Mediate.com CEO responds to questions about new Mediator Certification Program

questions for Mediate.com CEO Jim MelamedThe following interview is reprinted with permission from the Mediate.com web site, with thanks to Mediate.com CEO Jim Melamed. No enhanced interrogation methods were used in the making of this interview. Please feel free to add your comments at the end of this post.

Mediate.com Certification Program: A Grilling of Mediate.com CEO Jim Melamed

Three of the mediation world’s leading bloggers, Diane Levin, Geoff Sharp and Victoria Pynchon, not necessarily great fans of mediator certification, interviewed (think “grilled”) Mediate.com CEO, Jim Melamed, on the new Mediate.com Certification Program. Here is the interview:

Question: How will Mediate.com’s certification program work?

The Mediate.com certification program allows interested mediators to have their training, experience and professional information reviewed to see if they meet the stated Mediate.com certification standards. A critical component of the Mediate.com program is that we require all this submitted information to be transparently provided to the public. So, we don’t just review the qualifying information, we make everything we review publicly available. Needless to say, confidential information is neither requested nor disclosed.

Question: What are the benefits for the public? For the profession?

The primary benefits to the public include motivating mediators to provide comprehensive information conveniently online; having this information systematically presented to the largest possible audience; and Mediate.com offering the value-add service of taking a close look at the mediator’s provided information to ensure that it is comprehensive, congruent and satisfies the stated certification standards. Presumably, the Mediate.com Certification Program will be one of a number of factors helping people to make mediator selection decisions. For good reason, this program will elevate the confidence of many mediator selection decisions.

Still, let’s be clear, one does not need to be a Mediate.com Certified Mediator to mediate. For example, we have over 3,000 mediators in our directory and only about 500 are seemingly qualified or even apply for Mediate.com Certification. We believe in all cases that the right mediator for a particular situation is the one that participants want.

The benefits to the profession are: making it abundantly clear what it is that distinguishes mediation and insisting on these qualities; elevating standards for mediator information disclosure; providing a path for mediator development not based upon profession of origin nor advanced degrees; and, in the Internet age, satisfying consumer expectations in terms of transparency and disclosure. Mediate.com seeks to respond to these elevated information expectations.

Question: On what basis does the proposed certification rest?

Perhaps the greatest rationale for Mediate.com acting is that we believe acting is better than not acting.

For decades, the mediation field has, as a matter of policy, committed itself to “skills based assessment” and, later, to a “paper and pencil test,” none of which has yet been effectively developed or implemented. This is in spite of nearly two decades and millions of dollars of grant money being applied to these issues. The cost of this development and deployment of a true skills-based system would be enormous, if possible at all (we really do not know what makes an effective mediator in each practice area); so costly by my estimate that it is simply not going to happen, at least not for “all mediation,” over the next years.

The world of mediation is also breaking into niche mediation industries, each with its own culture and practice expectations. This is both good and challenging from a quality assurance perspective. For example, the behavior and skills that will be effective for a commercial mediator in a law firm conference room may be very different from the behavior and skills that will be effective in resolving a gang dispute, custody battle or workplace departmental battle. Still, we also simultaneously think that there is something to say for a system that brings all mediation and mediators together, if only to protect the good name of “mediation.”

We are thus emphasizing these qualities to the consuming public:
• Participation in mediation negotiations is voluntary
• Participants have complete decision-making power
• The mediator is to be impartial between the participants
• Mediation communications are confidential unless understood otherwise
• Mediation allows for optimized solutions
• Mediation does not preclude any other process
• If participants do not reach agreement in mediation, their legal rights should not be prejudiced.

Now, to some, all of this is “obvious.” And we say, “of course.” But I will suggest that many state and federal agencies and court systems do not necessarily see things this way. They are far more interested in disputes being resolved and dockets cleared than in protecting the mediation process or in empowering participants to be at their best.

