Resolution Systems Institute is proud to share its latest publication, Saving Homes, Building Understanding: An Evaluation of the Eight Foreclosure Mediation Programs Funded by the Illinois Attorney General. This new evaluation looks at four-plus years of data across eight different programs to provide a comprehensive analysis of foreclosure mediation in Illinois, and to highlight how differences in program models impacted outcomes. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘mediation’
August 31, 2018, will mark the end of an era at RSI. Our five-year foreclosure mediation grant from the Office of the Illinois Attorney General will come to an end.
This grant, which we received 15 years into our operation, was our opportunity to prove that when given sufficient resources, RSI could deliver the kind of quality court mediation program that we had been recommending to others all those years. I used terms like “practice what we preach,” “proof is in the pudding” and even, “put up or shut up!”
At that time, we promised to:
- Work with courts and other stakeholders to design and operate three foreclosure mediation programs in three judicial circuits in northern Illinois
- Develop and conduct training for mediators in our programs and those operated by our partner organizations farther downstate
- Develop an online system to collect data about the programs enabling us to produce regular statistical reports and two comprehensive evaluations
I am happy to report that we delivered!
In the process, we confirmed some maxims about how to do quality court ADR and added a few corollaries.
- Study first
Before we start working with a court on their ADR program, we update our knowledge of the particular area in which we will be working. In this situation we researched what was happening across the country with foreclosure and how courts were using alternative approaches.
Corollary: Sometimes you have to build the plane while flying it. In the midst of a national foreclosure crisis, courts across the country were scrambling to keep up. While it was helpful to see what others were doing, we needed to figure out how to do foreclosure mediation in a way that worked in Illinois courts with their particular needs and resources.
- Work with stakeholders
We know that it is critical to bring together all the stakeholders while developing a court ADR system so that their various needs can be considered. In foreclosure mediation, the usual stakeholders – judges, court administrators, mediators and lawyers for both lenders and borrowers – were joined by a new addition: housing counselors, who were critical to the success of many of the programs.
Corollary: As important as it is to have all the voices heard, in the end, judges often have to make decisions about exactly how court ADR programs will work, and these decisions may not satisfy everyone. Fortunately, RSI doesn’t “have a dog in the fight,” so we can offer unbiased, expert advice about pros and cons of various approaches.
- Value the people who do the work
Never underestimate the importance of visible, capable staff. These programs are being continued because of dedicated program coordinators, who kept the cases moving and kept the courts informed of program progress, and because of skilled mediators who worked with intelligence and compassion in the midst of foreclosure – which is a crisis for each homeowner, even once the nation’s crisis has abated.
Corollary: These programs are not easy to administer. Juggling spinning plates is an apt metaphor for the challenge of administering programs with sometimes complex court rules that apply to everyone from sophisticated lawyers to overwhelmed homeowners.
- Collect and use reliable data
Turning data into meaningful information means different things to different stakeholders at different times. In the foreclosure mediation programs, we produced everything from monthly statistical reports for judges about numbers of cases in their programs and how they were being resolved to a mega-evaluation of all the programs that compared strengths of the various approaches and made recommendations about how each might improve.
Corollary: In a situation like this one in which every program was different, finding ways to make “apples to apples” comparisons was critical. Doing that successfully allowed RSI to make recommendations for improvement from a place of knowledge, not opinion.
Success and a New Era
September 1st will mark the beginning of a new era, as all three of our foreclosure mediation programs continue to operate thanks to the support of their local courts! We take this as the surest sign of success, that the courts value these programs enough to find a way to continue them when outside funding ends. We are grateful to the Attorney General for supporting these programs, to courts for their partnership and to the skilled mediators for conducting the mediations. We are pleased to continue to provide services to homeowners and their lenders when foreclosure looms.
I have a problem with a story that we in the conflict resolution field use and I’m hoping we can find a replacement for it. It’s the story about people who are blind encountering an elephant. It’s a metaphor and it’s used to make a point about differing perspectives, but from my perspective it sends a negative message about people who are blind.
If you don’t know the story, the idea is that several people who are blind encounter an elephant and because they each touch a different part of the elephant, they perceive it differently. Someone touches the tail and says an elephant is a rope, someone else touches the trunk and says it is a snake, etc. You get the idea. Only a sighted person – who can see the whole – understands that it is an elephant.
My problem with this story is that it defines people who are visually impaired as inherently limited and lacking in capability. (more…)
The mediation field now has more information in our push to unlock the black box of mediation. A recent study by James Wall and Kenneth Kressl examined the conscious and unconscious thought processes of ten civil case mediators. Their findings do more to confirm what many have long assumed, rather than provide new insights, but they are no less informative because of that. As they discuss in “Mediator Thinking in Civil Cases” (Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Spring 2017), the mediators focused on settlement as well as client satisfaction and obtaining repeat business. Unconsciously, they were biased against emotions being brought into the mediation and saw the dispute as one in which the parties would have to compromise on monetary value.
