In their 1994 publication, The Promise of Mediation, Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph Folger explicitly outlined a framework for the practice of transformative mediation. Although practitioners had already touched on the possibilities of mediation in this realm, Baruch Bush and Folger’s work defined transformative mediation, in contrast to the dominant orientation of problem-solving mediation.

Problem-solving mediation: Aimed at resolving specific disputes and coming up with a mutually acceptable solution to the immediate, short-term problem. The mediator normally plays a very active role in guiding the process.

Transformative Mediation: Bush and Folger proposed that mediation can effect much deeper changes in people and their interpersonal relationships, beyond just remedying a short-term problem.They proposed a way of practicing mediation that seeks to address deeper levels of social life.

In the preface of their seminal work, they stated that, “mediation’s greatest value lies in its potential not only to find solutions to people’s problems but to change people themselves for the better, in the very midst of conflict.”

By employing a specific perspective on mediation practice as well as specific techniques, they believe mediation possesses the power to change how people behave not only toward their adversary in a particular conflict, but also in their day-to-day lives thereafter. Mediation, in their opinion, can transform individuals. For mediators who adhere to the framework of transformative mediation, achieving this type of long-term change is more important than solving a specific problem between parties.

Two Keys to Transformative Mediation:

Empowerment and Recognition

The transformative approach to mediation does not seek resolution of the immediate problem, but rather, seeks the empowerment and mutual recognition of the parties involved.

Empowerment, according to Bush and Folger, means enabling the parties to define their own issues and to seek solutions on their own.

Recognition means enabling the parties to see and understand the other person’s point of view — to understand how they define the problem and why they seek the solution that they do. (Seeing and understanding, it should be noted, do not constitute agreement with those views.)

Often, empowerment and recognition pave the way for a mutually agreeable settlement, but that is only a secondary effect.

The primary goal of transformative mediation is to foster the parties’ empowerment and recognition, enabling them to approach their current problem, as well as later problems, with a stronger, more open view. It should be noted as well that achieving empowerment and recognition is assessed independently of any particular outcome of the mediation. This approach, according to Bush and Folger, avoids the problem of mediator directiveness, which so often occurs in problem-solving mediation. Transformative mediation instead puts responsibility for all outcomes squarely on the disputants.

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by Brad Spangler

Brad Spangler is an Associate at Resolve in Washington, D.C. His primary area of interest is public policy dispute resolution. Brad Spangler is a contributor to Beyond Intractability which is an online “encyclopedia” compiling easy-to-understand essays on almost 400 topics which explain the dynamics of conflict along with available options for promoting more constructive approaches.