UGA Researchers In Midst Of Largest Study Of Mediator Skills Ever Conducted

September 18, 1997

ATHENS, Ga. -- From the Camp David Accords to juvenile court, mediation takes place throughout the United States. However, little research has been conducted on what it takes to be a skillful mediator.

Until now.

Jerry Gale, a professor in the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and Margaret S. Herrman, a senior associate at the UGA Vinson Institute of Government are in the middle of a four-year project focusing on mediators in Georgia that could have an impact nationally. They will discuss their research Sept. 21 in Atlanta at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy annual meeting.

"The crux of this research is to define what is skillful mediation," Herrman said. "You can have mediation that's close to therapy and you can have mediation that's close to lawyering. Both styles can be highly successful, but is it mediation? We want to identify skillful practices that are common throughout mediation styles."

Herrman and Gale's project -- the largest of its kind ever conducted anywhere in the nation -- includes seven different data bases.

Some of the most interesting material can be found in the 25-page survey the researchers sent to the states 1,000-plus mediators and 40 videotapes -- some averaging more than four hours in length -- that have been made of mediation sessions.

"The videotapes were made with actors playing the roles of people seeking mediation," Gale explained. "They stayed in character throughout the mediation session."

Although the researchers are still analyzing the tapes for best and worst practices, some of the actors who participated may be on hand at the AAMFT conference to discuss their experiences with different mediators.

"After some of the sessions, the actors would say they felt like they had been in a counseling session," Herrman said.

Once the tapes have been analyzed, sections recreated by actors demonstrating various practices may be combined and used as teaching tools, according to Gale.

Herrman said she's thrilled that 37 percent of the state's mediators completed the exhaustive survey. From it, she and Gale will develop a "Portrait of Georgia Mediators."

Some of the information gleaned from the 370-plus surveys includes:Becoming a mediator in the state of Georgia requires completion of a 20-hour course with a trainer who is registered with the state and observation of five cases. However, according to Herrman a few of the state's mediators have more than 200 hours of training.

"One important element of our research is to see the effect of the trainer on a new mediator," Herrman said. "We think that most mediators adopt the philosophy of their trainer and they hang on to many of the key components they learn from their first trainer."

Hermann and Gale's research is funded with $490,000 in grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the State Justice Institute, and the Consortium on Negotiation and Conflict Resolution.


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