There is a misperception that transformative mediation doesn’t settle cases as often as other mediation approaches do. That misperception arises because of the tendency of transformative mediators to focus on benefits other than settlement, and because of the lack of research that shows the settlement rates of other approaches.

Transformative mediation’s success has indeed been based largely on factors besides settlement rates. The US Postal Service (which has the world’s largest workplace mediation program) chose transformative mediation because it wanted a program that would have "upstream effects". That is, not only did it aim to affect the parties to the mediation, but also to improve the working environment for all employees; and it wanted that change to last. The USPS hoped that, because transformative mediation focuses on improving the quality of conflict interaction, the postal management and employees would develop a more harmonious relationship. And research showed that the program worked (See Chapter 16 "Mediation at Work: Transforming Workplace Conflict at the U.S. Postal Service" of Transformative Mediation: A Sourcebook). But that program also had a less-publicized effect. It resolved cases.

The vast majority (close to 80%) of complaints that were mediated with the transformative model went away after one mediation session. The USPS’ previous mediation program, based on a "facilitative" model, was less successful at resolving cases. And there is no reliable study of mediation outcomes that shows a higher rate of settlement than that of the REDRESS Program.

But the misperception persists that transformative mediation does not solve problems and produce outcomes that organizations and courts value. The misperception persists for at least two reasons. FIrst, we point to things like the “upstream effects” of REDRESS, and that those effects occur regardless of whether settlements occur. Second, we lack a meaningful way to compare our closure rates with other methods, as insufficient research has been done on those other methods. (To the extent there are anecdotal examples of small programs that seem to lead to settlements, such as Early Neutral Evaluation in Minnesota for which I've seen a claimed 75% settlement rate, even those examples generally don't show rates higher than REDRESS'). And in my own divorce mediation cases, settlements have become more common, as I've let go of any attachment to leading my clients there, but my practice has not been the subject of a scientific study.

It’s appropriate that we emphasize the empowerment and recognition shifts that occur, as well as the upstream effects, because these are what matter most to the parties and their organizations. But let's not forget, for those focused on settlement, that our process has more evidence of its effectiveness on that level than does any other mediation approach.

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Comment by Alan Gross on January 30, 2012 at 11:35am

I am not at all surprised by Dan Simon's post indicating that REDRESS/transformative settlement rates (although he points to cases that "went away" after one-session which is not equivalent to settlement) are high and equivalent to rates claimed by other forms of mediation.  As a practitioner of several styles of ADR including community, REDRESS, arbitration etc. I find a huge overlap among methods.  For example, at my facilitative community center I reflect and summarize as often as when I am following the transformative model as required by USPS.   Simply bringing parties to the table, getting them to agree to dialog (speak openly and listen carefully) with a credible neutral present is probably enough to move parties toward understanding each other, generating options, making agreements, and moving on with their lives.    The same can be said for psychotherapy so long as the therapist does not preach or impose a heavy-handed theory on the help seeker(s).   Despite the success of REDRESS almost exclusively reported by devotees/practitioners of transformative mediation, USPS reports that some parties, esp. managers believe that the required style may delay or even prevent some agreements; therefore USPS is tentatively planning a research project where differing styles are compared directly in a randomly assigned experimental design.... the gold standard for social science research.    I hope they do this and suspect/predict that they will find no difference in various results/measures for facilitative and transformative mediators.    Alan

Comment by ISCT by Dan Simon on January 30, 2012 at 11:54am

Thanks for the comment, Alan.  Yes, I was careful to say "went away" because the "close to 80%" included cases that simply were not pursued further, as well as those where an agreement was signed at the session and those where the complainant simply withdrew the complaint at or after the session.  And though I believe (without  any good science to back me up) that pure transformative mediation is probably superior at making cases go away, I share your sense that the main thing is people meeting and getting some kind of support from a neutral.  But, if that's true, that the main thing is a credible neutral's presence at a meeting between the parties, doesn't it make sense that that neutral might as well abstain from directing toward settlement, and instead purely support self-determination?  If nothing is lost by abstaining from directiveness, why not embrace the potential other benefits of a purely non-directive, supportive approach?  Yes, I agree, that would be very helpful if the USPS would pursue the study you mention (for the future of mediation, if not for some of the study subjects).

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