Corbett, J.R., Corbett, W.E.H. (2013) Volunteer Mediators: The Composition, Contribution, & Consequence of ADR Altruists. Phoenix, AZ: Advancing Dispute Resolution. Retrieved from: https://perma.cc/X83Y-WGN5
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Volunteer mediators bring constructive conflict engagement to the masses. They lend creativity, perspective, and light to troubled contexts of all variety; finessing frictions along the rough edges of our shared existence. They provide their communicative expertise to all in need, revealing and empowering from within those conflicted masses, unwitting entrepreneurs of understanding and resolution. Volunteer mediators do this out of passion and for an appreciation of alternatives to lesser forms of engagement. And from the efforts of these ADR altruists, our friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, communities, and institutions are able to labor less on what disrupts and distances and turn more frequently and resourcefully toward paths which move us forward together.
The importance of volunteer mediators would be difficult to overstate. From their constructive capacity to assist those in conflict, to their role in the evolution of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) field, the influence of volunteer mediators is incredibly powerful. Volunteers undertake a massive number of mediations each year, contributing invaluable donations of both time and talent. They are charged with not only accurately representing the values of the specific organizations at which they volunteer, but also actively informing and favorably shaping the broader public's perception of mediation and its value. Unfortunately, however, whether by design (as is the subtle practice amidst tableside opposition) or from the absence of a unified voice (as has resulted amidst the increasing insistence on commoditizing and professionalizing ADR), a collective acknowledgement of the importance and contribution of volunteer mediators has -- in research and practice -- been largely understated.
In an effort to support and value this vast volunteer roster, Advancing Dispute Resolution undertook an ambitious project to capture the expectations and experiences of volunteer mediators throughout the field. Drawing upon the variably coordinated networks which utilize volunteers, a request was sent to hundreds of organizations asking that they invite their active volunteer mediators to lend their voice to the Fieldwide Survey of Volunteer Mediators (Survey). The request was delivered to 450 community dispute resolution centers, 134 local bar associations, 110 ADR associations, 93 graduate and law school mediation clinics, 25 U.S. state and court offices of dispute resolution, and numerous ADR listserves, discussion groups, and online communities. From that cobbled network, 1,152 volunteers chose to engage the online Survey, generously lending their insights and impressive experiences to this project.
Fieldwide Survey of Volunteer Mediators
During a six-week window in the spring of 2013, 1,152 volunteer mediators completed the online Fieldwide Survey of Volunteer Mediators. This significant response -- a product of programs' and volunteers' generosity -- has resulted in the largest review of volunteer mediators' experiences and preferences ever produced. [Expand]
Participating volunteers were connected with 317 local programs located in 44 U.S. states and 15 countries around the world. This large number of Survey participants, their extensive provision of context-rich qualitative comments (1,000 comments in total running to over 100 pages of printed text), as well as the broad range of programmatic, geographic, contextual, and stylistic representations (each of which are detailed herein) suggest that the revealed trends and resulting insights are largely representative of the expectations and experiences of the expansive collective of volunteer mediators. Where applicable, external resources have been utilized to augment, support, and contextualize various findings. To help minimize the influence of ancillary variables, the following report is built upon the analysis of responses from only those volunteer mediators located within the United States. (Though accounts from their international brethren largely mirror U.S. volunteers', a more thorough analysis of non-U.S. volunteers' responses will be reviewed separately.)
Volunteer Mediators: The Composition, Contribution, and Consequence of ADR Altruists includes many never-before reported statistics, analyses, and unique data visualizations for nearly every aspect of the volunteer mediator experience. Local volunteer-utilizing programs, ADR researchers, and practitioners interested in the role of volunteerism within the dispute resolution field will each find intriguing and informative insights throughout. Discussed more thoroughly in their corresponding sections, some of the highlights include truly staggering estimates about the size, scope, and activity of the U.S. roster of volunteer mediators. There are, for example, an estimated 30,000 mediators throughout the U.S. who have volunteered their mediation expertise by way of a variety of institutions over the past year. While the activity of any particular volunteer varies significantly, the average volunteer will donate $575 in volunteer service as she mediates 14 cases each year. Collectively, the national volunteer roster contributes an annual conservative minimum of $17,800,000 in service as they mediate over 430,000 cases involving nearly 900,000 people who would otherwise toil and tear within their intense catalogues of conflict. These impressive accomplishments and many additional measures of volunteer activity are detailed and analyzed throughout this unique review.
The structure of the ensuing report is built upon the major components of its foundational Survey, and includes the following topics: Volunteer Demographics; Volunteer Expertise and Roles; Volunteer Motivations; Institutional Engagement; Case Types and Volume; Approach to Mediation; Volunteer Satisfaction; Volunteer Preferences; Contributions; and In Their Own Words. At the end of each section, readers are greeted with an invitational link to discuss that section of the report. Once clicked, readers can share their own volunteer experiences, contribute topical commentary within the relevant section, and engage the report authors. Finally, the report concludes with a list of all the entities and their locations at which participating volunteers contribute their services, including convenient links to learn more about those programs' mediation and volunteer opportunities.
Overall, this project has become the most extensively subscribed study of volunteer mediators ever undertaken. It has produced many never-before reported statistics about the composition, contribution, and consequence of volunteer mediators and the broader ADR field within which they operate. In undertaking and widely publishing this project's findings, Advancing Dispute Resolution is hopeful this report will achieve a number of aims, including helping to enhance programs' volunteer engagement practices, deepening colleagues' appreciation for volunteers' contributions, informing thought leaders and institutions as they consider the future roles of volunteerism within ADR, inspiring further research into volunteers' impact, and most importantly, honoring and supporting the service of the volunteers themselves.
The diversity of volunteer mediators within local mediation programs influences those programs’ viability, visibility, and vibrancy. Volunteer rosters which reflect the composition of their local communities’ populace may be imbued with additional credibility as a result of their representativeness. They may benefit from a greater breadth of personal and professional experiences which enhance individual party and broader social resonance. And they may attract more diverse clientele, allowing the constructive power of conflict engagement services to reach segments of the local population which are marginalized or reluctant users of traditional justice institutions. In short, diversity and inclusiveness within volunteer mediator rosters empowers and equips programs to achieve more.
For these reasons, volunteer mediator diversity has been a long-standing core value undergirding the social empowerment aspect of the community mediation and related movements. For example, the National Association for Community Mediation, within its Characteristics of Community Mediation Centers, encourages the practice of mediation to be open to all persons, and that volunteer mediators be representative of the communities served. Community Mediation Maryland’s 10 Point Community Mediation Model enumerates its first value as the goal to “train community members who reflect the community’s diversity with regard to age, race, gender, ethnicity, income and education to serve as volunteer mediators.” Similarly, many local community mediation programs, court programs, and other volunteer-utilizing mediation entities value and strive toward the attainment of community representativeness throughout their mediator rosters.
Given this high regard for volunteer diversity, a number of traditional demographic questions were included within the Fieldwide Survey of Volunteer Mediators. Of course, while diversity is a complex concept inexhaustively captured by the rigidity of survey questionnaires, certain common measures are extensively used by local programs in grant-related and year-end reporting and progress monitoring. We included these categories to generate a demographic analysis of how the national roster of volunteer mediators compared to the general population. (Further, more granular, analyses at the state and programmatic levels have also been selectively undertaken.) These measures, such as age, gender, educational attainment, race, household income, language capacity, and professional industry, align in terminology and response categories with metrics maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau and have facilitated a number of insightful comparisons detailed below.
Comparing Volunteer Mediators with U.S. Demographic Data
Select mediator characteristics were measured for comparative purposes with the broader population. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2011 and 2012 were used for these comparisons. (Data for the youngest U.S. population age category only includes those age 15-19, as this Survey did not attempt outreach to the extensive, yet substantively different youth roster of peer mediators. This truncation of the that specific age category results in a less than 100% total in reported population.) Mediators' primary professional industries compared to those of the employment-aged U.S. population. The extensive mediator over-representation within the "Professional, Scientific, and Management Services" industry is a product of its inclusion of the ADR and legal professions. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics were used for these comparisons. [Expand]
As detailed in the comparisons above, the march toward ever-inclusive volunteer mediator rosters has plenty of progress yet to achieve. Overall, the nation's volunteer roster is notably older, less professionally and racially diverse, and has more formal education and affluence than the broader population. All traditional minority populations are underrepresented when compared to the U.S. population, sometimes significantly. This is particularly evident within the hispanic and latino communities which represent 16% of the U.S. population, but account for only 3% of the nation's volunteer mediators. Volunteer mediators' educational attainment outranks not only the adult population, but also the otherwise moderately higher educated segment of U.S. adult volunteers, only 42% of which have graduate or professional degrees compared to 72% of volunteer mediators. Finally, in terms of gender distribution, women are disproportionately attracted to volunteering as mediators than men. This would a potential rare bright spot in diversity achievement for the dispute resolution field if it were not anecdotally associated with reports of women experiencing greater difficulty in successfully traversing -- for those thus inclined -- the volunteer-to-professional mediator pipeline.
Volunteer Roles & Expertise
Those in conflict entrust mediators with sensitive and oftentimes emotionally-charged information. They not only lay bare their negotiating positions, but -- through mediators’ encouragement -- also engage in collaborative exploration of deeply personal underlying interests, the revelation of which often leads to shared understanding, fundamental perspective shifts, and durable, satisfying agreements. Such personal explorations -- especially in the heat of conflict -- require parties’ confidence in mediators’ capacity to create and hold collaborative, constructive spaces. Absent such confidence, parties fail to meaningfully engage, conflicts persist, and possibilities for better paths foreclose.
Endowing volunteer mediators with confidence-inspiring characteristics, therefore, should be a purposeful -- though understandably difficult -- process. Indeed, instilling the profession’s and broader public’s confidence in volunteers’ professional prowess may demand even more effort than is required from those beyond the variable pall of the ‘volunteer’ designation. Volunteer mediators must often prove not only a baseline capacity to mediate, but also their competent parity with professional brethren who command hourly rates that rival society’s most financially-respected trades. Absent a perceived equality, volunteers -- and the many hundreds of organizations which rely upon their contributions -- risk escalated professional suspicions and public devaluation. Indeed, concerns have been murmured throughout the profession for some time about the deleterious effects of mediation hobbyists on the credibility and viability of our perennially-emerging field. Concurring public devaluation of volunteers’ contributions further compound the challenge posed to volunteer mediators in commanding a respect worthy of the public’s confidence.
Far from being a roster of inexperienced “if onlys,” however, volunteer mediators represent a more diverse and arguably more liberated microcosm than the broader profession has been able to achieve. The national roster of volunteer mediators is full of expertly trained, substantively seasoned, whip-sharp, skills-honed practitioners with the luxury of mediating for passion and purpose alone. They have undergone dozens of skills-rich advanced mediation trainings, maintained steady service records (often for many years on end), and have achieved parity with their market-oriented counterparts in many of the common measures of mediation success, save the highly-sought sustainable billable hour.
Overall, the Survey revealed a strong basis for instilling public confidence and dispelling professionals’ concerns. Beyond dozens of advanced training hours, volunteer mediators report a strong appetite for even more. Despite a total lifetime mediation record averaging over 200 cases, volunteers voraciously await their next assignments. The vast majority of volunteers have several years of experience, including one-third who have served eight or more years. Finally, just under half of volunteers are also part-time or full-time professional mediators. For these volunteers, a number of professional motivations, including context diversity, image enhancement, and skills development drive their service.
