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The Past, Present, and Future of Mediation as Seen through the Eyes of Some of Its Founders

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This article is drawn from interviews with thirty-one of mediation's “founders,” those pioneers who began mediating in the 1970s and 1980s, when the field was young. They describe what first attracted them to mediation and why they have remained active in the field. Some told us that they have found it to be both intellectually challenging and interpersonally satisfying to assist disputing parties in their search for a mutually acceptable resolution they could not find on their own. Others see mediation's collaborative approach to decision making as a means of bringing about social and political change that might be otherwise unattainable. The mediators also described the changes they have observed since they entered the field: mediation's dramatic growth, institutionalization in the judicial system, and market domination by lawyers and retired judges. Among the concerns they expressed were the prevalence of a mediation model that focuses primarily on the legal strengths and weaknesses of each party's position, and the dollar amount that should resolve the dispute, with little interest in creative outcomes. Other concerns are a lack of quality control of mediators and trainers, and unproductive debate about whether the “correct” approach to mediation is evaluative, facilitative, or transformative. The mediators who work on public policy matters, including environmental disputes, were the most positive about the opportunity for creativity in their work, considerably more so than those mediators whose practice is primarily business/commercial. The mediators' views of the future of mediation are remarkably similar — their general sense is that the type of mediation that takes place in the shadow of the courts is likely to increase and to become even more routinized than it is at present. Several respondents told us that they also expect to see substantial growth in the use of mediation to resolve public policy issues. Many of these mediators predicted that this type of mediation is likely to be carried out by organizational insiders, rather than outside interveners. As one mediator said, “Maybe there's a new set of mediation roles for people within traditional institutions, not just for free-standing neutrals.”
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Keywords: alternative dispute resolution; commercial mediation; future of mediation; mediation; mediation practice; mediation standards; mediation training; public mediation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-04-01

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