Quality and Credentialling

When IMI was established in 2007, there were no internationally-applicable quality standards for mediators, and no international credentialing scheme. The NADRAC in Australia was considering practice and approval standards at a basic post-training level, and CEDR, a UK-based mediation service provider, was accrediting mediators on the same post-training basis. However, only the NMI, a non-profit, non-service-provider body in the Netherlands, subsidized by the Netherlands Government, was certifying competency of experienced mediators locally at a high, experienced-based level.

The IMI Board believed that for users to have confidence in mediators, and therefore to use mediation more frequently and with better results, it was necessary to credential mediators to a high, experience-based standard. The results in the Netherlands proved the wisdom of this strategy. In 2011, there were an estimated (1) 52,000 civil and commercial mediations in the Netherlands, a country with a population of 17 million and with a single high-level mediator certification scheme operated by a non-provider entity. By contrast, in the UK, a country with a population of 63 million where mediation is considered successful, but with no national certification scheme, there were only an estimated (2) 8,000 mediations in 2012. On a per capita basis, the frequency of mediation in the Netherlands in 2011 was therefore about 24 times greater than in the UK. Users in the Netherlands seemingly have a far greater confidence in the quality of mediators, and respect for mediation as a method for resolving disputes, than do those in the UK.

IMI considered adopting on an international level the credentialing process applied by the NMI in the Netherlands. It was based on a third party assessment conducted pursuant to ISO Standard 17,024 (certification of competency of individuals) but was considered bureaucratic, inflexible, difficult to adapt culturally and jurisdictionally, costly and slow. Moreover, the assessment criteria used was proprietary, and the copyright owner was unwilling to allow it to be adapted or shared with others without his consent.

Consequently, IMI did not adopt the NMI scheme (which NMI has itself since abandoned) and developed its own high-level competency certification process, with help from members of the IMI Independent Standards Commission. In particular, published research by Christopher Honeyman on performance based criteria and assessment of mediators, as well as developing standards in Canada, Australia and Argentina, were also available to the IMI ISC for the modelling of its credentialing scheme.

The Certification Scheme devised by IMI can be implemented only by organisations that have been approved by the Independent Standards Commission based on applications made to the ISC to apply a set of stated criteria(3). Once approved, these organisations are known as Qualifying Assessment Programs (QAPs), and are authorised to qualify mediators for IMI Certification. The advantages of this scheme are that:

  • IMI does not itself qualify mediators – this is done by those with QAPs.
  • No two QAPs are likely to be exactly the same, allowing for local adaptation.
  • All QAPs must qualify to the same high competency standards set by the ISC.
  • QAPs can offer their own credentialing to coincide with IMI Certification, thereby raising local standards.

IMI exercises control over the QAPs by requiring mediators qualified by a QAP to complete an IMI Certified Mediator Profile in a pre-determined format, and that mediators cannot call themselves IMI Certified until their Profile has been approved by IMI and posted on the IMI web portal. IMI also conducts periodic audits of QAPs to ensure they are correctly implementing the IMI Criteria. There are so far 39 QAPs in 22 countries, and over 480 IMI Certified Mediators on the IMI search engine in 47 countries, including 7 sub – Saharan countries, 4 South American countries and 6 in the Middle East.

Feedback

An obligatory part of every IMI Certified Mediator Profile is a Feedback Digest, an independently-prepared summary of user feedback collected by the Mediator using the IMI Feedback Request Form or a similar form. Once completed by users this feedback is anonymized and turned into a summary by an independent Reviewer selected by the mediator. The identity of the Reviewer must be disclosed on the Profile, and as a result the credibility of the Feedback Digest has much to do with that of the Reviewer. Only the Reviewer can upload the Feedback Digest onto the mediator’s Profile and amend it afterwards. In compiling the Feedback Digest, the Reviewer must follow Guidelines published by IMI. Once the Profile is complete and verified by IMI, it is posted onto the IMI Search Engine and the mediator is IMI Certified.

Feedback is exceptionally useful to users, not only providing reassurance of experience and competency, but also providing reliable insight into the mediator’s suitability to the conflict. Very few mediators make prior user feedback transparent, but it is considered essential information by most users for reliable mediator selection purposes.

The Independent Standards Commission has convened an Ethics Committee, chaired by Professor Ellen Waldman, the leading international authority on mediation ethics, to keep the IMI code of Professional Conduct fully updated in line with the highest standards of international practice, as well as the disciplinary process.

Another obligatory part of the Profile is a declaration by the mediator of which Code of Conduct she or he ascribes to, and the complaint mechanism that would apply. Many IMI Certified Mediators have chosen the IMI Code of Professional Conduct and the IMI Professional Conduct Assessment Process (which can result in loss of IMI Certification and other sanctions and is administered by the ISC). Assurance of ethical conduct is an important element in generating user confidence in mediators and the mediation process.

As a development of IMI Certification for mediators, IMI set up a Task Force of the Independent Standards Commission in April 2010 to develop criteria for inter-cultural mediator training and a dedicated IMI Certification. In an initiative partly funded by the GE Foundation, the Task Force developed succinct and flexible criteria that enable IMI Certified mediators to extend their skills and experience inter-culturally. As with IMI Certification of mediators, the Inter-Cultural Certification can be implemented worldwide by QAPs. The criteria include Cultural Focus Areas (CFAs) applicable to mediating inter-cultural conflicts, including communication styles, cultural diversity paradigms, conflict attitudes and mindsets, process differences, orientations towards information exchange and time, and decision-making approaches for all main cultural groups.

In 2012, a Task Force of the Independent Standards Commission was convened to develop competency criteria for lawyers and other party representatives to achieve recognition as IMI Certified Mediation Advocates. The competency of the parties’ advocates in mediations is widely recognized as a crucial factor in securing the best possible settlements. To establish a professional and technical basis for enabling parties to identify the right people to advise and represent them in mediations, a comprehensive set of Competency Criteria of Mediation Advocates/Advisers was developed by the Task Force with the support and endorsement of a range of stakeholders, including the Mediation Committee of the International Bar Association, the Standing Conference of Mediation Advocates (SCMA), the Paris Bar, ACB Foundation and Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. This initiative was part-funded by the GE Foundation.

ADR professional and provider organisations may now submit to the ISC their applications to be approved for qualifying competent professionals for IMI Mediation Advocacy Certification.

Mediation advocacy skills increase user understanding of how and why mediation works and when mediation is the most likely route to a desired outcome. This makes users more willing to participate in mediation, and actively to propose it when appropriate.

By January 2014 , 404 mediators from 28 countries practicing in 28 conflict fields and speaking 28 languages had become IMI Certified. The gender balance was 35 % women and 65 % men. Although this is by far the most internationally and culturally diverse group of transparently experienced mediators anywhere, much progress has yet to be made on the gender balance and also generating more IMI Certified Mediators in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Russia and affiliated countries and the Middle East. The quest of IMI to increase the number of QAPs and Hubs will progressively improve diversity in all these respects.

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