The study involved 20 observations, two for each of the ten mediators. Nine of the mediators were male; nine were white. When setting up the study, Wall and Kressl made three assumptions:
- Mediators have goals and pursue them.
- Mediator thinking operates on two levels – unconscious (system 1) and conscious (system 2). System 1 thinking is emotional and based on personal biases, while system 2 thinking is rational.
- Mediators engage in mental mapping when adopting goals and pursuing them. Mental mapping involves figuring out what to do and at what point in the mediation in order to achieve their goals.
They used these assumptions to frame their observations. Prior to each mediation, the observer met with the mediator for about 30 minutes and asked, “What are you thinking?” The observer then asked the same question after introductions and after the joint opening session. Once the parties were separated (in each mediation, there was only one joint session), the observer asked the mediator what he was thinking as they walked from one caucus room to the other. After mediation, the observer interviewed the mediator for about 45 minutes.
On the conscious level, Wall and Kressl found that the mediators all had two outcome goals, which they pursued in mediation. These were achieving a settlement and having the clients leave satisfied. Additionally, most of the mediators were interested in obtaining repeat business. The mediators’ operational goals were also universal: lower the clients’ aspirations, keep parties flexible and maintain client control. Interestingly, they all looked to the attorneys to control their clients.
Most of the mediators created mental maps of how they would achieve their goals, although the level of mental mapping varied greatly among them. Mental mapping in general starts with pre-planning – getting relevant information before the mediation starts in order to get an idea of where the case might settle. During mediation, the mediators might take verbal and non-verbal cues into consideration while continuously determining when and how settlement will be achieved, and at what dollar amount. For me, the most surprising finding of the study was that some experienced mediators engage very little in mental mapping. The common factor for the three mediators in the study who used only slight mental mapping was their focus on their own role and actions rather than on those of the parties.
Wall and Kressl found that as part of their mental mapping, the mediators considered how much to press the parties and what the pace of the mediation should be. On both factors, there was considerable variation between mediators. Pressing, defined in the study as “pointing out the weaknesses in the client’s case; noting the strengths of the opponent’s case; and emphasizing the risks, pain, uncertainty, and costs of trial” was used very little by three of the mediators and three used it extensively as a method of control, dominance and pace-quickening.
Wall and Kressl divided unconscious thinking between prior to mediation and during mediation. Prior to mediation, mediators unconsciously frame the negotiation situation as distributive. That is, they believe that mediation is about getting the parties to make monetary concessions in order to reach agreement. They also believed that mediation should be low conflict and that any mediated settlement was better than trial. The mediators also saw emotions as problematic and to be avoided in mediation.
During mediation, the mediators made quick judgments about the parties and the probability of settlement. Universally, this judgment was negative for insurance adjusters (although the adjuster was only present in five cases). Also noted was that the mediators were “creatures of habit”. All but one conducted the mediation the same no matter the situation. (This was confirmed for five of the mediators, who had been observed for multiple mediations a decade before.) Wall and Kressl noted that the mediators had on average a 70% settlement rate, which might have led the mediators to confirm that their mediation style worked well.
Although the study only included ten mediators, Wall and Kressl saw patterns in their approach to mediation, leading them to put the mediators into three distinct groups:
- Reflective Persuaders: these were high mental mappers who were moderate on pressing and extracting offers.
- Pressers: these were high on pressing and extracting offers, moderate on what the pace of mediation should be and moderate on mental mapping.
- Laissez-faires: these were low on pressing and extracting offers, moderate on repeat business and having pleased clients and moderate on the pace of mediation. They made mental maps but were hands off.
This study suffers from a small and homogeneous sample, so it is not readily generalized to the general population of mediators. Another issue is that the cases were very heterogeneous; differences in case types, dollar amounts and representation may have had an impact on how mediators approached their cases. Nonetheless, the study is significant in that it provides insights into mediators’ unconscious biases. This information can be used to uncover the influence of unconscious thinking on mediator behavior and the path that mediation takes.
When it comes to defining mediation, I am not a strict constructionist. As long as a mediation program operates within the ethical boundaries, such as confidentiality, neutrality and voluntariness, which are articulated in the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, I can agree with a wide variety of approaches.
Unfortunately, sometimes certain entities (e.g., courts, governments, schools, corporations) seem to use the word “mediation” as cover to make a process that is not really mediation appear more palatable. It is worse yet when the purpose of the program appears to be to create a set of hurdles. One of my core principles in mediation system design is that a mediation program should ease the path to resolution, not erect barriers to it.