On 1 July 2015 the revised National Mediator Accreditation System (NMAS) came into effect. The revised NMAS replaced the Practice Standards and the Approval Standards previously in effect, and referred to collectively as the Australian National Mediator Standards (ANMS).
One difference between the ANMS and the revised MNAS was the ongoing education and practice requirements for mediators seeking to re-accredit. Previously, the continuing accreditation requirements, including the requirement to undertake continuing professional, were set out in the Approval Standards document. Under the revised NMAS, the Approval Standards and the Practice Standards are published in the one document, and the continuing professional development (referred to hereafter as CPD) requirements are located in Part III – Practice Standards.
Under the ANMS, in order to maintain their accreditation, a mediator had to complete 20 hours of CPD in every 2 year cycle. With the introduction of the revised MNAS, practitioners must now complete 25 hours of CPD activity in every 2-year cycle. The revised standards also introduced an additional method of accruing CPD in Part III section 3.5 (b), namely “structured peer-based reflection on mediation cases”.
In this this paper I explore this new CPD option, asking: what is peer-based reflection on mediation cases; what are its benefits; and how can mediators participate? Finally, I set out a proposed structure for peer-based reflection on mediation cases for the purpose of NMAS re-accreditation.
Requirement for ongoing education and development activities
To qualify for national reaccreditation, an Australian mediator must undertake at least 25 hours of Continuing Professional Development every 2 years. CPD activities must contribute to the knowledge, skills and ethical principles contained in the Practice Standards[i]. The 25 hours may be made up as follows:
(a) Participating in formal structured activities such as training seminars and workshops (up to 20 hours) or attending conferences (up to 15 hours).
(b) Reflecting on practice, either by receiving professional supervision or coaching, or participating in structured peer-based reflection on mediation cases (up to 15 hours).
(c) Delivering presentations on mediation or related topics, including two hours of preparation time for each hour delivered, or providing professional supervision, assessment, coaching or mentoring of mediator trainees and mediators (up to 15 hours).
(d) Credit for professional CPD related to their mediation practice, such as in law or in the behavioural or social sciences or in the professional field in which they mediate, such as building or engineering (up to 10 hours).
(e) Learning from Practice that is, participating in up to four mediations as a client representative or in a formal learning capacity (up to 2 hours per mediation) or role-playing for trainee mediators and candidates for mediator assessment (up to 2 hours per simulation) (to a maximum of 8 hours per 2 year cycle).
(f) Private study such as reading, listening to or viewing pre-recorded content such as podcasts, or writing articles or books relevant to mediation that are published in recognised journals or by recognised publishers (up to 5 hours).
(g) Other activities as may be approved by the MSB on application by an RMAB (up to 5 hours).
Reflecting on Practice
For some of us in solo or small practices, it can be hard to find the time and resources to complete our 25 hours of continuing professional development, let alone engage in formal supervision, coaching or debriefing with a more senior practitioner. Receiving professional supervision or coaching can become expensive, and that’s if you can find a professional supervisor of coach to work with – there are not many out there according to Google.
The National Mediator Accreditation Standards introduced an additional method of accruing CPD hours. In addition to receiving professional supervision or coaching, mediators seeking reaccreditation can now participate in structured peer-based reflection on mediation cases.
What is “structured peer-based reflection on mediation cases”?
I have been unable to find any clear definition of structured peer-based reflection in the field of mediation or in the practice of law; so, I looked to our sister discipline, psychology.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has established a Peer Consultation Network program[ii], encouraging its members to participate in a process of ‘peers consulting with peers in a non-hierarchical fashion’. For the APS’s purposes, peer consultation differs from peer supervision in a few ways.
Peer supervision is a formal review of the work of a psychologist who has requested peer supervision, and who uses the expertise and competence of their peers. The group of supervisors provide ‘expert advice’ to the psychologist in relation to their practice. It is a 1-to-many model, where the advice and feedback is mostly one-way, that is, from the supervisors to the psychologist who has requested the supervision. [I understand that this form of peer supervision and coaching is also deployed across a range of disciplines, industries and workplaces, which will be the focus on a future paper].
