July 23, 2009

Cogent Critique of Certification

Blogger and conflict expert L. Deborah Sword provides a concise argument against against certification for mediators. Her cautionary point of view may summarize many of the objections Organizational Ombuds have against certification.
  • Conflict Resolution is an ancient tradition that hasn't needed certification;
  • Standardizing the process ignores the continuum of conflict resolution practice;
  • Conflict resolution is interdisciplinary and inclusive by nature while certification suggests that best practice and the principles can be quantified. Exclusionary requirements, such as needing the certification of one discipline or another, or some over-riding body, are contra-intuitive to the flexible, evolutionary nature of conflict resolution;
  • Education of users is the best protection, the alternative is to keep conflict resolution as mysterious and labyrinthine as the law, so that only practitioners understand it and problems must be turned over to the practitioner for resolution;
  • Conflict Resolution is a life skill and there should not be any mystery about conflict resolution that demands that only professionals are licensed to practice.
  • Conflict resolution personalities (such as clear thinking, calm, appropriate risk taking, wisdom and a sense of humor) cannot be assessed by credentialing schemes;
  • Whose interests are being served? It seems to be the certificate granting agencies stand to gain the most; and
  • Where is the research? The data indication that "some practitioners are incompetent" is purely anecdotal and does not adequately justify certification.
Sword concludes that certification "seems to really be protection for the self-interest of the practitioner" that will exclude "the elders, the community workers, the intuitive naturals, those with stature in their cultures and others who have been doing the work for years without recognition or credit for the value of the work they are doing." (Mediate.com.)

While I generally support certification for Organizational Ombuds, Sword's thoughtful critique of similar efforts to standardize mediation practice makes me more ambivalent. There is one significant distinction, however. One factor motivating Ombuds certification is the quest for a privilege. Mediators and Classical Ombuds generally enjoy a legal protection for their confidential communications with parties. Organizational Ombuds, although presenting analogous policy arguments for a privilege, have had mixed success when the issue has been litigated. Recognizing that many jurisdictions reserve the creation of privileges to the legislatures, Organizational Ombuds hope that certification will reassure law makers that Organizational Ombuds can be trusted. Nonetheless, the concerns raised by Sword must not be forgotten as certification advocates pursue their goal.

Related posts: International Mediation Institute Reveals Certification Plans; Mediate.com Unveils Certification Program; ACR Revives Certification Efforts

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