I’m so happy to introduce the Model Surveys, a toolkit that enables court-connected mediation programs to obtain reliable data. The toolkit includes post-mediation surveys for parties, attorneys and mediators, as well as a mediator report. The surveys are all annotated, with explanations for the rationale for each question and discussion of the wording. The toolkit is rounded out with advice on how to use and modify the surveys.
The whole idea behind the project is that courts and their associated programs often don’t have the necessary resources to obtain good information about program functioning. In RSI’s experience, the courts’ biggest need was for well-designed participant surveys and set out to develop them in collaboration with the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and with the help of a fantastic group of nationally-known experts in ADR research and program administration.
Participant surveys are essential for obtaining information not only about participant experience, but about mediator quality as well. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to design them correctly. They are deceptively complex to create. There’s a science to them, and if you don’t know the science, you’re not going to write the types of questions that let you obtain good information from them. You need to write clear, unambiguous questions that respondents have the ability to answer. Time and again, we had seen surveys that failed on one or more of these factors.
That’s where the Model Surveys Committee stepped in. Our group worked out every question based on years of experience designing surveys. We then sent the surveys for comment from other experts, and then tested them in the field. The process led us to include some new questions not used before in post-mediation surveys and to omit ones that are commonly used. We found, for example, that the commonly used question, “Was the outcome of the mediation fair?” was not a good question – for a very surprising reason. Some had thought it might not provide any information because no one would sign an agreement they didn’t think was fair. We discovered instead that people who said the outcome wasn’t fair weren’t upset by this; they saw the outcome as the best they could get and were satisfied with it. Therefore, the question wasn’t providing us the information we were seeking and we deleted it.
Although we developed surveys with large civil cases in mind, I’ve worked with several programs to adapt the surveys for other types of cases. In Illinois, they are currently used for foreclosure and family cases, and they will soon be used for family cases in Nevada. Their use is helping to address incipient problems. For example, in one program, survey responses indicated there were issues with neutrality, leading the program to discuss this problem with the mediators. I encourage you to check out the surveys and to reach out to RSI for help in adapting them.