The world has also changed. Importantly, the Internet is now available as a source for the immediate delivery of unlimited information and comprehensive disclosure. In the context of empowering consumers and participants to “self-determine,” we think it is worthwhile to reward (with our mediation certification) those mediators that demonstrate substantial training, experience, clear commitment, and comprehensive information disclosure and transparency.

Question: What qualifications, standards, and/or objective criteria will certification be premised upon?

First, let me again emphasize that certification is completely voluntary. Mediate.com is not saying that any mediator needs to be certified. We believe that the right mediator is the one the participants want. So, we are certainly not precluding anyone from mediating.

As to the adopted training and experience standards, these have now been in place at Mediate.com for a number of years for self-evaluation as a “Senior Mediator” in our Qualifications Disclosure Program. In fact, these standards were originally adopted as an outgrowth of the work of the ACR Task Force on Certification. The ACR Task Force gave up, if only for practical reasons, on SPIDR’s previous commitment to a skills-based assessment. Despite the ACR Task Force’s commitment to a paper and pencil test in 2004, none has been developed nor implemented to date.
The concepts of skills-based or paper and pencil testing sounds great in the abstract. It is more challenging when, in this testing context, one needs to ask what specifically makes for an effective mediator, and how can we measure this in a valid and reliable way? Further, assuming you can somehow come up with this desired knowledge and skill base and all evaluation mechanisms, you would then need to identify the specific curriculum a mediator applicant would need to take to be best prepare to pass the test. And then one would need to approve those training programs. It all becomes rather endless and nothing happens.

And so, I suppose, the ultimate credibility of the Mediate.com standards comes from: 1) The ACR Task Force on Certification having reached essentially the same conclusions (except for the paper and pencil test); and 2) The elevated Mediate.com standard being better than either no standard or existent 30 or 40 hour (low) standards that too commonly exist. As imperfect as the Mediate.com’s program is, we believe that it is a step in the right direction and that it is what can be reasonably accomplished today.

Question: So, are experience and training a proxy for skill and ability?

Because of the difficulties raised above in measuring true skill-based competency (especially on an across-the-board mediation basis), I would say yes, extensive training and experience, including providing specific practice area case information, references, and all the other required disclosures are in fact a proxy. To some extent, this is appropriate (if only compared to reasonably available options). For example, when people ask me what I think mediation qualification standards should be, I sometimes half humorously respond: “You should need to mediate 10 cases and still want to mediate.” If we cannot reasonably measure competence per se, I would agree that elevated training and case experience, comprehensive disclosure, and perseverance may in fact be our best available proxy.

Question: How will Mediate.com’s Certification Program relate to emerging practice area, court, agency, and state mediator certification programs?

Mediate.com’s goal is to set reasonable standards for today available to the entire field of mediation. For those who find such accomplishment beneficial, this may well be a welcome means of establishing credibility and reputation. Surely, the Mediate.com program will not be the only certification program nor should it be. We welcome, expect and encourage the development of additional practice area, court, agency and state mediator certification programs. We suggest that these programs may also want to consider the 100 hour of training and 500 hours of casework standards, as these are based on the original ACR Certification Task Force Report and as a measure of consistency will likely assist both the public and the profession. In any event, this 100/500 standard is surely more appropriate than the current common 30 or 40 training requirements. We also think it important that judges, lawyers, and all other professionals understand that substantial mediation training and experience are necessary to be a most effective mediator and that simply being a silver-haired professional or retired judge is not enough.

Very specifically, I see the Mediate.com Certification Program rather easily integrating with the IMI certification program for commercial mediators (see http://www.imimediation.org) and, hopefully, with emerging divorce and workplace certification programs from ACR. Our hope is that Mediate.com’s efforts will serve as a catalyst further motivating such thoughtful development. Mediate.com literally requires our certified mediators to list all organizational affiliations (including other certifications) and we look forward to lending visibility to all meaningful efforts to elevate mediator performance.

Question: What kind of instrument or assessment will Mediate.com use?