Volunteer & Professional Tenure
Volunteer mediators often engage in both volunteer and professional mediation services. All survey participants identified the duration of their volunteer tenure, while 43% (rounded above) also identified the duration of their additional professional mediation services. Badges in this graphic are scaled based on the percentage of U.S. mediators who reported their tenure within the identified categories. [Expand]
Advanced Mediation Training Hours
Beyond basic mediation training, volunteer mediators have often undertaken a large number of advanced and continuing training courses. This graphic reports the number of those additional training hours completed by volunteer mediators. Hourglasses are scaled by the percentage of respondents who identified their advanced training hours within the identified categories. [Expand]
The above graphics outline volunteers' tenure and advanced training hours. Within the reported tenures -- listed first as all volunteers and then as only that segment which also conducts professional mediations -- trends emerged within service longevity. There exists, for example, a notable decrease in both volunteer and professional service tenure from the relative high frequency of reports of those within the 2 - 4 years block, then descending steadily downward into the 8 - 10 years category. This suggests the occurrence of at least one interesting phenomena amongst both volunteer and professionally-involved mediators. Namely, both categories of practitioners appear to have enough inherent service fortitude to engage as mediators for at least the first several years of service. Thereafter, however, fewer mediators appear to transition into longer service records, suggesting initial burnout for volunteers (or fatigue from the oh-so-slow growth of revenue-sustaining professional practice) may begin after only two years of service and then reach maximum disenchantment and frustration as mediators near a decade of service. This could alternatively be conceived of as a seven-year-itch for mediators, who, following years of service begin to look longingly at alternative realms to satisfy their civic- and career-minded urges. Thus framed, it suggests to volunteer-utilizing organizations (as well as those field institutions which benefit from professionals of increasing tenure) that there should be additional resources invested in re-energizing mediators within the five-plus,-but-not-yet-ten-year-anniversary service cohort.
Below, we see the various roles Survey participants reported holding. Some roles relate to oft-discussed dichotomies within the ADR field, such as the pervasive attorney/non-attorney monikers and the volunteer/professional practice contexts. For the attorney designation specifically, it is notable that only 25% of volunteer mediators' background professions are in law. Despite Survey outreach to traditional legal institutions such as bar associations, court programs, law clinics, and pro bono agencies, this composition contrasts starkly with widely held perceptions which place the attorney-mediator in a solid majority amongst the ADR field's dual- or second-profession practitioners. Compounding addlement from this observation is the prevalence of many of the field's more supported and productive structures which themselves originate from within legal spheres, such as ADR degree-conferring law schools, coveted court rosters, state supreme court regulatory commissions, and many of the more populated ADR associations. What this may suggest, however, is that volunteer attorney-mediators may be choosing to contribute a larger portion of their pro bono time to the former segment of their hyphenated profession, tabling fee-less mediation service in deference to honing the revenue-potential of their second-career in ADR. Inferred support for this hypothesis could be found in the rate of those who self-report professional mediator status from amongst the chasmed non- / attorney camps. Of Survey participants, only 36% of non-attorneys also perform non-volunteer (i.e. paid or professional) mediations, whereas 61% of their attorney counterparts report such work. This discrepancy notably abates but still continues at the highest levels of professional mediation practice: the coveted Full-Time ADR Professional status. Only 30% of non-attorney professional mediators report having been able to carve out a sustainable full-time practice, whereas a slightly larger 36%
Select Volunteer Mediator Roles
Select measures of volunteer mediators roles are reported, including attorney and professional mediator status, as well as whether they engage in any additional volunteer service with the organization at which they volunteer mediate. Despite a perceived prominence of attorneys within the ADR profession, attorneys are notably underrepresented within the volunteer context. [Expand]
Finally, the Survey explored the frequency and composition of additional volunteer roles which extend mediators' service to their local organizations. On this measure, two-thirds of respondents reported constraining their volunteer service to their mediator role. The final third, however, contribute additional services by invitation or through their own initiative. These extra-mile mediators contribute a mix of additional specialty, non-specialty, and Board/Committee service.
Mediators' Additional Service
Two-thirds of volunteer mediators limit their service to active mediation. The final third provide additional service to the organization at which they mediate. Examples of additional non-specialty services include routine office tasks and outreach during community events. Specialty services are those which require an advanced skill set, such as bookkeeping or legal counsel. [Expand]
Nine percent of volunteers extend their mediation service by also offering a variety of non-specialty services, such as manning information booths at public fairs, performing routine office tasks, and assisting with event setup and tear-down, amongst others. Thirteen percent of volunteer mediators -- often drawing upon their non-ADR professional backgrounds -- contribute an additional specialty service to their programs. Shared examples of donated specialty services included on-demand legal counsel, annual tax preparation, professional design services for marketing materials, website development and maintenance, and the provision of advanced training courses. These specialty services are particularly beneficial for many recipient organizations, as these entities tend to have small staffs and limited financial resources to secure these services at what would otherwise require market rates. As such, volunteer mediators who lend their non-mediation expertise to local programs help further extend their organizations' capacities and reputations within their communities. Several participants, however, made a point of noting that their local program staff failed to invite, neglected to offer meaningful opportunities, or outright discouraged non-mediation opportunities, despite these volunteers' interest in offering such service. This is an area demanding thoughtful exploration by program staff, especially if they are to keep pace with local demands and the expectations of their clients, partners, and volunteers. The third and largest segment (17 percent) of volunteers who engage in additional service provision report contributing their time and talents through their organizations' Boards and Committees. Finally, undoubted nominees for volunteer excellence awards are those two percent of volunteer mediators who report contributing both additional specialty and non-specialty services, and the very active one-percenters who provide each of the additional listed categories.
It is important to understand what drives mediators to volunteer. For volunteer-utilizing programs, this awareness can inform and enhance their recruitment, engagement, retention, and recognition efforts. For volunteers themselves, this self-reflection can serve as a periodic check to assess whether underlying interests are being met through their volunteer service. Additionally, the Survey found mediators' motivations substantively correlate with volunteers' case frequency, scope of service, and ultimate tenure with the organization, adding further value to the effort of understanding motivations.
Through the Survey, volunteers reported a broad mix of internally- and externally-oriented motivations. Internal motivations included “satisfaction of helping others” and a personal “connection with the organization’s mission.” External factors were primarily professionally-focused, including “professional skills development,” a desire to “enhance one’s professional image or reputation,” and the benefit of “professional connections received.” Additional externally-oriented motivations were “diversity of practice or context opportunities” and a “requirement of another entity” such as a school clinic or court roster. Complementing these seven options, volunteers added over 130 additional motivations, several of which are included below.
Additional Volunteer Motivations
- Being retired, I am able to use my experience and knowledge through mediation
- Always interesting
- Visibility with the courts
- Keeps my mind active
- Experiencing the surprise and delight that comes with conflict resolution
- Exposure of my company and skill set
- Keeping my skill sharp and my stories up to date as a trainer
- Personal skills development
- Contributing to my community’s quality of life
- Connection to case stories
- Helping expand the field of alternative dispute resolution
- Volunteering keeps mediation free
- Learning from more experienced co-mediators
- Recertification requirements
- I enjoy mediating. Why else?
- I have a faith based motivation
- Intellectual stimulation
- I was invited to help out
"I'm a Peace Studies student and I really like that mediation gives me an opportunity to practice skills that help me in my field of study and future career."
- Help me to get my foot in the door
- Deeply fulfilling on a personal level
- One step to world peace
Of course, volunteers' motivations are often multidimensional. Through the Survey, mediators were able to select from a variety of motivations which resonated with their personal rationales for volunteering. For a limited few (13%), only a single factor which influenced their decision to volunteer was chosen. The vast majority (87%), however, reported mixed motivations. The following graphic details the complexity of volunteers' motivations by reporting how frequently a progressively larger number of factors were chosen. The majority of volunteer mediators, for example, are motivated by three to four distinct factors. Conversely, very few mediators are influenced by a large number of factors, suggesting most mediators experience a diminishing return for each additional motivating factor once an resonate level of motivation has been achieved. For programs, this suggests promotional messages soliciting new volunteer mediators need only focus on a select few enticements rather than crafting complex messaging which details extensive lists of volunteer benefits. It also suggests programs would be unlikely to suffer notable harm from capping (or at least curtailing escalated) investments in new volunteer enticements as they seek to expand or replenish their volunteer rosters.
Frequency of Volunteer Mediators' Motivations
The choice to serve as a volunteer mediator is a rewarding one supported by a number of underlying motivations. This graphic identifies the percentage of mediators who reported everything from a single motivating factor to up to eight motivating factors which influence their volunteerism. In addition to the eight options expressly identified within the Survey, mediators also offered a further 136 reasons which inform their decision to volunteer. [Expand]
Beyond the number of motivational drivers, it is also important to explore the associations between those drivers. The following graphic reveals both the frequency of each specific motivation, as well as how frequently each motivation was co-reporting with the alternative motivations. For example, 92% of volunteer mediators are driven by the satisfaction of helping others. For many of those mediators, there is also a strong resonance with acquiring the professional skills development that their volunteerism provides. The strength of this co-reporting (67% of U.S. volunteers reported this combination) is graphically represented by the thickness of the line connecting these two motivations. Strong motivational connections also exist between those driven by the satisfaction of helping others and (1) a connection with the organization's mission (47% reported this combination), as well as (2) the diversity of practice/context opportunities (44% reported this combination). As with the strength of various motivational dyads, the weaknesses of select dyad reports is also notable. For example, only 2% of all U.S. volunteer mediators co-reported being motivated by a requirement by another entity (e.g. school, roster, etc.) and a connection with the organization's mission at which they volunteer. Adjusted as a percentage of only those who are motivated by another's requirement, this combination only climbs to a 40%, the smallest combination amongst compelled volunteers.
Web of Volunteer Mediators' Motivations
Given the option of identifying with multiple motivations which influence their volunteerism, 87% of mediators identified more than one motivating factor. This graphic highlights that multi-motivational reporting. Line density between motivation nodes is representative of how frequently mediators cross-reported those two factors. The most frequently reported motivational pair (67% of respondents) was those who are motivated by (1) the satisfaction of helping others and (2) professional skills development. Those who reported being motivated by a (7) requirement of an outside entity (5%) reported very few additional motivations, suggesting the requirement may mask the personal and professional motivations commonly reported by their more voluntarily volunteering counterparts. [Expand]
For organizations, knowing the more prevalent volunteer motivations can help streamline recruitment efforts. Given volunteers' near unanimous resonance with the personal satisfaction of helping others, this would likely be the most fruitful factor to emphasize when seeking the engagement of future cadre or roster members. For professional incentive, emphasizing volunteerism as a skills development effort will likely resonate with nearly three times more potential volunteers than framing the activity as a connections-generating endeavor. At the bottom of the motivation menu, compelled volunteerism via a requirement from another entity does very little to motivate service, and in fact correlates with a reported impending cessation of future service. As such, required volunteerism should be used sparingly and contextualized for those thus compelled as an undertaking which provides a range of personal and professional benefits, rather than a mere requirement to be fulfilled and then dropped. Of course, the implications of these insights apply to soliciting future volunteers just as they do to inspiring the continued service the field's current volunteers.
