Mediation or Group Conferencing For Dispute Resolution

Consultant: Richard Kennett, M.Ed.

When an offence or harm has been committed in a family, school or community setting, the traditional systemic response to resolve the conflict has often been punitive. One alternative response is through Restorative Justice processes such as mediation or group conferencing. Mediation is used where a small group is involved – a victim and an offender, or two disputants and sometimes one or two support people. When the incident involves many victims, offenders or disputants and interested community members, a group conferencing process can be used.

A mediation or a group conference is a safe, controlled setting in which disputants, or a victim and offender, and respective family members, supporters and community members are brought together with a trained mediator/facilitator. The mediator or conference facilitator guides the discussion process through specific stages to help participants declare:

  • What happened?
  • Who was impacted by the incident and in what way?
  • What were their thoughts and feelings at the time of the incident, and what are their thoughts and feelings now as they look back upon the incident?
  • What are participant’s needs to have the harm repaired or dispute resolved?
  • What commitments can be made for the future?

A break is taken part way through the process so that the mediator/facilitator can work individually with key participants to prepare them for repairing the harm. A written agreement is created with which all participants must be fully satisfied.

The mediation or group conference typically involves …

  • Time Commitment
    • Case-work meetings with separate parties, lasting approximately 1 ½ hours each
    • The mediation/conference usually takes up to 2 ½ hours, depending on how many participants are involved. Sometimes, matters are not fully resolved and a second, but seldom a third meeting will follow.
    • Future post-mediation/conference meetings with the parties are possible if participants feel the need to assess progress.

 

  • Target Clients [Participants, particularly offenders, need to take at least some responsibility for their involvement in the incident(s).]
    • Adults
    • Youth 12 to 17 years of age
    • Children under 12 can be successful participants with additional preparation prior to a mediation or conference

 

  • Suitable Incidents
    • Incident-specific situations such as a break and enter, theft, bullying, harassment, hazing, damage to property, assault
    • Historical and multiple issues, where a conflict has existed for a long time. These cases may require a number of face-to-face meetings to reach resolution.

 

  • Process for Engagement
    • Mediator/ facilitator conducts case development meetings separately with both major parties to:
      • Explain the process
      • Hear concerns
      • Explore goals
      • Screen and assess issues to determine readiness of the participants to meet face to face
    • Mediator/facilitator prepares participants for a mediation/conference by providing details of the process and coaching for success

 

  • Role of the mediator/facilitator
    • Listener
    • Process Guide
      • Facilitator is present with the participants and creates a safe environment to express feelings and needs
      • Facilitator is the guardian of the process by setting direction, keeping the discussion moving and assisting parties in working towards understanding
    • Clarifier of interests & topics (Participants may be motivated by feelings of hurt or anger, a desire to punish, or by hopes of concessions from the other side. The facilitator helps the parties identify and articulate their needs.)
    • The facilitator is not:
      • A judge
      • A problem solver
      • A legal advisor
      • A counsellor
      • An advocate

 

Each incident is unique, so the same is true of the resolution process. The facilitator’s time and thus the costs are tailored to the situation. For more complex situations, two facilitators might be required. Richard will provide free, brief, telephone consultation about the appropriateness of mediation or group conferencing to the incident. If the school or division decides to use his services, an incident-specific contract will be developed.