Over the past year, I participated in a committee formed by the Southern California Mediation Association, and chaired by SCMA past president Barbara Brown, to study the question of mediator certification or regulation. We started our work without any preconceived agenda, knowing only that our organization had opposed a proposal to have mediators regulated by the California State Bar. We were against that, but we did not yet know what we were for. We knew that there were a wide range of views on this topic within our own organization, and also learned that this issue had stymied bigger organizations that ours, with the ABA Dispute Resolution Section as well as the Association for Conflict Resolution both unable to reach consensus. Here’s how we summarized the split in the ADR community, from the introduction to the report our committee issued last month:
On the one hand, many practitioners see no compelling need for regulation or certification, as there has been no public outcry for it. They see the advantages to keeping the field open as to mediators’ styles and backgrounds. On the other hand, many mediators desire a credential that would be of benefit to themselves and the public. They are unhappy that persons with minimal or no training can hold themselves out as mediators, in some cases giving parties who attend mediations an unfavorable view of the field. These mediators favor some sort of credentialing out of interest in promoting and supporting the highest standards for our field and, for some, out of fear that unless we mediators regulate or certify ourselves, someone else will do it for us.
I’m proud to say that in contrast to attempts by other groups to solve this problem, our committee was able to reach a consensus. What we ended up supporting, a position that we believe also has substantial support within our own organization, is a system of voluntary certification, which we hope will be endorsed by a broad swath of mediation organizations in the state. By making certification voluntary, rather than mandatory, we hope to keep pathways open for volunteer community mediators, who would oppose attempts to create any sort of guild. But by supporting a broadly-recognized voluntary certification program, we hope to serve the interests of professional mediators who desire the development of standards and practices, and the imprimatur of a credential that will assure the public that a certified mediator has at least met certain recognized standards of competence.
Our proposal would raise the bar for mediators above the typical 30 hour course required for membership on court mediation panels and community mediation programs. In addition to taking a set number of hours of coursework, including an ethics component, a certified mediator would also have to demonstrate practical experience, by for example conducting a number of hours of volunteer mediations, and also engage in some professional activity.
Thus, the factors we deemed crucial to the success of this project are first, that the standards for certification be rigorous enough that they serve the purpose of identifying well-qualified mediators. Second, that these standards be recognized across a spectrum of organizations so as to make the credential well-known, meaningful and uniform, in contrast to the hodge-podge of credentialing indicators that exist in the field today.
Our next task is to circulate the committee’s report to the larger mediation community–educational institutions, mediation provider organizations, and organizations statewide that serve the mediation community–to form a consortium of organizations that agree to participate in implementing a new certification program in California.
The full report, including appendices, footnotes and other materials, can be found on SCMA’s fall conference journal page, under the heading workshop 3 in the first set of workshops.