Mediation Certification - another view

I really look forward to preparing for and participating in our Cafe Mediate podcasts because it makes me re-view my assumptions and opinions especially those I may have previously given a lot of thought to and even written or spoken about. I really look forward to "meeting up" with my colleagues on line and I find each session provokes reflection particularly on the points which raised differences between us.

At the end of our latest Cafe Mediate podcast, I was asked what were my personal views on certification. My answer was that I had been against it for many years but that lately I had started to think there might be some benefits. To be honest, I am surprised at this shift in my views because the arguments against certification are still very compelling.

Like my fellow Cafe Mediator, Diane Levin, who has since written more on the subject in her recent post at Mediation Channel, I have noticed some changes in the market over the last 12 months. These changes have lead me to think resistance to certification might be counterproductive but deep down I still think that certification, regulation, call it what you will, will not answer the real questions we should be addressing about where the practice of mediation is going. I think nearly everyone agrees that by now it should be the first choice for the great majority of people in resolving disputes, simply because it works and because the alternative is uncertain, costly and generally unsatisfactory.

Shortly after the podcast I read a brilliant post on certification by Michael Port who has really put his finger on the key issues around "why bother?" It often takes an independent "third eye" to see other perspectives. This is what mediation is about, after all.

Michael Port writes about the value of certification generally and brings a really pertinent question sharply into focus for me: will certification mean more business for mediators?

This goes straight to the heart of the matter. What if it is not the lack of certification or comfort for end users that has got in the way of the market growing but the fact that there is focus on shaping the profession and not on building the business? What if underneath all this there talk about standards there it is more to do with identity and the enduring divide between the 'profession' label and the 'business' label? I can't speak about the rest of the world but here in the UK there is a snobbery about professions compared with 'business'. What if this is more about thinking that if you are part of a profession then you will get more business. Qualifications = higher prices? Profession = regular work.

Is it possible that mediators are suffering from an identity crisis based on the perception of the difference between a profession and business? Do we want to be professionals in practice, professionals in business, professional consultants, part of an Association, Institute, Academy, panel, chambers? Are we seeking to professionalize the practice of mediation to deal with a need to belong? I think professionalism is actually about trust and being part of a professional group sends a message that we have somehow passed a 'trust' exam. Most of the professions require that members be trustworthy and ethical.

What if it was more a question for some of being part of an existing profession and not wanting to give up that status?

Panels, chambers, associations have all been used as business models and none of them have worked in increasing the business but they have succeeded in dividing up the available pie. It is ironic that we talk about increasing the pie with our customers and then fall short in doing the same for ourselves.

The brilliant thing is that we have today some of the best tools ever to build fellowship and community and they are the tools of social media. We have a chance to build communities with a brand, benefits and an outreach that can surpass the membership of of any established profession and reach the people who need our skills without the gatekeepers who may have got in the way of the growth of this great service offering. In my next post, I will talk about why mediators need to get into social media.

If we had been more successful in building our business would we be so concerned about "certification"?

If you haven't listened to the latest Cafe Mediate podcast yet then you will find it listed on iTunes or on Libsyn. Do leave a comment.

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