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 and a former dispute resolver at the World Trade Organization. For a full listing of ISC members, please see www.IMImediation.org.
The Mission of IMI
IMI is designed to enable. It is not a “peak” or superior body. Its role is simply to enable workable, transparent and high competency standards to be developed, to aid best practice sharing and to promote the understanding and use of mediation. With the exception of its logo, none of the material on IMI’s web portal is protected by IP rights, and is there to be used and adapted by the market without charge.
The IMI Certified Mediator Profile
IMI Certified mediators will be able to include their Profile on the IMI web portal where it will be searchable without cost by anyone seeking a competent and suitable mediator. The IMI search engine enables certain variables – location, language capabilities, mediation style and mediator practice areas – to be selected by searchers, for shortlists to be compiled, and for Profiles to be downloaded and compared.
IMI Certified Mediator Profiles are made up of 12 sections, six mandatory (to enable users to make fair comparisons) and six optional. The mandatory sections are contact details, main practice areas, experience outline, a mediation style statement, identification of governing code of conduct and applicable complaints process, name of professional indemnity insurance policy and amount of cover, and a Feedback Digest.
The Feedback Digest is a summary of feedback received from parties and their representatives. IMI Certified Mediators are asked to have this summary prepared by an independent source – a Reviewer. The role of the Reviewer is to receive completed feedback forms and turn them into a one-page digest that can then be incorporated into the Profile. The Reviewer may be an institution (for example, a provider or professional organization) or an independent person, such as a mediator, an attorney, an educator or a user. The credibility of the Feedback Digest is partly determined by the identity and standing of the Reviewer, so mediators need to select that organization or person with care. The Reviewer will be identified on the Feedback Digest. Reviewers can assist in other ways – not least in aiding continuing professional development tailored to the needs of the individual mediator.
IMI provides a Feedback Request Form that mediators can use, or they can use any similar form to seek feedback, for example one offered by a provider entity or a judicial mediation program.
IMI also offers a Code of Conduct and a complaints process. IMI Certified Mediators can select these, or suitable alternatives of providers, professional or regulatory bodies.
Examples of IMI Certified Mediator Profiles are given on the IMI web portal, along with a guide for completing them. See: www.IMImediation.org.
Becoming IMI Certified
The ISC is currently reviewing the details of the proposed criteria for becoming IMI Certified via independent competency assessment. These details are expected to be finalised by the ISC and published in or before June 2009.
In January 2009 IMI launched a scheme – the Experience Qualification Path (EQP) – to enable experienced practicing mediators to be IMI Certified without having to undergo an independent competency assessment. This window of opportunity lasts until June 30th 2009. To become IMI Certified under the EQP, mediators must determine that they qualify under one of three categories.
- Category 1 is for mediators who have already passed an experience-based mediator competency assessment approved by the ISC. They are listed on the IMI portal.
- Category 2 is for mediators who are members of a provider panel that the ISC has recognized as selecting its members based on an assessment of their competency. They on the IMI portal. Additional panels can be added. Because some providers select panel members based not on their competency as a mediator but, for example, as an arbitrator, the provider is asked to endorse the mediator’s application for IMI Certification with a statement of their competency as a mediator.
- Category 3 is for mediators who are not included in Category 1 or 2. They are asked to submit a mediation practice logbook and references from two users.
As a contribution towards the considerable cost of developing and maintaining the search engine, IMI will ask all Certified mediators to pay an annual Profile listing fee. This will not be invoiced until the third quarter of 2009. The fee will be $160 (€125/£110). The grants made to IMI by benefactors and patrons can then be applied more effectively to promoting mediation and encouraging training and competency schemes where none exist or are poorly developed.
The benefits of IMI Certification
The IMI initiative, widely supported by experienced mediators, will bring about a much improved sense of mediation being an independent profession. More reliable and factual information about mediators and providers will become available in a more coherent, consistent and easier-to-mange form. The chances of cases coming to mediation will improve as counter-parties to whom mediation is proposed will have an objective resource from which they can discover more about the field, about what prior parties have said about mediators, and other relevant information.
The demand side of the market – the users of mediation services and their professional advisers – will have open access to the world’s most competent mediators. The perception of competency will no longer hinge on gossip, experience, guesswork, hearsay and word-of-mouth, but more on transparent, factual and credible feedback from actual prior users presented in an easy-to-read format. More and better data will be available to users at the touch of a keyboard with no need to register or pay to access the information. The potential choice will be greater, and users will be able to select a mediator based on a more reliable impression of competency and potential suitability with a greater element of objective comparison. The demand side’s respect for mediation will greatly improve as they come to recognize the quality characteristics of a true profession.
Mediators will find IMI Certification brilliant marketing because it will be credible. It will also come at a nominal cost. The mediator’s quality, competency and achievements will be available to a vast number of users, locally, nationally and globally. The opportunity will exist to link the IMI Certified Mediator Profile to further information – for example to a video clip of the mediator explaining their bio and conveying their personality to potential users. They will also be able to link to their provider bodies from which more information can be obtained.
Quality providers will be identifiable from the IMI web portal, aiding users needing administered mediation and other provider services. Providers will have a structured and internationally-accepted QC mechanism via feedback, enhancing their own perception of professionalism, reliability and value added service. Providers will have the opportunity to act as Reviewers for their Panel mediators (and others if they wish) on terms they agree with the mediators. Trainers will have the opportunity to offer programs leading to assessment for IMI Certification, and to act as independent assessors on other programs. They will be able to present more advanced, experience-based, training programs leading to IMI Certification.
IMI represents a new beginning, an opportunity to kick-start out of the unsatisfactory status quo. IMI’s scheme may not yet be complete or perfect, but does have the capacity to build on the inspiration of thought leaders and implement and share ideas and improvements from right around the world. IMI may be an initiative that can manifest itself nationally as well as in the international form in which it has originally been conceived. All ideas for improving the prospect of professionalizing mediation are warmly welcomed.
Already, the payback for all stakeholders is quite clear. Wheels will not be re-invented, only made to turn better. Nothing about IMI interferes with any existing or future mediation credentialing or credibility-generating initiatives. IMI presents an opportunity, not a threat (except, of course, to the incompetent). Here is a meta-opportunity that, if grasped, will help mediators, providers and trainers to professionalize mediation for the benefit of all stakeholders.
For more details, please visit the IMI web portal www.IMImediation.org.
Operations Director, International Mediation Institute