of programs and projects I am directly involved with.  My own methods many times are truly “informal” and incognito where I can get the “participants” to the table where they have something in common to share… like a nice Belgian Ale.  Then go into a meeting in the morning to get consensus on the “conflicts” that are impeding the mutually desired goal.  Additionally, my most recent certification for 2009 is not in mediation, but in “leadership and influence” where the focus is on “soft skills”, leading “from the middle” and recognizing ones “personality characteristics, qualities and integrity” towards completion of goals within groups formed for completion of short term objectives.  This IS conflict management indeed.  I scored 100% on my test and received a “top evaluation” in “role play”.  I mention this why?  Well, more than ever, today, “consumers” are like Diogenes of Sinope, wandering the halls of city hall “looking for an honest man (woman)” if they could but find one.  While all programs and certifications speak to “technical skill” to process and communicate about “controversy” (the new MCP term for “dispute”), there should be some weight taken off of outward “conduct” of a practitioner and put on internal  “character and integrity” of the practicing individual.  This is where the future is heading… if you don’t believe me, just watch the news concerning the backlash from the “masses” versus any secular or religious authority on questions of financial misconduct on Wall Street or pedophile behaviors from local clergy.

On the “disclosure” section for MCP qualifying you simply cannot have been convicted of crime or had a “negative” result in disciplinary action.  I revert back once again to Diogenes and Luke 4:23 “physician heal thyself”.  By this I mean, be honest with yourself, unlike the American Airlines pilot who, this morning, was removed from a cockpit because he was drunk for a morning departure.  If any practitioner of mediation can’t “practice what they preach” from an “upright personal standard of conduct” and self evaluation regarding dysfunctional and harmful habits, they should also not “bring that to the table” with clients.  In my background, experience and education, I’ve been required, several times, to go through “didactic” self evaluation with a facilitator, therapist, counselor so as to be “clear” about who and what I am so as not to bring personal discrimination into the “mix” in any form of “helping practice”.  There is no “certificate” for this, just the ongoing self improvement and other “benefits”.  Do any associations or certifications even advocate this?  Is it needed?  No, I’m not saying “we” monitor others, I’m saying “improve yourself” so as to have the character and integrity our profession and clients expect of us all.  Our profession is the “last chance” after many people have sought “justice” from some “authority”, they wonder who or if they can trust someone; and so more than the letter of the law and being technically proficient, though important, we MUST be the of the best character and integrity possible.  Specifically, this is not about “business level conflict of interest” rather  I’m advocating that hidden personal experiences, feelings and beliefs that may “color or filter” your mediation work, that if you can “explore it” and “recognize it” then it will benefit you and your “consumer” towards the higher quality “unbiased” solution they are seeking.  I’m also saying consumers have come to understand that traditional professions are tainted by a few individuals, not all, that don’t have their “best interest at heart”.

To wrap up, here’s another “club”, well intended, but “vertically inclusive” of the predominant legal profession as the Holy Grail for resolving conflicts.  It is though, in a “conflicted” position regarding the ethical and philosophical infrastructure used as the model for a new professional certification program in its attempt to differentiate mediation from legal mediation where confusion with the consumer already exists.  I’ll continue to “do what I do” and my “credentials” are always available to my prospective clients.  For clients who seek legal mediation and unconciously find themselves asking for a more “traditional” conflict resolution process, I won’t make the grade and I won’t hesitate to refer them to another source.  On the other side of the emerging paradigm though, where there is the belief that disputes can be resolved informally and they want “integrity” above “financial gain and punishment”, and that non-polarized structures and procedures can result in “peace building”… there are those of “us” that offer something different.  Please join us…


Mediation & Mentoring Technology

9 May 2009

By definition any mediation or mentoring over the Internet between individuals, groups, teams or organizations for purposes of exchanging and supporting products or services is a form of e-Commerce.  This topic alone could have a blog of its own, but here I will provide some concise input on uses and guidance regarding practices including the ever evolving Internet lexicon associated with this topic.

