The American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution's 13th Annual Spring Conference is in full swing here in Denver! With the first full day of regular sessions down, I'm here to report the community mediation angle and share our thoughts on the latest topics entering the collective conversations. Feel free to use the comment feature to provide feedback or answer some of the questions below.
Basic Setup: The community mediation crowd tends to be comparably smaller at ABA conferences than at other national gatherings, such as the Association for Conflict Resolution's Annual Conference. Still, for those able to swing it, there's plenty of good sessions that address community mediation-related topics. This year, you can find several restorative justice, research, ethics, and emerging practice areas that'll inspire your program and whet your apetite for continuing education.
Who's Who: NAFCM is here to help keep community mediation on the broader ADR agenda. Luckily, we have several colleagues joining us in those efforts. Tim Hedeen and Debora Brownyard are at least two of NAFCM's Board Elders making the rounds. Representatives from numerous community mediation programs are also engaged in the session shuffle, including Brad Heckman and crew from Safe Horizon (soon to be the New York Peace Institute come July), Tobi Inlender and staff from the Center for Civil Mediation, Community Service Programs, and likely several others. There's also strong community mediation supporters here, such as the JAMS Foundation, Resolution Systems Institute (RSI), MACRO, and Mediators Beyond Borders, to name a few.
Here are some of the topics I've heard and provocative questions I'm now asking of community mediation:
Topic: Conflict, Retribution, & Spiritual Traditions.
Question: Are (self-) interest-based approaches toward conflict resolution truly universally applicable?
Question: Should community mediation programs develop specialized services to provide non-neutral neutrals for those clients' whose cultural or religious norms expect vested third-parties?
Resources: Hawaiian Ho'oponopono, Balinese Hindu Banjars, Japanese Zen, Arabic Sulhas
Topic: Manipulation and Coercion in Mediation - Strategy or Sin?
Question: If coercion happens in the mind of the coerced, what innocuously intended mediator actions might be interpreted by one or more party as being coercive?
Question: Where do you draw the line? Should community mediators suggest solutions, pressure parties, suppose non-settlement outcomes, or engage in other similar actions to get the mediation 'resolved'?
Resource: Database of Mediator Ethics Opinions (not necessarily community-focused, but still good)
Topic: Accessing Justice through Mediation.
Question: How does community mediation fit within the larger concept of social justice?
Question: How integrated with traditional legal systems should the community mediation field be, given concerns over potential co-optation and the (at least perceived) 'legalizing' of community mediation services? Is there a bright line beyond which we must resist integration...even if it would seem to provide greater access to justice?
Resource: Accessing Justice through Mediation - Pathways for Poor and Low-Income Disputants
Topic: Helping At-Risk Families Help Themselves
Question: How many community mediation programs partner with child welfare and the family court system?
Question: What creative uses of our conflict engagement skills can we envision for disputes involving foster placement, child/social worker, and related systemic conflicts?
Topic: The Mediation Post-Mortem - A Model for Enhancing Mediation Learning and Practice
Question: Are there micro or meta conflict patterns we see in community mediation but haven't systemically addressed? (As a field, community mediation mediates thousands of conflicts each year and hears tens of thousands of 'conflict stories'. Though each is intimately personal for the participants, are there larger trends we're failing to acknowledge? Given confidentiality issues, how could we even know?)
Question: Personally, do community mediators do enough self-reflection (or "intervision," as the Austrian's call it) to continually improve their capacity to help? Programmatically, should we build in more formal opportunities to engage in such reflection?
Closing out the day's session was the Mediation Plenary, at the beginning of which the Conflict Resolution Center in Minneapolis was recognized for it's video: The Power of Mediation. This video won first prize in the Section's Second Annual Mediation Video Contest on YouTube! Unable to attend the conference personally, Karmit Bulman, Executive Director of CRC, asked that I receive the award on her behalf. I did so with the following sentiment:
I am very pleased and honored to accept this award on behalf of the Conflict Resolution Center, which serves the broader Minneapolis region. CRC’s video, The Power of Mediation, is an exceptional example of what we do as mediators, why we do it, and, indeed, the great potential our entire field represents for those caught in harmful conflicts.
Each year, this conference convenes practitioners from all corners of our field. The Conflict Resolution Center’s corner is community mediation, a sector composed of roughly 400 community mediation programs serving tens of thousands of neighbors, family members, and many others each year. CRC’s specific work in Minneapolis is of exceptional quality and solidly represents our field to those with whom it interacts, partners, and serves. It’s now award-winning video as you’ve seen, is, of comparable quality and representation for all of us.
Thank you for recognizing the Conflict Resolution Center and its video The Power of Mediation. Thank you to the ABA’s Section of Dispute Resolution for choosing CRC’s video to sit atop its broad public platform. And thank you to each of you for all you do to help those in conflict.I'm looking forward to the second full day of events! I'll post a recap for Friday's developments, as well.
Executive Director, NAFCM