Voluntary Mediator Certification Initiative
Whether the practice of mediation should be regulated or credentialed in any way has long been a contentious topic within the ADR community, which has yet to reach consensus on the issue. 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.
The SCMA Ad Hoc Committee on Mediator Regulation and Certification started in January, 2013 meeting every three weeks throughout the year. We informed ourselves about existing research and programs in this area and looked at an abundance of literature containing arguments both for and against credentialing. We began with an open mind and a blank slate; we did not know where our work would lead. While not exhaustive, this is an overview of the issues we considered.
- We looked at the extensive work done by the ABA and ACR, set forth above.
- We looked at credentialing programs in other states.
- We read widely on the topic.
- We looked at statutes, both federal and state, which mandate mediation.
- We considered existing credentialing programs in California and looked at the many and varied local opportunities for mediation training.
Very early on we delved into the complex issue of whether mediation is a profession, and found that there is broad disagreement on the topic but that mediation lacks the required formal educational degree, ethics codes, and regulatory schemes normally associated with formalized professions.
Throughout, the Committee had an overriding concern that any structure we came up with – should we come up with one – had to take into account the broad diversity of the field: the different styles of and theories regarding mediation; the fact that mediators come to the practice from different careers of origin; the fact that mediation takes place in a wide variety of settings and institutions; and the fact that some mediators are paid while some are volunteers.
The Committee ultimately concluded that the absence of a certifying agency and lack of a certification program along with the variety of training paths taken by mediators present a potential dilemma for users of mediation, who have no way to judge the education, training, and experience of a mediator. The Committee found that: a) barriers to entry into the mediation field are non-existent or very low and anyone can self-identify as a mediator and begin practicing without meeting any training requirement at all; b) any organization can offer mediation training or certificates with no universally accepted standards to guarantee degree of expertise or ethical practice; and c) the public may not know how to choose among mediators offering service. The Committee also found, however, that mediation is a unique method of conflict resolution and requires specialized training no matter what the background of the potential mediator, and that a voluntary certification program is the most currently feasible way to address the interests of the various groups and their concerns.
The Committee is therefore recommending that SCMA support a voluntary mediation certification program, that would certify mediators who can demonstrate sufficient knowledge and skills beyond the minimal amount required by many local and national panels and who also demonstrate an understanding of ethics and agree to abide by an ethical code. While the Committee reached consensus on parameters for the certification program, the Committee believes the community would be best served if SCMA takes the initiative and functions as a catalyst in seeking input from other key organizations to determine the exact specifications for this program. The program would be implemented by these key organizations that have joined together as a Consortium which would become the governing body of the certification process. Consortium members would agree to support the standards set by the requirements below and act as a reviewing organization to ensure that the standards of the program are maintained.
The Committee began 2014 by circulating the Committee’s Report and recommendations to the larger mediation community – educational institutions, mediation provider organizations, and organizations statewide that serve the mediation community in order to form the Consortium. The organizations, including SCMA, that agree to participate in implementing a new certification program in California will begin the process of organically growing the Consortium. That group will need to assess the projected demand for the certification program, determine a budget for administering the program based on the fees or dues that would have to be collected from certified members, finalize the procedures and requirements for certification, and determine how the consortium itself is to be organized and governed.
During the spring, the Committee was joined by representatives from a number of mediator organizations stretching geographically from Santa Ana to Santa Rosa. Those representatives and Committee members subdivided the ongoing work in developing the Consortium into 4 different Task Forces: 1) Business Plan, 2) Legal, 3) Outreach, and 4) Qualifications. Each task force is led by a Committee member and the Committee and organizational representatives meet periodically to review and integrate the ongoing task force work.
2016 – Current Status
After the discussion of mediator certification at our Town Hall event on March 19, 2016, where SCMA members indicated strong support for voluntary mediation certification, the SCMA Board requested that Dr. Jack Goetz organize a permanent committee to further pursue this initiative. Barbara Brown, former SCMA President who had served as co-chair of the prior Ad Hoc Committee, joined Dr. Goetz and a number of other volunteers to form the SCMA Business Committee on Voluntary Mediator Certification. The Committee’s express purpose is to expand upon the work of the prior Ad Hoc Committee and take steps to seek funding and create an organization that would implement voluntary mediator certification. The Committee held its first formal meeting on August 2 and will continue to report on its progress to the SCMA Board and the broader community. In addition to Dr. Goetz and Ms. Brown, the Committee includes Floyd Siegal, current President of SCMA, Victoria Gray, Lynn Johnson, Adam Ravitch, Ana Marie Veiga, Judith Weigle, and Chris Welch. The Committee is still looking for volunteers who could help with the legal and financial aspects of the organizational formation. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For more information, please see the Committee documents below:
- Certified Mediator Qualification
- 2014 Report and Frequently Asked Questions
- 2013 White Paper (Note that the white paper and its proposed certified mediator model have been informed by the public comment process in which the Committee has been engaged since the beginning of 2014. The documents above, to the extent they reflect modifications to the white paper, supersede the certified mediator model that was originally proposed).