Those seeking to volunteer as a mediator have a large number of institutional contexts from which to choose. Volunteerism is available -- to varying degrees -- within each of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Community and restorative justice organizations facilitate two-thirds of ADR volunteerism. Court programs, through their volunteer rosters and coordinated settlement-oriented events, represent nearly a quarter of the field's donated mediation services. Most contexts, however, represent only a fraction of the existing volunteer mediation activity. Rounding out the additional institutional contexts in which volunteer opportunities exist are law and graduate school clinics (3%), federal government (1%), local bar associations (1%), pro bono agencies (1%), informal or independent contexts (e.g. occasional fee waivers from practitioners) (1%), and other miscellaneous contexts (3%).
Institutional Context of Volunteerism
Volunteer mediators have a number of available paths when choosing where to serve. This graphic represents how frequently the primary volunteer paths are chosen by U.S. mediators. Community and restorative justice organizations -- attracting nearly two-thirds of volunteers -- represent the most frequently chosen institutional context for service-oriented mediators. Representing only 24% of the national roster by number of volunteers, court-connected mediators are the most active segment of the roster by completing over 30% of the annual volunteer cases. [Expand]
The choice of which institutional context to engage is not inconsequential for volunteer mediators. By cross-referencing Survey participants' responses, several statistically significant correlations were discovered between volunteers' primary institutional context and their reported mediation style and model, case type and frequency, and overall satisfaction. Those choosing to volunteer with local court programs, for example, report higher usage of the single mediator model, while their community-connected counterparts more frequently utilize a co-mediation model. Court volunteers, are provided a more steady diet of business conflicts than their community colleagues. Community mediation centers, however, engender amongst their volunteers a more satisfying connection with the organization's values than court programs achieve. Volunteers connected with pro bono agencies tend to be slightly more evaluative in style than those in other contexts. Those connected primarily with either pro bono agencies or local bar associations report lower levels of satisfaction with their training sufficiency. Finally, volunteer court mediators desire case follow-up less than those from other contexts. Each of these were small to moderate correlations but highlight interesting differences volunteers experience as a result of their chosen path.
It is, on one hand, unsurprising that local community and restorative justice programs represent such a large percentage of volunteer mediators' primary service, as these programs' very design depends on such service. It is surprising, however, that these organizations have been roundly and historically under-supported by the field and broader social institutions which substantially benefit from their mass coordination of service. The resulting precarity of local programs' financial and structural resources -- a state thoroughly reviewed throughout ADR literature -- not only keeps these programs at the margins of their potential, but also minimizes public exposure to mediation's constructive power and threatens to diminish the quantity and quality of future volunteer opportunities for the field's professional mediators-to-be.
Case Types & Volume
There are few spheres of conflict into which the benefits of mediator-facilitated dialogue have been unable to penetrate. Indeed, mediation is well into its steady march toward increasing utilization wherever our interpersonal or institutional interactions bend wayward. Though degrees of impact and unanimity of endorsement vary, mediation is, today, employed in all manner of conflicts, ranging from the emergent to the entrenched, simple to sophisticated, and intimate to international. For nearly as many conflict contexts as professional mediators market their specialties, volunteers can also be found lending their services to those who are unable to afford or qualify for non-volunteer assistance. Indeed, for many conflict contexts, it is volunteers at local programs who forged the original inroads and who continue to lead the innovative use of mediation within these expanding spheres of application.
Volunteer mediators are prolific in both the range and volume of their cases. Though the specific level of case activity varies widely between volunteer mediators, their activity as a national roster is decidedly significant. The average lifetime number of total volunteer mediations is 140 cases. For those volunteers who also mediate in a professional capacity, that average number of career-long professional mediations climbs to 193, though many senior and prolific professionals vastly outpace that average. Looking just at volunteered cases, it is not surprising that the more professionally involved one is in the field, the more they have contributed as a volunteer. Part-time professional mediators, for example, average nearly 20 additional volunteer cases than those who only volunteer, whereas full-time professional mediators have served an average of nearly 60 additional volunteer cases than their non-professional counterparts. Volunteer court mediators average 55 more cases in their volunteer record than community mediators. While non-attorneys contribute 63% more volunteer mediations than their attorney counterparts.
Notable differentiations also exist among volunteer mediators who engage in professional mediation work, as well. Full-time mediators, for example, roundly outpace their part-time counterparts four-and-a-half fold, averaging 378 career-long mediations compared to only 83 from part-timers. Evaluative mediators report far less case experience than their transformative (58% less) and facilitative (66% less) counterparts. Attorney mediators average 26% more cases than their non-attorney colleagues, suggesting legally-oriented professional mediators are more successful in securing highly-sought paid mediation opportunities. And finally, it is notable that minority volunteers report a slightly higher average number of professional mediations (7% more) than white volunteers.
Comparing Volunteer & Professional Case Volumes
Many volunteer mediators utilize their services in both a volunteer and professional capacity. This chart uses select mediator characteristics to compare the average total number of cases completed within the volunteer and professional contexts as reported by survey participants. [Expand]
Looking next at the total number of reported mediations, we can visualize several notable trends in case experience as it relates to both mediator age and practice context. First, volunteer mediators are largely volunteers first and foremost. We can see the sheer number of volunteer cases dwarfs the reported number of professional mediations performed by professionally-engaged volunteers. This significance holds regardless the mediators' age. What does change with age, however, is the total number of both professional and volunteer case volumes. This steadily increases until mediators reach the 70 or older age category, at which point there were fewer mediators reporting on all but the largest range of lifetime volunteer case experience: 1,000+ mediations. This is likely a product of both the field's relative youth and resulting lack of mediators who have regularly engaged for many decades, as well as the ability of the Survey to reach those older volunteer mediators who may accumulated large case volumes but have since disengaged from regular service.
Comparing Total Volunteer & Professional Case Volumes
This chart identifies the total number of volunteer and professional cases reported by U.S. volunteer mediator survey participants. The size of each circle corresponds with the number of mediators who reported that particular number of total mediations. The positive correlation between age and total case volume in both the volunteer and professional contexts is readily visible, though mediators of all ages are most densely concentrated at 50 or fewer total cases. [Expand]
Comprehending the field's large number of volunteer mediations and contextualizing it within the range of case types served is a difficult proposition. Individual programs can likely massage their data to determine which referral partners or case contexts command the most attention. Doing so on a national scale for over 430,000 cases annually, is, however, a different proposition altogether. Presuming we could collectively coordinate the entire U.S. roster of volunteer mediators and organize their activity into a single calendar, we could visualize which case types command the greatest resources, and which receive the least attention. The following graphic does just that, displaying the aggregated activity for all volunteer mediators within an average month. Thus organized, a number of interesting allocations come into focus.
First, court-connected mediations command the lion's share of volunteer mediators' attention, requiring nearly two full weeks of each month. Family-related mediations follow next, consuming nearly five and a half days of volunteers' service. Community mediations are the third most prominent with an average of four days per month. (This is particularly notable given that local community mediation programs attract and coordinate 65% of the nation's volunteers; suggesting just how far these programs may have deviated from their original focus on community-oriented conflicts.) Ranking fourth and fifth most common are business/commercial cases and workplace conflicts, requiring 3.6 and 1.8 days, respectively. Victim-Offender mediations, some of the most emotionally and logistically-taxing cases, are on volunteers' docket but a mere 1.6 days each month. Peer and school-related mediations are even less frequent for volunteers, dotting the collective calendar for just over one day per month. Finally, on their 31st day, volunteer mediators engage in a free-for-all, mediating a miscellany of disharmony that includes such contexts as congregational, debt collection, elder, environmental, foreclosure, prisoner re-entry, public policy, and much more. Throughout weekends and midnight hours, the nation's roster of volunteer mediators is never fully at rest; serving those in conflict at a pace of 1,200 cases every single day.
U.S. Volunteers' Monthly Case Types
Each day, U.S. volunteers participate in nearly 1,200 mediations. This monthly calendar represents the aggregated cases for all volunteer mediators if their service were to be coordinated and sequenced according to the eight case types identified above. For example, court-connected cases would consume over 12 days each month; family-related cases, over five days; and community conflicts, four days. [Expand]
Collectively, volunteer mediators represent an incredibly productive segment of the field. Their aggregated service contributions are impressive even at the smallest of increments, such as their initiation of a new mediation session every 72 seconds! At this rate, one wonders whether their interest, their coordinating structures, and the broader public demand can support a continuance or even growth of this level of activity. Gauging volunteer interest, the Survey asked mediators how they anticipated their volunteerism would change over the upcoming year, and were provided with categories ranging from a planned cessation of all volunteer activity to a substantial increase in their activity. Volunteers' responses were paired with a conservative estimate of their reported hourly contributions, as well as their unique composition of case types, and then quantified to determine the practical impact of their anticipated changes. The following graphic visualizes those anticipated changes and projects how volunteers' contributions will evolve over the coming year.
Volunteers' Anticipated Activity During the Upcoming Year
Volunteers were asked to estimate whether and how significantly their level of volunteerism is anticipated to change over the upcoming 12 months. Their responses -- ranging from ceasing all activity to significantly increasing activity -- were then paired with their current hourly activity (top graphic) and their current level of case activity within eight specific case types (lower graphics). Aggregated anticipated changes for each case type is identified and range from a 2% decrease amongst peer mediation case types, to a 11% increase for victim-offender mediations. You can also see how anticipated activity compares for those who are currently most active (outer arches) to those who are currently less or inactive (inner arches). Family, peer, and workplace mediation, for example, all have a disproportionately high percentage of very active volunteers who anticipate significantly decreasing their activity over the coming year. The two most active categories of community mediators, conversely, report no decrease in anticipated activity. Overall, mediators anticipated increasing their volunteer activity by 6% over the coming year, suggesting continued capacity building, procedural enhancements, and case solicitation will be necessary from their coordinating entities to satisfy that demand. [Expand]
Looking first at volunteers' hourly contributions (top arch), we can quickly see a sizable segment of volunteers are planning to contribute even more hours throughout 2014. Starting at the bottom left of the top arch, we see a mere one percent of volunteers indicate their desire to drop out of the volunteer service altogether within the next year (black). The grey segments -- darker shades representing progressively larger decreases in planned activity -- represent a combined average of only 13% of volunteers. Just over half (52%) of volunteers plan on maintaining their current level of activity -- represented by the white or empty arch segments. The final, energized 34% of volunteers are ramping up to increase their hourly activity either moderately (light orange) or significantly (dark orange). This top arch is further segmented by volunteers' current level of hourly contribution, allowing us to see how current and planned activities correlate. We can see, for example, that those currently at the highest level of activity (21+ hours per month) also anticipate the largest rate of growth over the coming year. (This is represented by more oranges and less black/greys proportional to segment size.) Save that class of high flyers, every other category of volunteers anticipates a largely similar rate of decrease in their annual activity, ranging from 13 to 16 percent. Given conservative estimates of their current hourly contributions, the nation's volunteer roster anticipates donating seven percent more hours of mediation service than they clocked in the preceding year.