The Certification Application is at this location: http://www.mediate.com/products/pg1128.cfm Additional guidance on the principles and values behind the assessment is available here: http://www.mediate.com/products/pg1129.cfm. What is critical to understand is that, whatever information Mediate.com reviews and considers for certification approval is the exact same information that will be transparently made available to the public. We will do our very best to treat applicants both as consistently and as flexibly as we can within the stated standards.

Question: Given that there are numerous (and often conflicting) models of practice, what will Mediate.com do to ensure that certification treats them all fairly and avoid privileging one over another?

Not only are there constantly changing and emerging models of practice, there are entire new mediation industries being hatched on an ongoing basis. For example, two years ago, few people thought of foreclosure mediation, or mass catastrophe mediation or marital mediation, yet each of these niches is now rapidly growing. Bottomline here: we are not even asking about models other than to confirm in all circumstances that the participants have complete decision-making power.

Question: What will Mediate.com do to ensure that the program advances and not hinders professional diversity?

This is one of the biggest problems with both the current system and contemplated skills-based assessment. Because of the uncertainties as to what indicates a competent mediator, the marketplace tends to turn to traditional indicators of professional competence, such as a law or some other advanced graduate degree. In fact, without other available valuable indicators, consumers and their advisers may select an attorney mediator based upon his or her reputation as a litigator or a retired judge who just came off the bench. These kind of “conservative” profession of origin selections make in extremely hard for minorities and young professionals to break into the mediation ranks.

At the other end of the spectrum, imagining that we could somehow develop a competent skills-based assessment, there is recognition by the ACR Task Force that the cost of face-to-face evaluation would be approximately $2000 per candidate. This was also found to have an undesirable impact on diversity and the development of minority professionals as mediators.

In sum, while one may criticize the Mediate.com Certification Program, I do not see a strong objection being that it favors any particular mediation model nor that it is overly discriminatory. In fact, we take great pride in the clear pathway we provide for mediators, over time, moving up the ladder to eventually become Mediate.com Certified as well as certified by other mediation practice area initiatives.

Question: What will the application process involve? What about fees?

Mediate.com is offering Certified Mediator Status to Premium Members of Mediate.com who Qualify as a “Senior” Mediator (see http://www.mediate.com/articles/review.cfm and http://www.mediate.com/articles/faq.cfm)

Mediators must provide and annually update complete practice information including: all degrees earned, professional background, mediation and professional credentials and affiliations, description of mediation training completed, description of mediation practice and approach, description of mediation costs and fees, specification of mediation case experience on a practice area basis, at least one recent picture, an indication of liability insurance or not, and maintaining an ongoing professional activities log of 12 hours of annual continuing education.

The Mediate.com Certified Mediator must also post links to three or more references prepared to vouch for his or her mediation work, or the Certified Mediator must indicate that references are promptly available upon request.

In terms of cost, one needs to be a Premium Member of Mediate.com to apply ($199/yr). Assuming this, there is a $150 certification application and first year fee. $50 is refunded if you are not approved. There will also be a $50/yr certification renewal fee.

Question: How will the program be administered? What kind of complaint and enforcement mechanisms do you propose to put real teeth into this certification program?

Applications will be acknowledged and responded to within 30 days of submission. This response will be an approval, disapproval, request for additional information, and/or a request for a phone interview with the Mediate.com CEO. Applications will initially be approved or rejected by the Mediate.com CEO. Applicants can apply for certification once per calendar year.

Applicants may make one Request for Reconsideration per application, which will first be considered by the Mediate.com CEO and then, if approval is still lacking, will be submitted to a 3 member committee of the Mediate.com Advisory Board. This committee may request additional information and/or request one or more phone interviews. Final action upon a Request for Reconsideration will be made within 60 days.

All complaints against Mediate.com Certified Mediators will be promptly investigated by Mediate.com. Certified Mediator status may be rescinded by Mediate.com for good cause.

One response to “Mediate.com CEO responds to questions about new Mediator Certification Program

  1. We think Mediate.com is moving in the right direction and we’re proud to be a member. However, the “continuing education” aspect may be impossible to develop without legislation that requires such ongoing coursework.

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