In terms of ethical application ombuds must take care in terms of the types of technology they use in alignment with the ethics and standards of our “best practice” versus the open Internet and evolving social media.  By example, I do participate with an on-line group with members from all over the world.  Everyone calls into a VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) e-Conference “room”.  One of the topics during discussion was “how to use Twitter” in conflict management.  Me, being me, I absolved myself from the conversation with one exception; a statement I made that “Twitter broadcasts ‘conversations’ globally and anyone can ‘join’ in and so where is the ‘confidential’ practice using this social media platform?”  Currently, this is the immediate “danger” with technology and various levels of open source to encrypted data exchanges.  I think that “social media” platforms like Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and LinkedIn, to name a few, are good for marketing, promoting and making contacts, but have absolutely no place in the mediation or mentoring function.

Some of the generic types of technology to fulfill e-mediation and e-mentoring  functions I use or recommend are:

  • e-Payment: the most popular payment system is PayPal to send funds, request funds, create simple payment pages on a web site or simply invoice using an e-mail address.  Once you have negotiated your fee(s) schedule then make sure your e-mail address and business banking are “linked” and certified to your PayPal account and send the invoice to your clients e-mail address.  Clients then have the option to pay by credit card, EFT or PayPal funds.  If you bank on-line with any major national or regionally chartered bank you can also receive funds by EFT (electronic funds transaction) or increasingly anyone can get an e-Check sent to them.  Check with your bank for procedures.  These types of  payments by e-mail and electronic banking are just as if they were buying off Amazon.com
  • VoIP Communications: Voice Over Internet Protocol enables one very key function important to e-mediation and e-mentoring and that is you can install a “soft phone”.  A soft phone is a software telephone application, that when installed on your notebook/laptop computer, enables hands free conferencing by telephone over the Internet.  So if you are on the road, at home, in your office or anywhere you have “cellular telephone” access, you can “talk by phone” to anyone.  Use the laptop/notebook speakers and microphone to gather a group or team around to “conference”.  There are many companies, Vonage is well known, but there are many “open source” VoIP phone companies now and they offer soft phones free with the service.  Additionally, VoIP enables me to have my office phone, soft phone, cell phone and e-voice mail all accept a call “concurrently” or “follows me” from office to soft phone to cell in sequence until the call is answered or drops into e-voice mail, you set the “ring duration” in seconds or minutes.  I have no secretary and am a one person office, so I need this constantly or you lose business.  Often, my computer, cell and land-line all ring together when I’m at my desk.  If I don’t take the call, it goes to e-voice mail and shows up in my personal e-mail inbox as a WAV sound file that can be saved to a client folder if needed for future reference.
  • Audio Recording: the soft phone installed on a computer with VoIP technology enables recording of “what you hear” menu selection for most audio recording tools.  I have a Creative 24bit sound card and it comes with “recording” tools, which enables me to record conversations taken by answering my “soft phone”.  I have had people not want to write out a statement, but are willing to “talk it out” and so get permission to record their statement, which they have always given in my experience.  Alternatively you can go to Radio Shack and tell them you want to get an “analog” tape recorder to attach to your office phone to record conversations and they will show you what they have and how to use it.  I have both, but have not had to do an analog set up in years now.
  • Wireless G & Wireless N: to enable your notebook or laptop to “talk” over the Internet, access web sites, send e-mail, chat and other communications you need Wireless 802.11g and/or 802.11n built into your newer Vista OS computers or PC card enabled older operating systems.  The newer the better as data rate transmission performance for Wireless N is now the same as cable or DSL Internet access that you have on home networks.  You can get “burst” speeds during low traffic times of up to 110 Mbits or “down speed” to your computer.  All of the cell phone companies have “contracts” by the month available to enable mobile computers with built in network cards, just sign up and “install” it.