How those additional hours are allocated across the various case types is the subject of the lower arches. Visualized similarly to the hourly contributions, and enumerating aggregated changes, we can immediately see which specific case types inspire volunteers' increased (or decreased) activity. Each of the categories, except peer/school-related mediations, achieved a net increase in anticipated activity. A substantial decrease in anticipated activity from among the most active peer mediators weighed future gains significantly enough to result in a projected two percent decrease in case volume for that context. Substantial decreases in future activity were also reported amongst the highest rungs of volunteers engaged in both family and workplace mediations. Interestingly, those most heavily engaged in community mediation (those contributing seven hours or more per month on average) reported no anticipated cessations or decreases in future activity.
Approach to Mediation
How mediators engage the mediation process influences the foci, logistics, outcomes, and perceptions of that process. A mediator's approach has the capacity to empower lasting personal growth and inspire creative collaborations, but it can also entrench parallelled narrowness and arrest potential progress. Vaguely categorized as a mediator's skill, her approach to mediation is actually a complex and dynamic set of factors, some of which are consciously committed tableside, while others subtly influence from beyond the mediator's active management. Though the quantity and impact of influential factors expands with each new round of practitioner introspection and macrospective research, volunteer mediators were invited to self-identify with a few of the more widely-recognized factors. Namely, the Survey examined volunteers' primary mediation style, mediation model, and goals held while at the mediation table. While each of these three variables are themselves dependent composites of more granular behaviors and beliefs -- many of which the field's increasingly sophisticated research has identifying as corporately infidelitous -- their capacity to influence core aspects of any mediation session is widely accepted.
Turning first to mediation styles, participants were asked to identify the particular style which most closely resembled their primary approach as a volunteer mediator. The resounding response was a substantial preference for the facilitative style. Commanding nearly two-thirds of the responses, this prominence is no doubt a product of not only the style's vogue status the field round, but also the programmatic preferences and policies at these volunteers' coordinating entities. A distant second is the amalgamated, fusion-friendly hybrid style. This definition-challenging grab bag of "whatever the situation demands" enjoys favor amongst volunteers who (1) are often less- or altogether un-involved in informative intake procedures (and therefore less privy to what may be required for impending mediations), (2) mediate a broad diversity of conflict contexts, and (3) whose local programs likely impose comparatively fewer practice strictures. Champion of party empowerment and recognition shifts, the transformative mediation style is the primary approach for 10% of the nation's volunteer mediators. This bronze placement is likely a testament to the select number of local community dispute resolution programs which have purposefully and thoroughly embraced the transformative ethos, and which train and mediate in no other style.
Inclusive mediation, the athenian progeny of our field's oft-lauded Maryland braintrust, is a relative newcomer to the style salon, having rebranded and begun certifying mediators under its framework only several years ago. Despite its youth (and possibly because of the attractive -- and understandably mis-attributed -- title of this codified style), five percent of volunteer mediators reported their allegiance to the inclusive ideals. Maryland volunteers' reliably strong Survey showing notwithstanding, a five percent resonance with the inclusive framework is particularly notable given both the speed and achievement of its ascension within the evaluative-facilitative-transformative trichotomy which has long dominated the field's stylistic discourse. It suggests that despite concerns of a prematurely calcifying field or an increasingly pedestrian professionalism, the mediation process and its practitioners can still warm to and embrace enticing stylistic cocktails which import new values or illuminate newfound nuance.
Of final note, are the five percent of volunteer mediators who were unsure about their primary mediation style. Though a mediator's confidence in attributing her style is ultimately far less important than her ability to employ the skill set which underpins that style, it is surprising that so many volunteers were left a bit befuddled by the listed -- and even open-ended "other" -- stylistic options. A five percent showing extrapolated to the national volunteer roster is an estimated 1,500 mediators; 1,500 practitioners engaging in over 20,000 cases annually, each of whom are unmoved by -- or possibly uninformed of -- one of the more fundamental aspects of how mediators define what it is they do. This may well be a product of revised training programs which have inched away from aging labels or moved toward emphasizing these labels' composite skill sets rather than their historic headings. Still, inasmuch as these labels represent distinct conceptualizations of how, when, and even why mediation works, they should remain an important component of mediators' understanding of their work. Comfort with a lasting inarticulateness about how we achieve mediation's aims, and an uncertainty of the frameworks which seek to structure our practice discourages intellectual vibrance amongst practitioners and diminishes the distinctiveness of our styles and processes until they become but rote steps increasingly indistinguishable from the alternatives from which we have sought and fought so earnestly to pivot.
Primary Mediation Style Amongst Volunteers
Nearly two-thirds of volunteer mediators self-identify with a facilitative mediation style or orientation. Amongst the remaining third is an assortment of styles chosen by the mediators or required of their coordinating entity. It is notable that 5% of respondents identified with the Inclusive mediation style, a style recently established in Maryland that is increasingly utilized amongst community mediation programs in that state. Given the notable response rate for such a newly developed approach to mediation suggests the field may yet be open to considering new styles outside the traditional orientations. It is also notable that 5% of respondents were unsure what style they primarily employed during mediation sessions. Though nominal within the Survey sample, extrapolating to the national volunteer roster suggests there may be as many as 1,500 volunteer mediators who are uncertain how their approach to mediation conforms with the field's most common and oft discussed styles. [Expand]
Moving into mediation models, we examine the prevalence of single, co-, and alternative mediation configurations. Many community mediation programs -- the primary institutional coordinators of volunteers -- prefer the co-mediator setup. This design allows mediators with varying experience levels, professional or topical backgrounds, skill sets, and even demographics to expand their constructive capacity and party resonance through co-lending their service to a single conflict situation. Indeed, the benefits of this design have contributed to its use in the majority (56%) of volunteer-involved mediations. There are a number of reasons, however, why this design is not utilized, including volunteers' availability, their comfort and prowess with the intricacies of co-mediation, or the seemingly ever-ratcheting pressure of local programs to achieve more with less. In these instances, a single volunteer mediator is used to shepherd parties through their shadowy valleys of conflict. This single-mediator model occurs in 41% of volunteer-involved mediations. Beyond this traditional single-/co- dichotomy, a host of alternative models exist. Utilized in fewer than three percent of all volunteer-involved mediations, these alternatives are models motivated by specific community or programmatic preferences, adopted from aligned practices, or otherwise influenced to hybridize. Examples of these alternative models include the use of a tri-mediator panel, the use of a single mediator for what in many places would be considered a small group facilitation, or the inclusion of one or more inactive observers.
Though not a specific model, per se, a further alternative setup so commonly occurs that it warrants note here. In this design, a single (or co-) mediator arrives at the mediation table -- schedules cleared, prepped by intake staff, and ready to volunteer their expertise -- but are met instead with empty chairs the table round. The parties, for one (often unknown) reason or another had apparently decided not to participate in their scheduled session. This frustrating experience occurs so frequently for volunteers, that it was consistently lamented throughout the Survey's qualitative outlets despite the lack of any specific question prompting such responses. The occurrence of no-shows has become a significant detraction to what is otherwise a very satisfied volunteer experience. The frequency of this experience may suggest needed refinements to the intake/confirmation processes, the introduction of deterrents to parties' seemingly trifle assessment of volunteers' (and staffs') investments, or, at least, the coordination of optional alternative activities in which volunteers could engage to compensate for their otherwise squandered service.
Typically informed by the convening entities' policies, the use of one or two mediators during a mediation session are the most commonly reported models. Fifty-six percent of mediators report the co-mediation model is most commonly utilized during their volunteer service. Additional arrangements, which accounted for 3% of responses, included a tri-mediation panel, a circle model more commonly utilized in restorative justice processes, and a notable number of mediators who expressed strong frustration for party no-shows and/or too few case assignments. [Expand]
Just as parties arrive tableside with a variety of objectives, mediators, too, hope to achieve a number of goals during the session. For the dialogue-focused purists, these goals may be as simple as helping to create and hold a space in which the parties can maneuver at will. Most mediators, however, hold a number of process-oriented, outcome-aspired, and satisfaction-enhancing goals; amorphous pavers lain by mediators toward emerald answers and posts which measure the shared journey down their foreshadowed path. The quantity, complexity, and underlying motivations of these goals vary by mediator and are influenced by practitioners' trainings, previous case experiences, philosophical alignments, professional backgrounds, and even their personalities. Far from static preferences, many of these goals can even morph intra-session, shifting alongside unfolding in-room interpersonal dynamics and re-prioritizing themselves based on participants' revelations and perceived progress assessments.
Though mediators likely hold and characterize their respective goals quite differently one from another, Survey participants were asked to respond to a set of ten commonly ascribed goals, indicating how frequently they held each goal while mediating as a volunteer. The goals were articulated as follows: (1) settle the case; (2) narrow the conflict into resolvable issues; (3) minimize time, cost, and/or risk for the parties; (4) satisfy parties' underlying interests; (5) give parties a chance to tell their stories and feel heard; (6) help parties get closure; (7) promote communication between parties; (8) preserve parties' relationship; (9) improve parties' understanding of the case; and (10) help develop creative solutions. An open-ended "other" option was also included, allowing participants to identify alternative goals and their frequencies, an option many exercised. While the responses are charted below, it is notable that a select number of volunteers took this entire concept to task, challenging the presumption that mediators carelessly pollute participants' exchanges with external objectives -- a heady, yet worthy provocation to those would-be manipulators and artificial nullifiers.
Mediators' Goals at the Table
Mediators are often motivated by a number of different -- sometimes competing -- goals during the mediation process. This graph represents how frequently volunteer mediators are motivated by 10 commonly reported goals. The most frequently reported goal amongst U.S. volunteer mediators is giving the parties a chance to tell their stories and feel heard, while the least frequently held goals were (1) preserving the parties’ relationships and (2) settling the case. [Expand]
One influential factor affecting goal resonance is a mediator's style. Having asked Survey participants to report both their style and their tableside goals, it was possible to identify within each goal how significantly (if at all) mediators of different styles deviated from the collective average response for that goal. The resulting visualization segments each of the ten goals into six style categories: evaluative, facilitative, hybrid, inclusive, transformative, and unsure. Thus segmented, we can identify whether mediators of a particular style more (orange) or less (grey) frequently resonate with a particular goal than was averaged by the broader collective. As facilitative mediators constituted the majority of Survey participants' primary style, that segment exhibits the smallest deviations from the combined roster. Other stylistic segments, however, display significant deviations, supporting the proposition that mediator style -- beyond a mere academic label -- is, in fact, an influential factor in determining mediators' practice-altering objectives.
By far the most consistently deviant class of mediators were inclusive volunteers. Each of the ten articulated goals held markedly less resonance for inclusive mediators than they did for the collective's average, and the most significant negative deviation in all but two of the goals -- (1) giving the parties a chance to hear their stories and feel heard, and (2) promote communication between parties, both of which were only marginally out-indifferenced by volunteers who were unsure of their style. Not to be confused for apathets or wayward practitioners, it is likely that these newly minted inclusive mediators are deeply motivated by their framework's specific terminology from which this Survey failed to borrow.
Other, more storied styles, however, deviate in notable ways, as well. Evaluative mediators, for example, were 14% more motivated by the goal of settling the case than the collective's average. Transformative mediators, on the other hand, reported 13% less resonance with this goal than the average. In fact, transformative volunteers were comparatively unmotivated by many of the goals, except for preserving the parties' relationship (where they were in sync with the median), promoting communication between parties (where they outpaced the median by three percent), and for both giving parties a chance to tell their stories and feel heard, as well as improving the parties' understanding of the case (where they averaged a two percent higher connection in each). Finally, our hybrid grab-bag-brokers-of-the-middle-way either matched or exceeded median goal resonance in each of the identified goals, netting the strongest affiliation with the desires to (1) minimize time, cost, and/or risk for the parties (9%), (2) help develop creative solutions (6%), and (3) settle the case (6%).
Comparing Mediator Goals & Mediator Styles
How mediators choose to engage the mediation process will naturally influence the goals they have for that process. This chart compares mediator styles with the reported frequency of common mediator goals. In this layout, we can notice how different styles compare with one another, as well as how they compare to how frequently all volunteers held each goal. For example, evaluative mediators report holding the goal of "settling the case" far more frequently (82%) than any alternative style and than the combined volunteer roster. Inclusive mediators (n=51) consistently report holding each of the goals less frequently than any alternative style and than the combined volunteer roster. [Expand]
As noted earlier, the structured list of ten potential goals was an admittedly inadequate directory from which to thoroughly encapsulate mediators' eclectic motivations. Thankfully, many Survey participants shared additional, often more descriptive goals, by completing an elicitive textbox. A few of the many additional goals that were provided are shared below and help highlight the range of interests mediators seek to satisfy through their service.
Additional Volunteer Goals
- Find the deeper or more important answers to things they were confused about.
- I love when I can help the parties see that the other side isn't "evil" and open up space for dialogue and creative solutions.
- Improve parties recognition of their own assumptions.
- Raise awareness about value of mediation.
- Bringing peace to our world.
"Improve quality of conflict interaction through shifts in empowerment and recognition."
- Understanding of personal responsibility.
- Calm the disputants so they can communicate better.
- Help parents focus on the impact of their relationship issues on their children.
- Maintain court presence and professionalism.
- Preparation before court appearance.
- All the above that result from me doing my job of keeper of the process.
- It's not my place to have my own goals for the parties' dispute. They determine it themselves in exercise of Standard I: Self-Determination.
"I have no goal when a mediation starts, except to see where the parties take it with my help."
- Help parties' to consider how they would react to the dispute if they were the other party.
- Safety of the parties.
- Refocus from positions to interests.
- Promoting the efficacy of mediation.
- Improve access to justice and court efficiency.
- I leave the goals of mediation up to the participants. I just run a process that facilitates communication.
- Elicit an apology, if appropriate.
Finally, the enumerated list of goals used in this Survey has itself a background. First used by the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution's Task Force on Improving Mediation Quality in early 2007, this question of mediator goals was administered to practitioners at in-person focus groups held in five locations across the country. An informative component of the Task Force's larger initiative, this specific question was addressed at that time by 50 mediators who were experienced in large commercial and other civil mediations, the published reports of which can be found on the Task Force's website. Replicating the question now provides an opportunity to see whether and in which direction mediator goals have evolved in the intervening six years.
Changes in Mediators' Goals
In early 2007, the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution's Task Force on Improving Mediation Quality held five in-person focus groups of 50 active mediators. During a portion of these events, a survey of mediator goals was administered, the results of which are detailed above. The 2013 Fieldwide Survey of Volunteer Mediators replicated a portion of the ABA survey to examine whether any changes in mediator goals have occurred in the intervening six years. Overall, it appears volunteer mediators currently hold a larger number of goals while at the table, but few as strongly as was reported in 2007, save the goal of giving the parties a chance to feel heard which saw a nominal increase in priority. Goals are reported as averages within a range from one (held the goal in few or no cases within the past year) to five (almost all cases in the past year). [Differences may be attributable to a number of factors, including mediators' professional background (primarily legal for the ABA respondents and non-legal for the volunteer survey), practice area (primarily civil and commercial for the ABA respondents), more significant potential for social desirability bias within the ABA survey given its in-person administration, and the different survey modalities.] [Expand]
Though differences in survey design and participant demographics caution against a direct linear comparison between these two data sets, a few casual contrasts are evident. First, for each goal -- save giving the parties a change to be heard -- current Survey respondents reported less significant resonance than their anteceded associates. While the ABA survey participants liked nearly every goal a whole lot, their modern counterparts liked them a bit less but also liked a lot of additional, non-enumerated goals, as well. Indeed, recent Survey participants shared 83 additional goals, several of which are bulleted above.
Amongst the largest inter-survey median swings, are the current devaluations of settling the case (a 25% median decrease) and minimizing time, cost, and/or risk for parties (a 24% median downgrade). That these particular goals are apparently the largest casualties to mediators' shifting priorities is notable because it is often these very goals which are most prominently advertised to potential clients and institutional case referrers. This disconnect between how many local programs and field advocates tout mediation's benefit, and the actual focus of mediators while at the table is unstable and unhealthy. It serves to create expectations amongst clients and partners which mediators -- at least volunteers -- are increasingly disinterested in achieving; happy consequences, maybe, but not overtly sought. It also creates a dissonance between the focus of local programs' staff and their mediators; the former striving for referrer-satisfying settlement rates, while the latter focuses on goals that are less succinctly reportable but likely more enduringly rewarding for actual participants. Appoggiaturic movement to collectively rebrand mediation so that how we are known reflects that which we truly value and actually practice would, then, help us secure deeper footings more supportive of our potential and restrictive of errant sways toward sirenic resource and artifice.
Given the option between a happy, satisfied volunteer and one worn from the experience, most arriving clients would likely opt for the hopefulness and inspiring disposition of the former. Beyond client preference, volunteers' dispositions can significantly influence other important factors of program operation and vitality, including its public image and professional reputation, service quality, and the internal morale of both staff and fellow volunteers. Understanding the factors which propel volunteers down these divergent paths is, therefore, a critical endeavor for program staff who stoke the passions and secure the dedication from their rosters of ADR altruists.
Not merely a binary indicator, volunteer satisfaction is a complex measure which incorporates a number of important variables, including levels of personal engagement, organizational connectedness, task enjoyment, service enthusiasm, perceived appreciation, and anticipated tenure, amongst others. Rates of reported satisfaction can serve as leading indicators of volunteers' service renewals or retirements. They can serve as confirmatory lagging indicators of how effectively (or un-) program staff have engaged their volunteer rosters. Splayed to its component variables, satisfaction can reveal detailed insights into those areas which are enhancing or detracting from mediators' service enjoyment; granting surgeon-like precision to program staff who can identify and correct select aspects of the volunteer experience in their efforts to maintain roundly rewarding opportunities for all.
The Survey sought to measure volunteers' reaction to several of satisfaction's key ingredients. Volunteers were asked to indicate their resonance (strongly disagree to strongly agree) with eight studied measures of satisfaction, including (1) I am satisfied with my volunteer experience; (2) I am enthusiastic about my volunteer activity; (3) I feel sufficiently trained to mediate the cases I am assigned; (4) I feel adequately engaged by the organization at which I volunteer; (5) I feel connected to the values of the organization at which I volunteer; (6) My volunteer contributions are valued by the organization at which I volunteer; (7) My volunteer contributions are valued by the mediation participants; and (8) I would refer others to volunteer with this same organization. The resulting responses are aggregated in the following graph.
Volunteer Mediators Satisfaction Wheel
Volunteer satisfaction was measured in a number of different contexts to help triangulate the validity of additional responses and to contextualize and illuminate nuanced differences. For example, those most actively engaged in family mediation context report high levels of satisfaction with their volunteer experience, but are unlikely to refer colleagues to engage in similar volunteerism. Combined with these mediators' responses of anticipated significant decreases in upcoming activity, this suggests a disproportionate level of burnout for these mediators despite an overall satisfaction with their volunteerism. Taken collectively, nearly 80% or more of all volunteer mediators report being satisfied in each of the areas measured. [Expand]
Volunteer mediators are incredibly satisfied by their experiences! For every measure of satisfaction, volunteers were overwhelmingly positive, recording between 78 and 95 percent agreement with each of the eight components. Several notable takeaways can be found here, including the observation that 90% of volunteers either strongly agree or agree with the statement that they are satisfied with their volunteer experience (six percent were neutral and four percent strongly/disagreed). This is a very high level of satisfaction; a testament to both the substantial efforts of their coordinating staffs and the rewarding nature of the volunteers' service.
Beyond generic satisfaction, 91% of volunteers are actually enthusiastic about their service, a measure within volunteer research which positively correlates with continued future service. Given the high per unit cost of training, mentoring, and integrating new volunteers into any organization, this report of wild enthusiasm amongst volunteer mediators bodes well for the overall efficiency of the future efforts from volunteer coordinators. Of course, those coordinators (or other similarly tasked staff) are often charged with an expansive set of responsibilities, the ramping up of new volunteers is only part of which. Engaging existing volunteers is an equally as intensive undertaking. And it is here, where the lowest levels of happiness amongst volunteers is found. Though 78% of volunteers were satisfied on this measure, 15% were neutral and a final seven percent either disagreed (5%) or strongly disagreed (2%) that they were adequately engaged by their coordinating organization. Examining respondents' qualitative feedback, it was revealed that a large portion of this discontent is likely attributable to an inadequate supply of case opportunities or a perceived untransparent set of policies for assigning those opportunities. Regular updates from staff about actual case volumes, their sources, and assignment decisions would help manage volunteers' expectations and likely go a long way toward ameliorating this source of discontent.
Valuable as this parsed analysis can be for volunteer coordinators, synthesized scales inherently lack a satisfying level of vibrancy and resonance. As such, Survey participants were asked to perform a simple, yet revealing task: "Use one word to describe your experience as a volunteer mediator." Which word to use? Which aspect to highlight? Which experience to capture? Which message to convey? These were likely some of the clarifying questions respondents pondered to no avail, as these decisions were left for them to decide. What they chose, ultimately, is likely a single word which spoke most directly to their overall experience. And that single word, combined with the similar submissions from their rostermates, paints a colorful snapshot of the volunteer mediator experience.
Volunteers' Experiences in One Word
Volunteers were asked to describe their volunteer experience in one word. The aggregated results are captured within the above word cloud which scales words based on the frequency of their reporting. Five primary categories were identified within the over 300 unique entries, including (1) Positive Words (e.g. rewarding, uplifting); (2) Neutral Words (e.g. okay, fine); (3) Negative Words (e.g. frustrating, uninspiring); (4) Pragmatic Words (e.g. educational, remunerative); and (5) Frequency Words (e.g. enough, variable). A sixth category was also identified which included words such as "Amazeballs" and "Juicy" which could be classified as either extremely positive experiences, or extremely questionable mediation outcomes. [Expand]
This word cloud contains each of the unique one-word submissions volunteer mediators used to describe their experience. Though 918 volunteers shared their descriptive one-word response, only 182 unique words emerged. Each unique word is included above. Where multiple respondents supplied the same word, that word is scaled larger according to its reported frequency. From the resulting graphic, we can quickly see the largest, most frequently employed words are decidedly positive, such as "fulfilling," "rewarding," and "satisfying." Thus, in the abstract, this word cloud mirrors the broad findings of the earlier satisfaction scales; namely that volunteers, by and large, are very pleased with their experiences. Move diversity exists, however, within the smaller text, with some words originating from a very small number of or even a single volunteer mediator. Digging deeper into this diversity, this graphic allows us to see very specific aspects which may be affecting volunteers' enjoyment of their service. For example, we see words such as "sporadic" and "unused" which likely speak to the perceived lack of adequate case opportunities. There is also "no shows" and "frustration" a word pair resonant with the earlier discussion about mediation models.
Overall, the 182 unique words were categorized into five distinct buckets: positive, neutral, negative, frequency-oriented, and pragmatic words. Descript, colorful, and thought-provoking words exist in each. Positive words range from the most popular "rewarding" (150 uses) and "satisfying" (147 uses), to the inspirational "life-changing" (4 uses) and edifying (1 use), to the trendy rapture captured in such gems as "amazeballs" and "juicy," both of which scored a single use. Neutral words -- some of the least common submissions -- were blasé terms such as "ambivalent," "fine," and "okay" (1, 1, and 2 uses, respectively). Negative words, though few, were some of the more intense offerings, as unsatisfied volunteers leveled a few powerful words towards their experiences. Examples, here, include "exploitative" (1 use), "unappreciated" (1 use), and the comparatively staid "frustrating" (8 uses). The activity level of volunteers' service was one of the surprising trends which emerged from within the one-word descriptions. These submissions were categorized as frequency-oriented and include words such as "consistent" (1 use), "episodic" (1 use), and "not-enough" (2 uses). Finally, volunteers -- likely in a testament to their trade -- sought fit to encapsulate their experience within a number of pragmatic words, including "educational" (17 uses), "eye-opening" (3 use), "formative" (1 use), "skills-building" (1 use), and "useful" (3 uses). Combined, these categories and their colorful inclusions offer a slightly different lens through which staff, volunteers, and the broader field can peer into the distilled experiences of mission-driven mediation service.
Based on satisfaction feedback, many volunteer-utilizing programs are hitting on all cylinders in terms of fulfilling volunteers' interests. While the specific number and configuration of these cylinders will vary according to each mediator's unique motivational blend, common inclusions are adequate recognition; challenging, diverse, and regular case assignments; sufficient training; engaging and appreciative staff; and regular, affordable skills-enriching training opportunities. These factors, aligned just so, can stoke volunteers' enthusiasm, rev engagement, and drive an entire organization smoothly forward. Misaligned, and volunteers' passions are left unignited, volunteer-staff interactions begin to grind, and attempts to move the organization forward can misfire and stall. Tending to volunteers' preferences, therefore, is important maintenance required of all organizations helping to achieve productive, well-oiled operations.
Peering into volunteers' preferences, Survey participants were asked to indicate how desirable a series of opportunities would be if offered by their coordinating entity. Several of the included options simply suggested more of what may already exist at many programs, such as additional and more diversified mediation opportunities, additional training opportunities, and additional volunteer recognition. For a couple additional options, the current status was not presumed, but listed simply as "mentorship opportunities" and "case follow-up." Respondents were invited to rate each potential offering on a scale ranging from very undesirable to very desirable. The following chart notes the distribution and frequency of their reported preferences.
Desirable Opportunities for Volunteers
Volunteers were asked to identify the desirability of various opportunities if offered by their coordinating entity. The most desirable opportunity was additional training, followed closely by additional and more diversified mediation opportunities. Least desirable for volunteers was additional volunteer recognition, which aligns with mediators' earlier responses indicating 88% of volunteers feel valued by their organization. [Expand]
Most obvious from the above graph is the observation that volunteers would gladly take more of everything, please. Only a very small minority of mediators rated any of the available options as undesirable. Amongst the lesser desired, was the opportunity for additional volunteer recognition, an offering which a combined 11 percent of mediators found unnecessary. Indeed, additional recognition was the least desirable overall, netting not only the highest level of negative responses, but also the largest level of neutral indifference (53%). This preference aside, each of the remaining proposed opportunities found favor amongst the majority of mediators, the top three of which were tightly grouped. Grand supreme of the hypotheticals was additional training opportunities, which scored a combined 76 in desirability. First runner-up, more diversified mediation opportunities, earned a combined positive rating of seventy-four. And second-runner up, with a favorability of 72, was additional mediation opportunities. For programs without pre-existing volunteer concerns, these three rankings spotlight areas of programmatic investment which should net the greatest return on volunteers' satisfaction.
A separately measured set of preferences focused on the idea of volunteer regulation. Volunteer mediators were asked to respond to a number of questions which centered on this passion-rousing, long-debated, yet oft-tabled topic. Five specific -- and for some, suspicion-raising -- statements were posed to volunteers, asking that they indicate their agreement with each. The statements were: (1) There should be a single standard of basic mediator training requirements for volunteers; (2) Regulation of volunteer mediators is important to me; (3) Regulation of volunteer mediators is important to the ADR field; (4) There should be a single regulatory body for setting and monitoring standards of practice by volunteer mediators; and (5) If a national regulatory system were developed, I would seek to become certified.
These very questions have been set to the memberships of various ADR associations throughout the fields' development decades. These questions, and their answers, continue to pique the interests of potential regulators and the regulated alike; variously agitating, appeasing, or atwittering the observant camps which vigil around this simultaneously timely and timeless topic. Not limited to a single association's membership, program's volunteers, topical roster, or state's purview, we have from these 1,000 Survey participants a representative glimpse at the masses' mentality on mediator regulation.
First, to the statements about the importance of regulation. Volunteers were asked to record how important regulation was both to themselves personally, as well as to the field generally. As outlined in the first chart, the personal importance of regulation (inner circle) finds more favor than disfavor. Fifty-nine percent of volunteer mediators either strongly agree or agree that the regulation of mediators is a matter of personal importance. Twenty-eight percent of volunteers were neutral toward this statement, and only 13% disagreed at some level. Amongst those who staked a claim on this variable, regulation supporters outnumbered skeptics by four-and-a-half-to-one. Adopting a broader perspective, we then asked respondents to report how important regulation of volunteer mediators is for the ADR field at large. Here, supporters again outnumber skeptics, this time at a rate of nearly six-to-one. Combined, it is clear that regulation is an important topic for volunteers. How the field operationalizes that interest, and which bold organization may ultimately lead the charge to finally advance (or forestall with finality) this perennial topic, are developments of great import awaited by many throughout the practice.
Moving beyond perceived importance, participants were next asked to stake a position as to the need for a single regulator of volunteer mediators. Here, responses were far more equally distributed among dis/favorers, with a near majority deciding to ride a decidedly wider, more populated fence. Forty percent of volunteers were neutral as to whether a single regulator "should" exist. Of those in favor, 20% agreed and 14% strongly agreed. Their more evenly distributed, yet still outnumbered, counterparts were composed of 17% who disagreed and a more fervent nine percent who strongly disagreed. Interestingly, those volunteers who also engage in professional mediation work are decidedly less supportive of the single regulator model than those who only volunteer. Overall, just over one-third of volunteer mediators -- despite their strong belief in the importance of a regulatory system -- believe that a single regulator model is the preferred method by which to achieve regulation's objectives. Follow-up questions about the favorability of state-level, program-level, or some alternatively designed regulatory structure were not included. As these alternative systems already constitute many volunteers' practice realities, it would be reasonable to interpret the broad disinclination toward a single national regulatory model as a vote for their personal status-quo, however that so materializes locally.
Turning finally to the hypothetical, Survey participants were asked whether they would indeed join a national regulatory system if one were established. Here, it was interesting to explore whether the conceptual desirability of a national regulatory system would accurately inform the viability of such a structure if established. On this point, an interesting reversal occurred. Menial desirability alone appeared incapable of dissuading volunteers from committing to a structure once established. For the regulation of mediators (at least volunteers, though likely all), it seems, that if you build it, they will come. (Our sincere apologies to all Iowan mediators skeptical of regulation.) This concept-to-reality (okay, hypothetical reality) disconnect is substantial. While only a measly third of mediators found national regulation desirable, an overwhelming, credibility-endowing 80% of volunteers would actually seek to become credentialed under such a system if developed. For ambitious would-be regulators out there, this is a particularly emboldening statistic. Again, whether a mere stat -- resounding as it may be -- can ferry a regulator through complex design, commenting, and implementation processes fraught with detractors is yet to be seen. It does suggest, however, that someday, someone (informed advocates or externally-motivated outsiders) will venture decisively down regulation's path, taking the field incrementally or infinitely -- yet irreversibly all the same -- farther than its comfortably traveled to date.
Importance of Volunteer Regulation
Mediators were asked whether the regulation of volunteers was important to themselves and to the broader field. The rate and strength of agreement were strongly correlated between the personal and professional contexts, though slightly more mediators feel regulation is of greater importance to the field than it is to themselves personally. (White segments within the two radial circles represent neutral responses.) [Expand]
Desirableness of a Single Regulatory System
One third of mediators believe there should be a single regulatory body for setting and monitoring standards of practice for volunteers. While such a system may enhance service quality, with 40% of volunteers neutral toward and a further 26% disagreeing with the need for such a system, it is unlikely a sufficient number of active volunteers are yet supportive enough to justify the development of a single regulatory body. [Expand]
National Mediator Regulatory System
Asked whether mediators would join a national regulatory system if developed, 86% of volunteers who expressed a preference indicated they would. (Orange arrows indicate those who would join, grey arrows those who would not.) This suggests that despite a lack of a perceived necessity (34%), the vast majority of volunteers would still join a reputable regulatory system once developed. [Expand]
Having queried a number of proposed offerings, as well as a variety of regulation-related preferences, Survey participants were able to share additional opportunities they would like to see provided by their coordinating organizations. Respondents' combined wish list included over 70 different requests, several of which are included below.
Additional Volunteer Desires
"An opportunity to help in a more strategic way using skills from my professional background."
- Coaching from more experienced mediators.
- Improved intake and triage.
- State Certificate to render my experience more portable.
- Recognition certificates.
- More ways to support organizational growth and stability.
- Certification of volunteers is very desirable.
- Opportunity to supervise newer mediators.
- Employment opportunities after a certain amount of volunteer cases have been completed.
- Mediation opportunities during evenings, weekends.
"It would be nice to be thanked by the individual courts and judges for my service."
- I'd like to be paid for my work!
- No cost for volunteers' mandatory advanced trainings.
- Clarity about my role and authority within the organization.
- Post-mediation debriefing opportunities.
Volunteer mediators' contributions are compelling at both the client and collective levels. Individually, volunteers dedicate significant time to skills-enhancing trainings, public outreach, and mediation services. In donating their time and talents, volunteers reconvene families around once broken tables, mend neighborly fences, empower individuals and restore relationships, and elicit understanding and collaboration amidst contexts which encourage less of each. They help make the constructive power of mediation accessible, especially to those who are unable to afford, qualify, or otherwise access market-oriented or public-administered services. Through volunteers' service, those in conflict often undergo profound changes in their personal, professional, and communal relationships.
In the aggregate, consequence cascades from volunteers' contributions in a grand and inspiring fashion. A profound resolution for one couple assisted by a single mediator, aggregates roster-wide into thousands of faltering families righted. A single home spared a swinging foreclosure placard, extrapolates through collective service into entire neighborhoods and even small towns saved from devalued abandonment. Neighbors whose hedge, chain, cinder, or privacy-walled disputes resolve into lowered animosity, lowers collectively the walls of isolation and indifference in communities throughout the nation. A troubled work environment eased for one, bubbles into enhanced productivity and profit for entire industries. A child whose taunted days are evened through empowering dialogue, inspires the rejection of torment for all ages in countless schools and districts. And conflicts which drag each of us down, distracting us from our commonality, become -- through the aggregated service of volunteer mediators everywhere -- opportunities for understanding, growth, and untold possibility.
Impressive in the aggregate, volunteers' impact is near staggering when quantified. Take, for example, the financial value of a volunteers' donated time. Combining the conservative estimate of volunteers' annual hourly contributions with a seemingly even more conservative valuation of mediators' hourly rate (as published by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics), we can see that the average volunteer contributes $575 per year of donated service. Of course, with a more realistic market-driven valuation of mediators' hourly rate -- say even $100 -- this average per volunteer estimate could easily reach to over $1,500 in donated professional expertise. Extrapolating this estimate to the entire national roster of volunteer mediators balloons the more conservative US DOL-based projection to nearly 18 million dollars annually. The market-based estimate reveals a comparatively stratospheric projection of nearly $48,000,000 in donated volunteer mediator service annually. These estimates showcase how truly grand the contributions of tens of thousands of volunteer mediators can be to the clients they assist, the organizations through which they serve, and the field which benefits in so many ways from their activity.
Another interesting visualization of the aggregated impact of volunteer mediators is the near magical transformation of hundreds of thousands of caustic, contempt-riddled conflicts which, when filtered through the dispersed roster of volunteer mediators, emerge as recreative, reward-bearing resolutions. While a single mediator's case volume or her (variously defined) success rate will fluctuate from her peers', when the power of her constructive-inducing service is aggregated with that of all volunteers into a collective funnel, conflicts metamorphosize en masse. Given U.S. volunteer mediators' annual engagement of over 430,000 conflicts, the number of resolutions they assist parties in securing -- even at a conservative 75% partial/full resolution rate -- is challenging to concretize conceptually. This scale of service would be as if volunteer mediators successfully resolved one conflict each year for every resident of Boston, Memphis, or Seattle. It's fanciful to wonder how those cities would transform with such a concentrated availability conflict-assistive services. And yet, though far more geographically dispersed, this is exactly what volunteer mediators collectively achieve each year. Clearly, the reach of volunteer mediators' service is undeniably vast and their consequence, commanding.
Volunteer Mediators' Financial Contributions
Volunteer mediators contribute a significant amount of specialty service to their local organizations. The value of this time can be used by those organizations to meet grant matching requirements, demonstrate local impact, and support future funding. Using a conservative estimate of mediators' hourly rate ($37.12) from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can estimate that the average volunteer will contribute the equivalent of $575 annually in specialty service to their convening entity. (A more reasonable, market-informed hourly rate of $100 for mediation services further enhances the per mediator contribution to $1,550/year.) Collectively, the U.S. volunteer mediator roster donates tens of millions of dollars in specialty service to their convening entities and those in conflict. [Expand]
Volunteer Mediators' Impact on Conflict
This graphic demonstrates the constructive influence the U.S. roster of volunteer mediators has on hundreds of thousands of cases and over a million people in conflict each year. Filtered through this roster of resolution and engagement experts, it is estimated that 1 out of every 500 people in the U.S. have a conflict successfully resolved by a volunteer mediator each year. [Expand]
In Their Own Words
Participants in the Fieldwide Survey of Volunteer Mediators contributed a mountain of both qualitative and quantitative data; 1000 separate comments and nearly 100,000 corresponding data points. In the abstract, this data combined to produce a largely inspiring and uplifting picture of volunteer mediators' experiences, notwithstanding the notable exceptions previously discussed. Aggregating such a large number of responses, however, can smooth the collective experience in ways which obfuscate or distract from rich context or norm-challenging narratives. This section provides a sampling of the extensive commentary intended to enhance, qualify, or even challenge the comparatively rigid quantitative Survey components. Though not nearly comprehensive of the contributed commentary from participating volunteers (the aggregated qualitative comments ran to over 100 pages of printed text), the comments included below represent recurring themes, vastly divergent experiences from areas of otherwise broad concurrence, and provocative statements which challenge the prevailing notions surrounding select aspects of the ADR field and the role of volunteers therein. Their inclusion here is motivated by a drive to justly report the diversity of volunteers' Survey responses and to further highlight the dynamism represented by our nation's roster of over 30,000 volunteer mediators.
For readers' ease, the unaltered statements from anonymous participants have been categorized below into eight conceptual themes: (1) Personal Benefits of Volunteerism; (2) The (de)Valuation of Volunteers; (3) Volunteer & Administrator Relationships; (4) Volunteer Standards & Regulation; (5) The Volunteer-to-Professional Pipeline; (6) Balancing Volunteers & Case Volumes; (7) Volunteer Provocateurs; and (8) Additional Volunteer Thoughts. To showcase what we have termed a "musing," "point-counterpoint," or "provocative" statement, corresponding icons representing each adjoin the statement for easy identification.
Personal Benefits of Volunteerism
"Training as a mediator got me interested in the dynamics and reasons of conflict. I now have a more relaxed and positive approach to conflict in general and personal conflicts."
"I believe my mediation training and volunteer practice have made me better at my job and better in my life."
"It is a high priority to me to be involved in volunteering in a process that empowers people and helps them see peaceful processes for resolving conflict. My goal in life is to have made a difference and I see mediation as one of the means to do this."
"Feeling that I have helped in some way is very gratifying."
"I am in awe with how much I receive from giving. I am full of awe with how effective and satisfying mediating is."
"I am elated that I can help people listen to the other side of the story before judging."
"Mediation is a fascinating and inspiring field to practice in."
"I did not know how deep, personal, and intense mediating could be."
"I consider mediation a mission, not a job. I am empowered by my ability to help others who may be caught in a system they don't understand."
"After almost 70 years I've finally found something I'm good at."
"Mediation has brought me a deeper understanding of myself and human nature, and I hope, greater compassion for people who are in apparently trivial conflicts."
"Becoming a mediator saved me from professional burn-out as a lawyer, nurtured some skills that I now use regularly in my primary profession, and provided me with endless opportunities for the introspection which (with luck) leads to personal growth."
"I appreciate every mediation as a humbling learning experience."
"I am a better person when I act as a mediator for others."
"Following retirement, volunteering as a mediator provides an opportunity to continue to develop my professional skills in a supportive environment and to assist others in resolving disputes."
"This is important and gratifying work. Too many notable experiences to capture here; enough to know our work matters to people."
The (de)Valuation of Volunteers
"Overall, despite depth & breadth of training and experience felt devalued by other professionals involved because I was not "paid" to be the mediator. It is Huge! People tend not to value what they see as free and don't have to pay for. It has been a dark cloud far too many times in my years of volunteering. I wouldn't encourage volunteering as it exists now."
"Often times the parties I see, as well as their attorneys, express surprise when they hear I am a volunteer. It is almost as if the term "volunteer" connotes a lesser capacity to mediate, which is unfortunate."
"Though I have volunteered extensively in the past, I am stopping all of my volunteer mediation work. Unless the mediation participants have some skin in the game and appreciate what the mediator is doing, it is very unsatisfying work. I am devoting my time to paid mediation. I find that even if the participants paid a nominal amount of money, it is a more successful and satisfying experience for all."
"I am met with frequent disrespect and lack of professionalism and cooperation from attorney advocates. On several occasions an attorney would de-value me as mediator because I wasn't being paid,suggesting that parties need to pay a "real" mediator for their dispute."
"I would like to see community mediators seen as "professionals" (by other mediators) even if they aren't being paid for their services. "Professional" means being committed to this work, caring about the quality of services one provides to parties, and having just as valuable experience even if it isn't paid for."
"There is great value in the volunteer model--people respond very positively when they realize that others in their community have come together to help them on a volunteer basis. It seems to bring greater trust, as well as to increase their own efforts to find solutions. When they present themselves to "paid professionals" I believe it is easier to take the stance that it's time to sit back and let the professionals figure out what should happen."
"I think mediators are not used enough in the court context. They are also undervalued by the courts, attorneys and parties."
"My own conflict is supporting programs who do a great job and reach people for whom paid services would be out of reach and balancing that with ensuring professionalism and not devaluing mediation to the point where is is very difficult to get paid work as a mediator."
"I love being a volunteer mediator. It took a while before I felt on a level footing with the paid mediators but I think that was more my issue than theirs as the dept have always accepted us as equally skilled."
"Volunteers should be respected and acknowledged for the time and effort they put forth. Does not have to be anything extravagant or expensive, just supportive and thoughtful."
"I am unwilling to give my time, free of charge, to parties that are unwilling to take the process seriously."
"I think there should be some financial compensation for "volunteer" mediators. Everyone in the courtroom, including/especially the lawyers, would take mediation more seriously. It does no service to the field to be "giving away" such important work."
"Never charging folks for our services cheapens the profession."
Volunteer & Administrator Relationships
"I was fortunate to be led by my local program and its very valuable staff, from the CEO down. They are each one intelligent, warm and supportive."
"The complete lack of leadership and acknowledgment from the director of my local program is very discouraging, and has caused me to contemplate stepping out of the volunteer work."
"I enjoy my personal contact with staff and find them supportive and very helpful."
"I have volunteered at the same program for 17 years and the director does not even know my name or greet me."
"I feel lucky to have my relationship with all the staff, other mediators and the available training opportunities. My local program is an excellently run service organization."
"I am frustrated with the organization through which I mediate because of the staff's approach to volunteer mediators, organizational dysfunction and close-mindedness."
"My local program -- especially because of it's staff -- is a wonderful organization!!"
"Often people working in paid positions in mediation organizations can be a bit pompous and exclusionary to their volunteers. They need to learn more from the volunteers and be more humble about the fact that their salaries are actually in part paid by the work of the volunteers."
"I would like to say that I think my local program manages volunteers very well and demonstrates that they are valued. I would gladly recommend them to others."
"I volunteered with a local program for over two years (hundreds of hours) and did much much more than was required. After my certification, I never heard from them again. I loved doing community mediation but apparently there was no need."
"The staff at my center seem always available to discuss handling of cases and to offer support. They are dedicated to the central cause and to us volunteer mediators."
"If I call the office for clarification of new policy they talk to me like a preschooler. Never get feedback or opportunities to improve skills."
"I have co-mediated with our director a few times. I am in awe of her ability to tolerate conflict and see the underlying (often unresolvable) issues and emotions."
"Our local program director is totally unprepared, untrained, above her pay grade, and cannot deal with personalities."
"Most grants seem to be used for office salaries rather than training and supervision of current mediators. Many volunteer mediators fall by the wayside due to frustration with office practice or lack of cases, then monies are used to train another group of new mediators."
"I desire to serve my community to help resolve conflicts, but my community mediation center seems more interested in keeping all of the cases and fees to support their in-house/paid staff mediators. You can tell I don't feel like part of their team because I'm not. My mediation center does not seem interested in engaging the community outside of the court system, serving the community where needs exist, and focusing on the community in a proactive way."
"I've quit volunteering to mediate (responding to requests for mediators) since I never get selected and there is no explanation regarding why or how mediators are chosen."
Volunteer Standards & Regulation
"A single national regulatory system would challenge centers’ ability to adapt to their own community needs."
"As a community volunteer whose service and training are based in the belief of the ability of "everyman" to mediate with proper training and support, I shudder at the prospect of a national body imposing demands that restrict other helpers from assisting people."
"I have grave reservations about a national certification program. It's better to foster mentoring programs, regular observations with feedback, and experiential learning opportunities throughout the course of a mediator's work with a program or in private practice."
"Regulating volunteer mediators only limits the supply and entry level motivation and adds unnecessary hassle."
"The state sets standards for becoming a mediator, and I believe that is as far as it needs to go."
"I am very much in favor of certification standards for mediators. I think it is essential to the growth of the field, the public's trust in the professionalism and ethics of the field, and therefore the ability of mediators to earn a professional living."
"While I'm very engaged in quality monitoring and mentoring of new volunteers, I'm wary of "regulation" and "national certification". These terms have a broad range of potential meaning and can easily lead to excluding valued practitioners from our field."
"Regulating this will destroy mediation."
"I think that that national certification and regulation system will end up excluding many fine mediators whose approaches are culturally based and vary from standard models. Regulation, standardization and certification may be destructive of the creativity, flexibility and innovation in the field of mediation."
"I would like to see more overall regulation of how mediators conduct themselves within the organization. It seems as I observe mediations that they differ wildly depending upon the personalities and preferences of the mediator."
"I think strong monitoring, oversight, feedback, continued training, and removal of repeat low-skill or ineffective mediators from mediating, is critical to the continued success of the volunteer mediation model."
"Mediator credentialing along with ongoing training requirements would be valuable to the public, to the not-for-profits and to mediators."
"There needs to be standards set up to protect mediators. We need grievance policies, equal say in scheduling and policies, more freedom to determine how we conduct our sessions, and representation on Boards."
"I believe all mediators, whether paid or volunteer, should have a standard code for certification and that all should be certified."
"Trying to shoehorn volunteer mediators into professional regulatory shoes would seriously diminish the number of volunteers."
"Assessing mediators, mediation training programs and determining the requirements for certification is more than bean-counting or acquiring degrees or certificates. Clearly there needs to be varying standards. Mediation in small claims courts, minor criminal cases should require a lower threshold than commercial, international and far more complex cases."
"In my view, a single regulatory body would likely stifle innovation. If such a body were to be established, however, it should apply to all mediators and all contexts uniformly."
"The leap from volunteer to getting paid occasionally is huge and very frustrating. I am thinking of quitting as a mediator."
"Volunteers should be offered a career path to include mentoring so that their volunteer activities lead to careers as ADR specialist."
"The problem with mediation, is that there are too many trainings and not enough ways to be paid."
"The programs I give time to are excellent and outstanding, and were a critical part of my career path as a professional private mediator."
"I think far, far too much mediation work is pro bono or low paid. I will likely give up mediating cases unless I am able to land a lot more paying mediation work in the next 12 months."
"Volunteering as a community mediator was my foundation which led into a rich and rewarding professional career."
"Can't find paid work in mediation because too many opportunities to mediate are only offered for free, dilutes the quality of mediators and opportunities for a career in ADR because of this."
"After conducting hundreds of meditations as a professional, the work I do as a volunteer community mediator remain among my most challenging cases. The professional relationships I've developed as a volunteer mediator have been professionally valuable and personally satisfying."
"When I started, I hoped it would lead on to other opportunities, but I now feel this won't happen. I'm struggling to get any mediations and I'm certainly a lot less flexible in terms of how far I will travel than I was when I first started."
"I wanted to enhance my skills, help people, and meet lawyers capable of hiring me for paid cases. All of the above happened."
"It is unfortunate that to make a living in this business, one must either be a trainer or work for an agency providing services but the mediators are all volunteers. Mediation should be a legitimate profession for non-attorneys."
"Currently I serve only in a volunteer capacity after retiring from a full time role as a mediator."
"Volunteer mediators deserve an avenue toward making money for their services rendered. It feels hopeless because it is difficult to break into the professional mediator's world."
Balancing Volunteers & Case Volumes
"The number of mediation opportunities for new mediators is not sufficient to reinforce training into practice or keep our skills current and up to date."
"I now do more training than mediating, which is true of many mediators at our organization."
"Too much effort on soliciting mediators for training and not enough resources spent on establishing mediation as a excellent form of dispute resolution."
"We lose cases due to the lack of volunteers. More time and effort should be set aside to recruit qualified volunteers."
"We don't have enough cases to engage our big group of volunteers."
"In coordinating volunteers I find that many are only doing it to meet state roster requirements. After they satisfy requirements I never see them until the next year -- to again satisfy state's requirements. This perceived lack of commitment is frustrating."
"There seem to be more volunteers than there are cases. People who don't pay for the services are not committed to following through so many cases get cancelled. I began this journey enthusiastically, but lack of momentum is discouraging."
"I have been a volunteer with for my local program for 35 years, and employed as a family court mediator for 22 years. I feel that volunteer mediators are the backbone of the profession. Throughout the years I have seen a sort of territorialism/competition between volunteer mediators, court mediators, and private mediators, usually with private mediators feeling superior to the others. I wish each group would respect the abilities of the other groups. Volunteer mediators, in my experience, are very serious about the quality of the services they provide, and have an incredible commitment to the field and making sure the services are available to everyone in the community."
"More needs to be done so that ADR is not seen as the "dirty little secret" of law. Yes, my law school has a mediation program but I KNOW that they are not proud of it. They would much rather be churning out belligerent hard core litigators with the emotional capacity of goldfish."
"Community mediation needs to evolve. It has moved from it's non-profit roots of providing non-adversarial alternatives to unaffordable legal systems for dispute resolution. It has become legalistic, overly-structured, dependent on court-annexed mediation programs for its funding, and yet still unengaged with traditional dispute resolution communities. To continue to exist it has created a funding model based on providing unneeded mediation training to people who will not ever be effective mediators and creating an oversupply of unqualified, poorly-screened and under-trained mediators. By moving from free services to those to can't afford it, to providing low-cost fee-for-service mediation for anyone including those who can pay for professionals, it cheapens and reduces in the public's awareness the incredible value that agreement-oriented process and neutrals can provide. It siphons-off grant and government funding that could be used more effectively elsewhere. Community mediation is now holding-back the evolution, development, awareness of and acceptance of ADR in society and by the public at large."
Additional Volunteer Thoughts
"I would recommend focusing on the safety concerns mediators have. The way the room is configured is important. Sometimes I don’t think people who run the programs see such problems."
"I'm volunteering to ensure visibility for mediation as well as demonstrating competency, hoping that if enough of us do this the judges will catch on and incorporate mediation in local court rules, and just maybe the state supreme court will get into the act and enable a system that lifts all boats."
"The lack of ownership at the community level is frustrating."
"I have undertaken various training courses, accredited by local organization, and yet they aren't recognised by other services. That makes no sense to me."
"With an advanced degree I am so much more qualified and knowledgeable than many who are mediating full time, yet I am not 'certified'."
"As volunteer coordinator, I see many volunteers who have stayed with the agency 25-30 years through our change from facilitative mediation to transformative mediation and through our agency's extreme staff cuts in 2011."
"I am motivated to volunteer by the meditative aspect of living in the moment in someone's life and then not having to stay in that life."
"I've seen volunteer mediators who seem underwhelmed as to the magnitude of their task. One volunteer actually said he liked to mediate to take a break from his job and "take a peek" into other people's lives."
"I find the diversity of the volunteer mediators in the small claim court setting (background, training, ethnic) contributes to the successes achieved by the program in our county."
"I do not see enough inclusion or diversity in the room, the room of volunteers/staff/board members should reflect the surrounding community as closely as possible."
"As a legal professional, I have concerns that non-attorney mediators may be too concerned with how the law would be applied in the cases they mediate. I have heard concerns from other volunteer mediators about how the law would be applied. This should not be a concern of the mediators, as presuming how the judge would decide the case is not relevant to mediation."
"I think the training of mediators needs to be changed whereas non-attorney mediators need to be trained with a certain level of law as it relates and impacts the mediation case.
I understand that as a mediator, I don't interpret the law. However, it would be helpful in small claims to have a better understanding of "common knowledge" laws to better advise disputants of the strengths and weaknesses of their cases."
"Thank you for taking the interest and time to do this survey. I think it has been long overdue."
"Thank you for giving volunteers a voice!"
"So glad you're doing a survey!"
"Thanks for your research and dedication to making mediation better!"
Participants of the Fieldwide Survey of Volunteer Mediators contribute their mediation expertise in a large number of organizational, institutional, informal, and event-oriented contexts. In total, even with 94 mediators failing to list their organization of service, 317 distinct entities were identified. These programs, along with their locations and websites (where available), are listed below. This list demonstrates the diversity of contexts from which Survey participants draw, suggesting the revealed trends and insights included within this report truly are representative of the vast roster of all volunteer mediators. You are invited to explore the list below and discover more about these different programs, their available services, and volunteer opportunities.
Idaho Falls, ID
Beverly Hills, CA
San Antonio, TX
Casa de Justicia/House of Justice
Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica
Los Angeles, CA
Contra Costa, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Central City Community Outreach
Central Ohio Better Business Bureau
City and County of San Francisco - Office of Citizens Complaints
San Francisco, CA
Fort Collins, CO
Thousand Oaks, CA
Oregon City, OR
Moses Lake, WA
New York, NY
San Francisco, CA
Community Mediation Board of West Marin
Community Mediation Center of Southeastern Virginia
Takoma Park, MD
Upper Marlboro, MD
Santa Ana, CA
Santa Cruz, CA
Traverse City, MI
Los Angeles, CA
Santa Clara, CA
Santa Clara, CA
Dane County, WI
Ann Arbor, MI
Fort Worth, TX
Fairfax Bar Association Motions Conciliation Program
Families in Transition
Great Falls, MT
Fort Smith Community Justice
Fort Smith, Canada
Virginia Beach, VA
Kansas City, KS
San Marcos, TX
Newport News, VA
North Newton, KS
Logan City Municipal Justice Court
Los Angeles, CA
Marion County, FL
Vineyard Haven, MA
Cape Coral, FL
Milton Keynes, UK
Park City, UT
Mountain View, CA
Staten Island, NY
New York City, NY
Norfolk Community Mediation Center
Corpus Christi, TX
Bloomfield Hills, MI
Santa Ana, CA
Oklahoma National Guard
Oklahoma City, OK
New Windsor, MD
La Verne, CA
Santa Clara, CA
Long Beach, CA
West Lafayette, IN
St. Paul, MN
Santa Rosa, CA
Mount Clemens, MI
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City, UT
South Lanarkshire, UK
St. Louis, MO
Contra Costa, CA
Moreno Valley, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles, CA
St. Paul, MN
Grand Forks, ND
Salt Lake City, UT
White Plains, NY
Virginia Conflict Resolution Center
West Yorkshire, UK
+ numerous informal, private, & event-oriented volunteer contexts