This is too grand a title for a brief blog entry, but I want to capture a question that has come up in a number of blogs in the ADR blogosphere, relating to this diversity and to the question of standards (especially standards of entry to the hallowed halls of professional mediator status).
Had I been diligent about this blog, I would also have taken the laptop or netbook with me to Ho Chi Minh City last weekend – but was saved from that obligation by (i) a preference not to risk the Mac and (ii) the fact that the power unit on the netbook had failed and (iii) a preference to be disconnected for a few days! But there’s more to be said another time about some of the more obvious things we might note in the varieties of mediation when we venture across the borders. I’m reminded also of a friend and colleague who went to Cambodia a few years back to assist in mediation training only to find that it was necessary to spend some time at the outset finding a word in Khmer that equated with mediation – and the closest that could be found was the word that described the role of the person who acted as go-between in the marriage arrangement business.
Discussions of standards typically lead us in the direction of the recognition of those who have been mediating for far longer than the ‘field’ has been in existence, but whose qualifications might not pass muster as they haven’t been certified by a provider or university or other agency. There’s no easy pass on this question.
But the other question that comes up – and did so again in a conversation here in Singapore – is less about the established mediator who now might not qualify, than about the qualities that a mediator is expected to have and display when working in some contexts. All the more so when the expectation of standards is a degree of universality and transferability. The issue is this (again, as it has come up before in this blog): if our expectations of mediator competence relate principally to process and intervention skills, what it the position when – as here – the mediator is expected to provide substantive guidance and suggestions; and a merely facilitative mediator (albeit highly competent on conventional criteria) would not be seen as competent or even useful by the parties. After all, in Singapore and perhaps even more so in neighbouring states, the expectation is that the mediator is a more active party in the search for solutions.
In the context is which this question arises – in commercial and financial mediation – the issue is in large part addressed by ensuring that mediators are, like arbitrators, subject specialists and not (merely) process specialists. Thus the mediator can and does provide specific guidance and direction towards outcomes.
This is probably nothing new to the more evaluative mediators [see http://www.mediate.com/articles/zumeta.cfm] – even though it may remain the case that evaluative mediators are more likely to be Devil’s advocates than the model I’m thinking of here.
So, the question: if we’re looking at international standards, how will they accommodate the quite different expectations that parties have of the ‘competence’ of a mediator, where those expectations are culturally shaped, especially in the context of more hierarchical societies in which, if fact, the mediator is a person whose competence might well be measured in terms of his or her authoritative actions?