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Rebuttal to Prior Article about Credentialing

Written by Linda Norris, as a rebuttal to this post.

Credentialing mediators, as astutely outlined in Nathan’s article, is not only good for the profession and all mediators, but particularly good for many of us who are non-attorney mediators. We do not have the legitimacy of a license to fall back on that attorneys have. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are good or bad attorneys, good or bad mediators, the mere fact of having a license gives them a measure of credibility that the rest of us do not have.

What our proposal provides is a relatively uncomplicated and valid process for mediators to establish their bona fides, so to speak. We know that we cannot speak to the quality of a mediator’s practice, but we can be a mechanism for mediators to at least establish their qualifications. In other words, they’ve paid their dues and have met minimal standards of acceptance within the profession. This is important for many of us, especially when we are theoretically competing against licensed attorneys. Face it, the public already places legitimacy at the feet of attorneys compared to the relative obscurity of the mediation profession.

In contrast, however, to the issue of a license that was proposed as a better alternative for mediators than the credentialing process advocated by OMA, please consider what Peggy English and Linda Neilson of the Family Mediators Canada have stated, “..if the field of mediation were to remain a respected and viable alternative to litigation and courts, the mediation community would have to develop a mechanism to promote highly competent specialized family mediation practitioners. Practitioners considered it important that the mediation community set its own standards and assessment processes rather than have them imposed by judicial, administrative, or governmental bodies that possessed little specialized knowledge of the field.” (“Certifying Mediators,” Chapter 21, p. 485, Divorce and Family Mediation, Folberg, ed., et. al.) Licensure was researched as an alternative and found to be wanting for these reasons and for the complex and time-consuming process it would involve. It would take years to accomplish; finding someone to sponsor a bill; working with politicians – lobbying even; writing legislation if passed; developing a bureaucratic structure; and overcoming other obstacles. Two separate credentialing committees unanimously decided that this was not the best choice for our needs.

And, speaking of bureaucracy, it was alleged that the credentialing process would be a “distraction” from the regular responsibilities of the OMA Board. Further, it was asserted within a context of overall sustainability, that volunteers can’t be relied on to do a good job, to stick with it, and to do “due diligence.” Several examples were used to substantiate these points, and it seems that these are specious at best.

First, allegations about the Board not being responsible with regard to the consideration of finances, maintenance of our website, reduced membership, poor conference attendance, and carefully considering the consequences of adopting a credentialing process is presumptive. The Board carefully looked at how the credentialing process would be financed, and it was determined that in the long-run, it would be self-sustaining. Issues of liability were also considered, and it was determined (as Nathan has carefully outlined) that risk to OMA is negligible. It is a serious issue and was not taken lightly. To assert that the credentialing process would be a “distraction” is unfair and without any solid proof. Thousands of NPOs operate on volunteerism. Many volunteers give more passionately to their volunteer work than they do to their paid work, simply because they want to be there and they believe in their cause.

The problems with our website have been detailed in a Board meeting and are being addressed. The problem isn’t that we are “distracted,” but that it costs money to address these problems. Our current provider inherited a flawed program, and it took us a while before we realized that there were several problems. We are not ignoring it and have intentions of finding remedies. As for low membership, it has been stated by more than one long-time member that the membership has ebbed and flowed over the years. We may be at a low point, but one reason may be that we haven’t specifically had a strategic plan for outreach and staying in touch with members. We are working on that. Another remedy is a plan we have for a membership drive in the 2nd half of this year. Its theme is “Each one, Reach One,” and it is the goal that every member recruits one new member. Our plan for this will be briefly discussed at the annual conference. Also, attendance at this year’s conference has increased over last year’s. We also have more plans to improve OMA and our services to our members. The backhanded criticisms of the board were done without knowledge of what the Board is working on or how and what decisions have been made.

It was mentioned in the “con” article that one reason we don’t need a credentialing proposal is because ACR and maybe other organizations offer certification. Well, ACR’s offerings are for specific fields of practice and cost $230.00 a year. Our process is much less expensive. And, once our website issues are resolved, credentialed mediators will be entered into an Ohio data base, not a national one. It would seem that most consumers would first turn to an Ohio service for an Ohio mediator before searching a national data base such as ACR’s.

Another issue which is tied to liability but which was identified with regard to vouching for the quality of a mediator’s practice has to do with the standards we adopted. These are pretty well established throughout the profession. They are standards, not thermometers. We can’t measure quality, unless we develop a very complicated and lengthy process such as that of Family Mediation Canada that requires extensive testing and observation of actual mediation sessions. Even then, you still have issues of subjectivity. It just goes with trying to measure most human activities. ACR has a disclaimer in its application process:
I understand that an Advanced Practitioner (AP) is a member of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) who has met standards specified by ACR that identify practitioners with significant advanced training and experience in providing the specified type of alternative dispute resolution service. However, this designation is not, in and of itself, an assurance of competence, relevant knowledge and experience or quality of the services being provided; and ACR makes no warranties or representations with respect to the work performed by any of its Advanced Practitioners.
All we can really do is attest to the fact that a mediator has jumped a specified number of hurdles, and by and large, meets basic requirements to be a credentialed mediator.

Disparaging remarks were made about the proposal’s language, proofreading errors, ambiguity, and terminology. We invited comments on at least two different occasions and held a Stakeholder’s Meeting to expand the input and flush out problems. It would have been helpful to have had this feedback before the final draft. These are easy fixes. They are legitimate concerns but certainly no reason to throw the baby out with the bath. Even though four of us proofread the document, errors still occurred. That is a universally acknowledged problem with publication of a document and which is why publishing houses hire professional editors and proofreaders. You just get too close to it, and don’t see the errors because you’ve looked at too many times, and are usually reading to see if the last changes got made. The committee welcomes such feedback and members should be assured that these and similar comments will certainly be useful when and if a Credentialing Committee undertakes to implement this proposal.

As regards the issue of other states not adopting credentialing or certification programs, we really can’t speak to why some have and others haven’t. Florida has one but it is through the courts as do some others. Some states have tried and failed because they couldn’t reach consensus. Two successful ones, Texas and Washington were contacted and interviewed by two members of our Credentialing Proposal Committee. Both gave positive feedback, stated that they have had few, if any problems, and overwhelmingly endorsed the process as favorable to their members. Just because someone hasn’t done it, isn’t much of reason not to. Also, ACR has put forth detailed guidelines for adopting credentialing processes. Why would they do that if they don’t think that it is a worthwhile objective?

In all, I hope members will see the value of a credentialing program. As a non-attorney mediator, I certainly expect to derive benefits from it, and I suspect others do too. I think it also adds some additional legitimacy to attorney-mediators as there has been a lot of criticism about attorneys who take the basic 13-hour mediation training and then offer their mediation services to the public. Nathan did a good job of putting forth the benefits. Most of the issues with the proposal itself can be corrected. Many of the negatives are based on speculation and not being privy to Board deliberations and decisions. I will be very happy if this process is implemented, and I get to put Credentialed Advanced Mediator Practitioner on my business cards and website. Please support our hard work and our due diligence. We think we have presented a very comprehensive, well thought out program that is sustainable, realistic, practical, and beneficial to each individual member and to our organization as a whole.

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