  • WEB 2.0: for teams working together on projects that need to share and update information for purposes of collaboration and “division of labor” tasking the new generation of WEB 2.0 web based applications is very good.  I do NOT use this with clients, but will often set up an “account” on any one of a variety of application providers to collaborate with my team.  You should be VERY comfortable with working over the Internet and understand the “nuances” of web based applications in order to actually get work done in this “environment”.  I have had circumstances where “not everyone” was comfortable.  Slow Internet connections will make work frustrating is one key factor I’ve discovered.  I use MS Live for short term projects.  Everyone needs a MS Live ID to participate, which is simply getting a you@live.com e-mail address or “linking” an existing e-mail address to your Live ID account; and it even works with Gmail in this scenario.  Once you have your Live account, load the home page and go to the top menu bar and pull down the menus for features such as SkyDrive (5GB storage), Groups  (discussion area, calendar, team roster) and Spaces (Personal or team web site).  This is ideal for university study groups.  The next serious step up from this is MS Live Office, which I use for my OO Web site and it comes with all of the WEB 2.0 bells and whistles if you need it.  I have not used all the features, but it’s been “tested” and is ready.  MS will NOT work “cross platform”, by this I mean MACs need not apply.  Instead, Acrobat.com is a new cross platform enabled secure and collaborative environment.  It’s free right now and in BETA, but you can video conference, chat, upload and share documents and “administer” document sharing rights linked to your team members e-mail.  There is no separate ID to get, very simple, clean and straightforward, though I’ve not tried it myself yet.  These two systems are 256bit encrypted for security, but do reside on servers in the open Internet environment globally.  They both allow Gigabits of storage for audio testimony files, video files, word docs, PDFs too and most anything that you can create using an application resulting in a file.  Finally there is Google Docs on-line file storage to share files and view them virtually and make changes to the uploaded version during team collaboration.  Combine this with a Google Group or SIG (special interest group) that is passworded and you have another WEB 2.0 environment to work in.  I use it now with one group and have used it once for a project some years back and it’s “okay”.
  • P2P Networks: My favorite application for Peer To Peer networking with clients and team members is TeamViewer4 and best of all it is MAC and PC cross platform compatible (MAC OS 10.x and MS Vista/XP).  This is a 256bit encrypted and proprietary virtual network interface over the Internet that enables ANY SIZE file sending and receiving, chat, remote presentations (powerpoint) AND if you leave your home computer on in “server mode” you can access your home based PC from any computer anywhere in the world to access that “forgotten document” that didn’t get onto your notebook for instance.  If you have produced video statements that are hours long and 100s of MB in size, this application moves them effortlessly and you can retrieve them if someone on the team forgets them for a conference or seminar.  I initiate a “client” invitation on TeamViewer4 when a client has a file larger than 10MB (default e-mail attachment limit for ISPs) to give me for a case or project.  There’s a free version of TeamViewer4 that enables one P2P connection at a time, or you can buy the business license for 3 simultaneous connections at once.  You can also “brand” the “client” window for clients to see your logo and banner for your company.  One last function of TeamViewer4 is it lets you “record” the P2P collaboration session.  This is handy when presenting documents and getting “acknowledgement” from participants that they have read, reviewed and understand what they are “seeing and reading”.  TV4 is one handy application with other capabilities not discussed here.
  • Blogs: just a quick word on blogs.  WordPress is set up to enable password access to the whole blog or “tabs” of a blog and you can keep it private and away from search engine “crawlers” and indexing.  This is a simple environment that I’ve seen set up for small teams to work cross platform with a focus on lots of content providing, such as writers of all types, technical, books, print media, etc.  There is a “book” configuration for private publishing of case findings, journals or research.
  • Chat & IM: On “open source” Chat and Instant Messaging, as provided by Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and many others is also “dangerous” and should not be used for transmitting files, sharing information or having “conversations” about any confidential information.  The TeamViewerer4 chat function is fully encrypted and secure and only between “peers”.
  • Video Broadcasting: I have not used or had a request for video broadcasting, but some time back I used Yahoo Video Broadcast services in a “focus group” and “mock jury” situation to resolve and mediate out of court.  Currently, the best technology and very easy to use is USTREAM.TV.  You can set up and embed a live video stream from your notebook computer linked to your blog or web site where the “player” has a proprietary web address or URL and you “invite” open access by e-mailing the URL or hyperlink or you can have passworded access to view the live stream by providing the password to unlock the URL access.  You need a video camera connected to your USB port on your notebook and a “studio” set up with good lighting and professional seating.  Mediation’s can be watched “remotely” from anywhere and mentoring can be done by “recording” the video stream using included “tools” and then use the session for discussion at a later time.  USTREAM has a private CHAT function where the moderator or mediator can take question from the Internet audience globally.  This provides state of the art Internet collaboration and very responsive “learning” environments.  I’ve not used this yet, but have tested it and it’s very easy to use and set up.

