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The Year in Research: A Review

Jennifer Shack, December 28th, 2017

To cap off 2017, I thought I’d look back at what we learned through research over the past 12 months.

We learned that use of motivational interviewing in family mediation in Australia led to a much greater likelihood of the parents reaching full agreement.  As a follow-up, researchers in Nebraska provided insight into how best to train mediators to use motivational interviewing in their practice.

Researchers from the Pacific Rim gave us a new way of thinking about cultural approaches to conflict resolution. Their intake instrument for mediators can be used to understand each individual disputant’s “unique cultural preferences” in the way in which they respond to a particular dispute.

James Wall and Kenneth Kressl delved into mediators’ conscious and unconscious thinking to see how they influenced the mediators’ view of the conflict and how they approached mediation. They found patterns that led them to put mediators into one of three categories: reflective persuaders, pressers and laissez-faires.

A review of restorative justice studies found that victim-offender conferencing, family group conferencing, arbitration/mediation programs, and circle sentencing programs showed promise for reducing recidivism. The researchers also concluded that pre-mediation or pre-conference meetings increased the effectiveness of the programs.

Another review of studies – this time of those that connected mediator behaviors with mediation outcomes – gave us insight into what behaviors might be more effective.  These included eliciting disputants’ suggestions or solutions; giving more attention to disputants’ emotions, relationship, and sources of conflict; working to build trust and rapport, expressing empathy or praising the disputants, and structuring the agenda; and using pre-mediation caucuses focused on establishing trust.

We also found out about the effectiveness of a specific program design for providing services to divorcing families. This Denver-based program provided an array of services to the families, which led to a significant improvement in parental well-being and co-parenting.

On the other hand, courts’ and attorneys’ communication to litigants about their ADR options has been ineffective, according to research in three courts. Despite rules requiring attorneys talk with their clients about their options, only 24% of those surveyed knew that they had the opportunity to mediate their case, and only 27% knew about arbitration.
That’s what we learned this year. Here’s to more insights in 2018!

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