I didn’t give much support to the initiative this October by an independent group of mediators to promote Mediation Awareness Week. I didn’t suppotrt November’s Good Divorce Week run by Resolution, either. And in January, the Family Mediators Association will be running Family Mediation Week. I don’t intend to get involved. 

There seems to be a tendency to believe that awareness weeks are what mediation needs: that raising awareness through a named week will somehow improve our lot. But in reality, they give mediators permission to believe that the answer to mediation’s problems lies at the doors of others (the public) and with others’ (membership organisations or ‘MOs’) campaigning to raise public awareness. We mediators don’t seem to be very good at doing things for ourselves.

I’ve not been immune to the collective-will fantasy either. For nearly 18 months I tried to organise #mediationhour weekly on Twitter. It had a modestly sized group of the mediation Twiteratti who were willing to devote their time to mediation awareness raising.  Yet, despite tagging all the FMC MOs and many civil mediation organisations, others rarely (if ever) contributed. I’ve had to accept that there simply isn’t enough of an appetite among mediators to do something for ourselves to change the culture in this country away from the perception that disputes are all about ‘the law’. Many mediators want others to do it for them. And I think this is why awareness weeks are attractive: it looks as if someone is doing something that will change things.

Mediation will not achieve its potential so long as mediators continue to argue among ourselves. There are innumerable practice ghettos. They are made up of dozens of mediation organisations across all mediation practice areas. Their members should broadly fall under the CMC (Civil Mediation Council) or FMC (Family Mediation Council) . But in addition there are many private mediation organisations which ain primarily to sell their training and expertise. They are essentially about money and influence not the collective needs of mediators.

Until the public can see that mediators are properly organised and look like a profession, we are misguided if we think they will trust us as they do a profession and what we do will be seen, at best, as a professional activity. Public awareness-raising weeks  will not change this.

Awareness weeks take many, many hours of organising, but for what?  It’s naïve to think that they make a significant difference. I’d like to see those hours put into relationship building between the different mediation disciplines, membership organisations and standards bodies. I’m trying to do that in my own small way through being a member of many of them.  I want to encourage the boards of all of them to prioritise closer relations so that we end up with fewer, but stronger civil, family, workplace membership organisations.

Eventually, I’d hope to see a merging of the CMC and FMC to create a single mediation council (or Chartered Institute of Mediators) responsible for standards across all mediation sectors. That’s when the public will start to recognise mediators as ‘professional” and the idea of a mediation awareness week will look as bizarre as the idea of a solicitors negotiation awareness week.

I am Stephen G Anderson. I am a professional mediator.

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Stephen G Anderson, family mediator

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