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…