The Unique Value of Becoming IMI Certified

At first we hesitate to believe that a new thing can be done. Soon we see it can be done and hope it is.  When it is done, we wonder why it was not done long ago.    

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (1911)

A practical solution to a fundamental problem has arrived – a global online certification scheme to enable credible details on only the world’s most competent and experienced mediators to be searched on a single search engine.  What is going on and why?  

The Big Picture  

Almost everywhere virtually anyone can practice as a mediator – just as, sadly, anyone can call themselves a banker.  There is typically no initial educational requirement, no license to practice, no vetting of skills or continuing professional development and little real practice regulation.  How, then, are users able properly to determine competency?  

Mediation is, in relative terms, a small market.  Competition is intense. How do the players in the market effectively address the common issue of getting the field recognized as a true profession?  

Perhaps because mediation happens behind closed doors and in confidence, participants generally rarely disclose that they resolved a matter through mediation – even when they announce that they reached a settlement.  How, then, do those seeking a mediator ever get to know who mediated what, with what degree of success and how good the mediator was?    

The ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and ACR both convened task forces to address credentialing of mediators.  The inherent balkanization of mediation practice in the US rendered a uniform credentialing scheme unachievable.  

Few mediators have an insight into how many disputes fail to make it to mediation.  Some corporate counsel estimate that less than one in ten cases where mediation is proposed actually gets mediated.  

What causes 90% of cases not to get to mediation may be several factors.  But at their root is a patchy understanding of mediation by potential users, resulting in poor acceptance of, and confidence in, the process.  Mediation is a field that does not enjoy widespread recognition and respect except in isolated environments.  Kenneth Cloke has called mediation a mongrel profession.  Perhaps it could also be thought of as a vicarious profession – one that relies for its credibility and respect on whatever other professional status its practitioners might have.  Either way, to move ahead and to increase the volume of the tip of the dispute iceberg that actually do make it to mediation, practitioners must find ways for mediation to be seen as a credible, respectful and above all free-standing profession.  

Harold Wilensky, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of California at Berkeley, spelled it out in The Professionalization of Everyone? (1964): Any occupation wishing to exercise authority must find a technical basis for it, assert an exclusive jurisdiction, link both skill and jurisdiction to standards of training and convince the public that its services are uniquely trustworthy and tied to a set of professional norms. 

What is IMI?  

The IMI was established in 2007 to present mediators and provider organizations with a potential solution to that problem, one that they can pursue without great effort and cost, and apply to their individual and collective benefit, as well as for the advantage of users.  

IMI’s goals are to establish a uniform but adaptable vehicle for:  

  • High quality mediation training and practice standards
  • Certification as a hallmark of quality
  • Transparency via feedback
  • An open search engine for users to  find IMI Certified Mediators
  • Enhanced understanding of mediation by users
  • Growth in mediation acceptance and use.  

IMI is a non-profit foundation and a public benefit initiative conceived by several non-profit mediation institutions – the American Arbitration Association, the Netherlands Mediation Institute and the Singapore Mediation Centre and its sister the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.  IMI is located in the NGO building in The Hague.

IMI’s Board comprises nominees of each of those founding institutions plus several independent directors – Michael McIlwrath of General Electric Company (IMI’s 2009 Chair), Wolf von Kumberg of Northrop Grumman Corp (the 2008 Chair) and Michael Leathes, IMI’s executive director.   The role of the IMI Board is to provide general strategic guidance and to secure IMI’s financial viability from public and private benefactors.  IMI does not provide chargeable services and therefore does not earn income from mediations, referrals or training.  

The IMI Board does not devise the criteria by which the competency of mediators can be determined.  That is the task of the Independent Standards Commission (ISC), comprising 50 inspiring thought leaders representing all stakeholders in the mediation field from 24 countries in all continents.  The ISC is Chaired by Tommy Koh, Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore