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CMC Conference 2023 – Day 1: Review by Giselle Green

CMC Conference 2023 – Day 1: Review by Giselle Green

Mediator Giselle Green shares her experiences from the CMC conference 2023. “This was my first CMC annual conference,” she says “and it certainly lived up to its billing of ‘Insight and Innovation’, touching on so many ground-breaking mediation areas, delving deep and offering heaps of practical advice to those of us attending.” Read her review and keen observations of Day 1 to learn more about the topics, speakers and sessions that were part of this year’s event.

This was my first CMC annual conference and it certainly lived up to its billing of “Insight and Innovation”, touching on so many ground-breaking mediation areas, delving deep and offering heaps of practical advice to those of us attending.

After a lively welcome from our online hosts, Mia Forbes-Pirie and Audrey Dorival, the conference kicked off amid a sense of relief that the star speaker, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Alex Chalk KC MP, hadn’t been reshuffled like some of his colleagues. But his live opening speech did have to be rearranged into a pre-recorded snappy interview, expertly conducted by CMC Chair, Rebecca Clark. Mr Chalk revealed that the start date for integrated mediation (the now preferred term for mandatory mediation) for small claims cases up to £10,000 will be announced in the new year. Hold the front page! He also reported mediator recruitment for the scheme was well underway. He emphasised the importance of normalising mediation in the public mind, declaring that “sometimes the best legal advice is not to go to court”. He also indicated there was cross party support for mediation (ie. a change of government is unlikely to derail the plan) and he saw no reason why the policy shouldn’t be extended to higher value cases which weren’t necessarily more complex than lower value ones. As he said, “Act 1, Scene 1 is Small Claims” and he would proceed in an “incremental, evidence-based way”. So watch this space!

We were then given a comprehensive update by senior members of the CMC Board & Executive. Leading proceedings was CEO Paul Adams who commended the energy and forward direction of the sector and the significant growth of the CMC. Membership is up 16% in the past year, with pleasing increases at both ends of the career path, amongst associates and fellows. Paul also told us the CMC has made inroads towards applying for Chartered Status which is an important move towards professionalising the mediation sector.

Hetti Jackson-Stops was able to update us on engagement with government as the CMC’s government liaison. Unlike in the past, when she felt she was banging against the proverbial door, she now feels that door has swung open and the government is fully committed to the role of mediation in the civil justice system and regularly reaches out to the CMC for support and expertise. Interestingly she imagined the upper limit for cases, if integrated mediation is extended, would be around £100-150,000.

On the subject of how the government ensures mediators are properly regulated and accredited, it was encouraging to hear from Hetti that the Ministry of Justice is happy with a system of self-regulation and the standards set by the CMC. And in order to ensure delays aren’t baked into the system, the idea of a portal for parties to choose mediators had been passed over in favour of mediators being assigned to cases. But will this add fuel to the fire of those who are against the notion of mediation being anything other than a fully voluntary process?

Andy Rogers is the Co-Chair of the CMC’s Registration and Standards Committee, pushing the CMC objective of professionalising mediation. He explained how over the last twelve months the CMC has moved away from a model of mediation providers to one of individual registration. He’s also been working post pandemic with training providers to introduce moderated standards so there’s a common set of competencies across all trainers. If you’re interested in becoming a moderator or getting involved with the Standards Committee, he’s keen to hear from you. As is Dionne Dury who is Chair of the Workplace Mediation Working Group and has set up a roundtable, also including judges and academics, to examine what integrated mediation means for the workplace and employment sectors. An event in association with Acas is in the pipeline. Dionne admitted the mandatory aspect will be a challenge for employment disputes.

Nicolas Fournier, Deputy Chair of the CMC and Chair of the Commercial Working Group, announced he wants to grow the pie. No, he wasn’t making a bid for Bake Off; he was talking about how to grow mediation for commercial disputes, so mediators get a bigger slice of the action. Not just by targeting law firms and chambers, which is already happening, but by what he described as “hunting the big whale” – the business world, from big corporations to small companies, reaching out to CEOs and board directors. He’s planning various events, webinars and masterclasses, including with the Institute of Directors. Nicolas would like to hear from CMC members if you have any ideas on growing the pie or helping people starting off as commercial mediators.

Victoria Harris is the CMC’s projects supremo. She has a lot on her plate. She told us about the three new working groups she has on the go: the Community Mediation Working Group, the Peer Mediation Working Group and the Academic Forum.

33 people representing 16 community mediation organisations are working with Victoria and her Co-Chair Mia Forbes-Pirie on the Community Mediation Working Group, to promote and map community mediation, set standards and share innovation and best practice including fundraising and tech issues. If community mediation is your thing and you haven’t already seen the landmark report authored by Victoria for Mediation Hertfordshire, The Cost of Community Conflict, do email her for a digital copy. It’s a chunky read, revealing so much about the impact of conflict on our society, affecting everything from health and housing to education and community safety. I’m still working my way through it! You can also watch Joanna Gosling’s fascinating interview with Victoria about the report which took place at the conference on the Thursday afternoon.

The Peer Mediation Working Group has 25 members and works with Ellis Brooks of Quakers in Britain to promote peer mediation in schools. I was really struck when Victoria told us that peer mediation wasn’t just having a positive impact in terms of the behaviour of pupils in schools, but it was also bringing a restorative culture into schools and into youngsters’ lives. At the Higher Education level, it was impressive to hear from Victoria that the Academic Forum, chaired by Dr Jane Bryan, now involves 46 academics representing 30 institutions and spans the globe from New York to Ukraine. I was heartened to learn that the forum is looking at the role Higher Education can play in supporting public engagement with mediation as well as how to incorporate meditation for students.

After such an outpouring of information about all the CMC activity, I was expecting a quick tea break. But no time for that. It was straight into a veritable deluge of inspirational insights and practical advice in a high energy presentation from Sarah O’Connor on neurodiversity in mediation: How can mediation be made more inclusive for parties who are neurodivergent?

“Release your inner detective!” demanded Sarah. “Are you a Sherlock, a Luther, a Colombo, or an Angela” (Lansbury in “Murder She Wrote” for those not steeped in detective series)? Sarah advised us to think of ourselves as detectives because clients may not reveal, or even recognise, their neurodiversity. “Masking” is also a huge problem: someone who is neurodiverse may hide their challenges to fit in with the neurotypical world.

Sarah explained that under the 2010 Equality Act, which classifies neurodiversity as a disability, we have a duty to remove barriers and make reasonable adjustments.  And we shouldn’t underestimate how many people are affected by neurodiversity in its various forms. Sarah informed us that 2.5 million people have ADHD, 1.5 million autism, 4 million dyspraxia, 6.5 million dyslexia and three-quarters of a million have Tourette’s. (Don’t assume neurodiversity has only downsides, says Sarah. Quite the contrary, neurodiversity can frequently mean heightened verbal skills, creativity, honesty, innovative thinking, hyperfocus, resilience, to name but a few upsides.)

So what reasonable adjustments do we as mediators need to make? Sarah has a long list which she’s happy to share, covering verbal, non-verbal, written and visual communication. Here are a few to get you going: think about lighting and noise as people who are neurodiverse may be extra sensitive to these; build in regular breaks; ignore tics and stimming; avoid open-ended questions (contrary to our normal practice); use less non-verbal communication; avoid irony, sarcasm and figurative language; use black type on a pastel background as this is known to be more accessible (Sarah says she reads 40 words a minute faster on pink rather than white paper!); create visual representations of problems rather than words or numbers; use a client’s name more frequently; say less and say it slowly. Above all, be patient and flexible, willing to change the way you facilitate the mediation process. If you’d like to know more, do get in touch with Sarah.

With the applause and complimentary comments in the chat still flowing, it was finally time for that cup of tea and then onto the breakout sessions.

If you wanted to dive even further into neurodiversity, there was Championing Neurodivergent Employees in Workplace Mediation. If SEND mediation is your thing, then attending SEND Mediation: Working Towards Effective Resolution was a must. Or maybe you were up for some academic discussion of history in the making with Consigning Halsey to History? What Merthyr Tydfil Means for Mediation.

For my part, I chose an area I’m keen to get actively involved with: peer mediation. How to make mediation cool in school was the topic. The charismatic speakers, Dave Walker and Mel Bruce from Calm Mediation, certainly convinced us they had done precisely that. “We’ve got the greatest job in the world!” they proclaimed. Since 2007 the pair have trained over 500 students at Bacon’s College, equipping them with the skills to help fellow students experiencing conflict. It’s a big commitment involving 25 hours of training and ongoing support from Dave and Mel. But the results are staggering. The 14 to 17 year olds have mediated almost 4,000 (yes four thousand) conflicts inside and also outside school, often now asked to accompany adult mediators in neighbourhood disputes involving young people.

The sorts of issues they’re dealing with include bullying, fighting, social media and text bullying, rumours, fall-outs among friends and exclusion. The impact this peer mediation is having is remarkable. For starters it’s improving the quality of life for kids who would otherwise be suffering stress, upset and dread coming to school or be facing an escalation of disciplinary action. Next it’s a massive boon for teachers who can lose so much of the school day dealing with troublesome teenagers. And then there are the benefits for the kids trained as mediators which can’t be overstated. They gain such important life skills while being taught conflict resolution techniques: emotional intelligence, confidence, patience, empathy, responsibility, enhanced listening and communication. And if that’s not enough, the very existence of the scheme exposes the whole school community to the concept of mediation, a great way to embed mediation in everyone’s lives. Win-win-win-win!

Not surprisingly Bacon’s College has attracted visitors from all over the world, from Mexico to Lebanon to China, and has won the Peer Mediation Project of the Year at the National Mediation Awards. One of my favourite parts of the presentation was a video from a young woman called Kezia who was trained as a mediator while a student at Bacon’s College.  She then went on to become a teacher and has now set up a mediation service in her primary school. What a virtuous spiral!

I came away from the presentation full of admiration for Dave and Mel and feeling inspired to get stuck into what Dave described as the “greatest project I’ve ever worked on”. But I’ll leave the final word to Mel which I think will resonate with all of us involved in mediation: “It’s easy to have a fight. To sit down with someone is an art.”

After a career which took her from BBC News to the world of politics to the charity sector, Giselle is now dedicated to working as a mediator and conflict coach. She specialises in civil, community and workplace mediations. In addition to her private clients, Giselle volunteers with Calm Mediation, the Society of Mediators, the Tower Hamlets Mediation Project, Ealing Mediation Service and West Sussex Mediation Service. She also has a special interest in peer mediation in schools and inter-generational conflict.

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