Transformative Mediation

In contrast to traditional problem-solving or ‘settlement-oriented’ approaches to mediation, the goal of which is to identify, define and resolve problems through a mutually-acceptable settlement, transformative mediation aims to empower the actors involved and enhance and encourage their recognition of the other parties to the conflict. Instead of viewing conflict as a short-term situation in need of a solution, transformative mediation assumes that conflict is a long-term process with numerous opportunities for intervention and transformation.

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Transformative mediation is responsive as opposed to directive, with the role of the mediator secondary to that of the actors involved, who are encouraged to themselves outline the goals of mediation, design communication guidelines and frame issues. Transformative mediation does not curtail discussion to areas more amenable to negotiation and apparent resolution, as is often the case with problem-solving mediation, nor avoid discussion of the past, the expression of emotions or the exploration of actors’ uncertainties. Instead, transformative mediation encourages mutual recognition of relation and identity issues (i.e. those issues which cannot be treated as mere problems to be resolved), as well as deliberation on the prevailing situation and analysis of potential options and approaches. Transformative mediators must avoid judgments about the actors’ views and decisions, and continue to stress that responsibility for the outcome of the mediation process lies with the parties to the conflict.

The concept of transformative mediation is underpinned by two key concepts – Empowerment and Recognition.

  • Empowerment – empowerment involves strengthening the capacity of the actors involved in a conflict to make decisions, thereby ensuring that each has “greater clarity about their goals, resources, options, and preferences” (Bush and Folger, 1996), contributing to “clear and deliberate decisions”. Skills-building, particularly with respect to conflict resolution, communications, and monitoring and evaluation techniques, is an essential component of empowerment, strengthening actors’ “capacity to analyze situations and make effective decisions for themselves”, thereby enabling them to define their own issues and seek solutions independently.
  • Recognition – Recognition “means the evocation in individuals of acknowledgment and empathy for the situation and problems of others” (Bush and Folger, 1994); namely, consideration of the perspectives, views and experiences of other actors in a conflict, particularly with respect to how they define the problem and why they seek the solution that they do.

Transformative mediation is an open-ended process; neither divided into stages through which the parties are supposed to progress, nor facing imposed and often arbitrary deadlines as a means of inducement, as is the case with problem-solving mediation. Success is therefore determined not by the achievement or not of a mutually agreeable settlement, but by the empowerment and mutual recognition of the conflict parties; key to achieving durable and sustainable outcomes by ensuring that all parties are better equipped to recognise the concerns, issues and perspectives of the other parties to a conflict.

Additional Reading

  • Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger, (1994), “The Promise of Mediation: Responding to Conflict Through Empowerment and Recognition”, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 296 pp.
  • Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger, (1996), “Transformative Mediation and Third-Party Intervention: Ten Hallmarks of a Transformative Approach to Practice”, in Mediation Quarterly, Volume 13, Number 4.
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