- ABA Task Force Report
For more information, please contact either of the co-chairs:
- Jack Goetz at email@example.com
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Certification
Is it really true that mediators in California are not credentialed or regulated?
Yes. “Credentialing” is a general term to include the many ways of establishing mediator qualifications, including certification and licensure. In California there is no state or universally accepted agency that credentials mediators and no uniform criteria for regulation or certification.
What is the difference between regulation and certification?
“Regulation” is done by the state and is often accompanied by licensing. “Certification” is voluntary, conferred by some type of organization rather than the state. Certification recognizes the attainment of standards that have been established by the certifying organization.
Some mediators describe themselves as “certified mediators.” What does that mean?
Generally this means that they attended a training and received a certificate of attendance. Those organizations that train mediators using the standards set forth in the Dispute Resolution Programs Act often indicate on the certificate that the participants have met those standards.
What is the proposed mediator certification initiative?
The initiative seeks to establish a Consortium of mediation training and provider organizations that would offer certification to mediators on a voluntary basis. The Consortium would establish training and experience requirements for certification and review mediators’ applications to determine whether the applicant has satisfied the requirements, in which case certification would be granted. Consortium members would agree to support the standards set by the requirements below and act as a reviewing organization to ensure that the standards of the program are maintained.
What the reason/purpose for voluntary mediator certification?
The Committee work is intended primarily to raise practice standards in the field of mediation in California and utilize the existing AAA/ABA/ACR Model Standards of Conduct as its governing code. It is also intended to help mediators demonstrate that they have satisfied these standards and to help mediation consumers identify qualified mediators.
Is this the first step toward mediator regulation?
The proposed voluntary certification program is not intended as a first step toward government regulation. In fact, by establishing and adhering to higher practice standards mediators may demonstrate that government regulation is not necessary. The Committee has been guided by the ABA report, which stated in part: “Credentialing should provide information about prospective mediators and/or a signal of quality, and organizations should be able to require members of their panels to satisfy requirements. Credentialing should not, however, operate as a de facto licensing system that bars non-credentialed persons from practicing as mediators generally.”
Will non-certified mediators still be able to practice?
The answer is unequivocally yes. The ABA Report noted the importance of self-determination for disputants in mediation, allowing disputants the choice of selecting a non-certified mediator. Since the Consortium is not a licensing or regulatory body, non-certified mediators will continue to be able to practice as California law allows.
Who will make and enforce the rules for certification?
The certification program will be implemented and administered by a group of associations that have joined together as a Consortium. The Consortium will determine the requirements and procedures for certification.
What will be required for certification?
The requirements to achieve the certified mediator (CM) credential will be established by the Consortium. However, the Committee has recommended that an applicant must meet requirements in three different areas: education; performance; and professional activity. These requirements would be represented on the application for the CM through a series of point allocations, with a total of 200 points required – 110 from education, 50 from performance, and 40 from professional activity. While the classroom and practical training are designed to ensure consistency in standards of knowledge for certification, the point system is also designed to accommodate and include the wide variety of professional expertise, academic training, and practical mediation experience that people bring to the practice of mediation and to recognize the value of the diversity of experience and expertise. The Committee recommendation would also require that a CM pass an objective test.
Will there be a fee for becoming certified?
Yes, but the governing body will be a non-profit organization and the fees charged are planned to be reasonable and reflect the cost of implementing the certification system.
Why would a mediator want to become certified?
A mediator would want to become certified to demonstrate his or her attainment of a higher level of training and experience for mediators.
How will a mediator maintain certification?
The requirements to maintain certification will be determined by the Consortium. The Committee has recommended that each CM must document Continuing Professional Development over a three year period in areas deemed acceptable to the Consortium.
Will there be a process for quality assurance, grievances or even de-certification?
Yes. The ABA Report noted that any credentialing system should “provide an accessible, transparent system to register complaints against credentialed mediators. . . promptly and fairly investigate complaints and, if appropriate, de-credential a mediator who fails to comply with standards.” The proposed Consortium framework will provide users of mediation services a place to process issues they may have with the services provided by a certified mediator, in a manner that is respectful of the mediator and consistent with mediation confidentiality.