To sum up, I most often use my Vonage VoIP with e-mail and then TeamViewer4 for large document transfers and “private chat” in a virtual proprietary connect that is “tunneled” and not “open” on the Internet.  I “virtually” get paid by PayPal from all clients using MasterCard and VISA after sending an invoice.  For a secure and passworded virtual “team office” I use MS Live when the team can post comments to the main blog, upload files for sharing during the coarse of the project.

This overview is just the tip of the capability and capacity of the technology as discussed.  Many features were not discussed here and “tactics” for utilization left out.  There is  no “fully integrated” application, but no doubt, some company like Adobe will move in this direction in the future.  Always, please, keep in mind the privacy and ethics we must comply with when using technology and be sure to select and use technologies that enable “secure” and private interactions.


Ombudsman ADR: e-Mediation and e-Mentoring

3 May 2009

Recently I was contacted via email by a university student enrolled in a Negotiations Program at a prominent “east coast” school.  Her current “team” assignment was to develop a Conflict Resolution solution in the form of an agreement for a “community in conflict” case study.  She had discovered my blog and web site while researching on-line and just decided to give a call after reading all the articles and content.  The single thing that prompted her call was that my content states that OO uses “on-line” engagement methods, so she too thought we could work together in her study group.   At my suggestion, after getting an emailed copy of the case, I “accepted” my role and was invited  into a conference call with the study group to be a Community Ombudsman between all parties and groups.  This added the real dimension of “independent and impartial” as it would have been difficult for anyone in their study group to “act” the role since they all are associated already.  Each member of their team then took a role to “act out” or do “role play” based on a complex case study where multiple elements of racial discrimination, violations of personal and property rights and “us versus them” verbal tensions were building due to poor communications and poverty issues.  I had them “act out” the catalytic moment to start the e-mentoring phase, put “feeling” into the context of the case and to demonstrate the “surfacing of deeper community tensions” between the three established community groups.  This was very interesting and set the stage for “real” problem solving to now get done.

I learned a lot working with the “20 something” college group during this e-mentoring and e-mediation session.  I didn’t let them stop until every “point of conflict” was “self identified” and “self directed” as presented from my analysis of the case.  Deeper discussion on how to formulate and weave more than a half dozen complex issues into a “Terms of Agreement” followed resulting in a solution for the current issue while providing a new “community group” to handle future incidences as needed.  To some degree, “forcing” them to look at issues and take the “time” to do it raised tensions in the members of the group and thus added an additional degree of reality.  Several times, by me “hearing” and verbalizing their “stress” and impatience back to them, this  seemed to help them realize what confronting conflict is “really” like and perhaps a level of sensitivity in their future profession also developed.  I was reminded of fundamental requirements that were brought out by each “player” as they attempted to resolve their conflict and in a way that they could “hear it in action”.  Their individual perspective and level of awareness is something I don’t often get the chance to “engage” with.  I would not only provide input in moment to help move towards resolving the conflict, but also, for my first time, actually “training by example” in my role as Community Ombudsman.  We would stop on each point and discuss it by “mirroring” interactions existentially, then verbally and then through vicarious actions until each individual came to understand “symptomatic” behavior versus “root causes” of conflict.  I had fun providing this insight and we all ended up with a very comprehensive “consensus” regarding the initial incident and how to move forward and provide a “cell” of peace makers in a community as an ultimate solution and not just focus on a single incident.

One of the major hurdles and challenges for me was to help everyone to “get over” wanting “legal action” against the “other side” for the violations of law, rights and other issues.  Their overall “natural” approach was to negotiate from the start from a position of “who has done what wrong, to whom and how should they be punished”.  Defining ADR at the beginning was initially overlooked by me, but once understood the “sides” moved away from the “struggle” and towards the “goal”.

The thing I relish the most was that there was no continued focus on “legal requirements”, rather it was a process of more ethical, psychological, community oriented and socially responsible “points of negotiation” of which they eventually appreciated.  I like planting these new “seeds” for a different way to mediate conflict, Ombudsman ADR style and hopefully a new “generation” and type of Ombudsmen and conflict managers .  I really enjoyed not being “on the spot”, having fun and the opportunity to “play” outside of a real situation with real consequences… the pressure was off for sure.

I’ve been informed they’re  going to provide me a copy of their “agreement”… will I get a good grade too?  Fun…