Scissors Cut Paper: A "Guildhall" Helps Maryland's Mediators Sharpen Their Skills
Pou, Charles, Jr., Justice System Journal
Growing use of mediation and other alternative means of dispute resolution has led many courts and ADR programs to develop "mediator credentialing" and other approaches that seek to ensure quality mediation. A variety of practical and political difficulties have led these entities to take very diverse, and sometimes debatable, paths to quality assurance (QA). Recently, Maryland's judiciary sponsored a three-year project that led to an innovative QA system for Maryland mediators. The new Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence deemphasizes "pass-fail" barriers, as well as paper-based certification based on legal expertise and other substitute credentials; instead, this system seeks to promote and reward mediators who wish to develop their practice skills. This article offers an overview of Maryland's new QA system; compares it to approaches that have been taken elsewhere; and commends it to courts and other mediation users as a vehicle for improving mediation practice and for serving as a trustworthy indicator of skilled performance.
THE TENUOUS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CREDENTIALING AND "REAL-WORLD" QUALITY
Theory, Practice, and Politics of Mediator Quality Assurance. Mediation practice in the United States has grown substantially over the last two decades, as has the number of people offering to serve as mediators. As Roger Wolf ( 2001:3) has written, "Mediation is no longer struggling for acceptability. It is increasingly the process of choice in resolving many community disputes, an integral part of circuit court civil and domestic dockets and in district court cases, and used by businesses, government, and schools to resolve personnel, contract, and classroom issues." However, as he continues, "there are minimal standards, little quality assurance, and many variations of 'mediation' that are used by the practitioners in each of these forums."
This situation has led many to argue that competency standards are needed to protect consumers and promote the integrity of mediation processes. All agree that mediators' skills and other attributes can be crucial in helping parties resolve their differences. Moreover, nearly all agree that measuring competence cannot be done based on paper credentials alone. However, the nature and diversity of roles that mediators are asked to play present complications-depending on the program, the parties, the subject, or the specific case, these rules may include efforts to "transform," to "facilitate," to "evaluate," or to perform a combination. These have engendered disagreements as to 1) the kinds of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes (KSAOs) that are important to effective performance as a neutral and 2) how those aptitudes are best acquired. (On issues in seeking to ensure quality mediation, see Cole et al., 2003; Dobbins, 1995; National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council of Australia, 2000; Shaw, 1994; Waldman, 1996; and Sigurdsen, 2002.)
Typically, most professions think about promoting quality in terms of credentialing, which tends to involve licensing, certification, or "substitute" credentials like degrees or professional background. For better or worse, activities addressing mediation quality have not moved as far toward credentialing. Moreover, many professional groups and jurisdictions have focused rather narrowly on mediator-certification standards based on written submissions or professional background, even though mediation programs and organizations have engaged in a variety of effective activities to promote quality.
While one group sees increased credentialing as vital, other observers believe certification as currently practiced does little to ensure quality and has led many consumers of mediation services to seek the wrong skills. The former group fears that the field's failure to develop nationwide credentialing methods will lead to arbitrary, improvident systems of qualification imposed by courts or others. …