Peer consultation in the APS scheme involves a collaborative group of peers conferring with each other. The participants come together with the intention of working together to access and share information among the group. In this collaborative model, advice and feedback flows from each psychologist to and from each other member of the peer consultation group.
The British Psychological Society appears to have taken a similar view, also dividing formalised peer support into 2 categories: peer supervision and peer learning communities. In his article One more time: what is supervision?[iii] Michael Carroll noted that
“effective supervision should lead automatically to communities of practice (action learning groups of individuals working together to help each other provide better services). In such communities of practice the development of excellent work becomes the project for all the members who use the community as a forum for reflection. Team supervision and small group supervision can become learning communities and networks of learning for the development of the work (Wenger, 1998)”[iv].
So let us then follow the lead of our colleagues in psychology, and form within the profession of mediation peer consultation groups and peer learning communities in which to conduct our structured, peer-based reflection on mediation cases.
Why peer-based reflection? What are the benefits?
Again, I have been unable to find any studies, research or report on the use and effectiveness of peer-based reflection among mediators, either here or abroad; so once again, I turn to the field of psychology for insight.
The APS has identified several benefits of peer consultation, including:
- Helping to protect clients by providing practitioners with feedback on best practice interventions;
- Highlighting the need for a practitioner to complete additional supervision;
- Improving risk management, and potentially reducing an organisation’s or individual’s liability should a claim arise.
In 2011 London Metropolitan University Lecturer Alexandra Cross examined a peer-supervision model comprising ‘reciprocal arrangements in which peers work together for a mutual benefit where developmental feedback is emphasised and self-directed learning and evaluation is encouraged (Benshoff J.M 1992)”[v].
Cross identified the following benefits to trainees of this 1-to-1 peer supervision model:
- Increased levels of empathy, respect, genuineness and concreteness;
- Greater self-confidence,
- increased self-direction,
- improved goal-setting and direction in counselling session; and
- Increased mutual and co-operative participation.
Cross writes that peer supervision “helps the student become a more active learner in the process and share in the view that ‘knowledge is created in the social context to which both participants contribute’ (Akhurst et al 2006)”[vi].
Although the benefits and effectiveness of peer consultation among mediators have not yet been reported on, I hypothesise that peer-based consultation, learning and reflection would provide mediators with similar benefits to those identified in both peer consultation as described by the APS, and the peer-supervision model examined by Cross, namely improving and increasing the mediators’:
- goal-setting and direction in mediation sessions,
- levels of empathy, respect, and genuineness,
- skills and effectiveness by providing feedback on best practice interventions,
- awareness of any need for additional supervision, training or development,
- risk management, potentially reducing an organisation’s or individual’s liability should a claim arise.
Ethical considerations in peer based supervision and consultation
The Australian and British psychological societies both require that the same ethical standards expected of in practice are also observed in the context of peer-supervision.
I advocate that mediators take the same approach, and observe the same ethical standards required under the Mediator Practice Standards[vii]:
(c) Ethical Principles
(i) competence, integrity and accountability
(ii) professional conduct
(iv) informed consent
(v) safety, procedural fairness and equity in mediation including withdrawing from or terminating the mediation process
(vi) impartiality including the avoidance of conflicts of interest
(vii) confidentiality privacy and reporting obligations
(viii) honesty in the marketing and advertising of mediation and promotion of the mediator’s practice
How to conduct peer-based reflection
The APS has set out some clear guidelines for its peer consultation program which – in my opinion – provide an excellent starting point for establishing our own guidelines.
Peer consultation can include:
- professional case presentations,
- informal or formal individual consultations,
- formal peer review, and
- regular group meetings, involving both case and topic discussions, between practitioners of differing levels of experience.
Any and all of these styles of peer consultation could be adopted for peer-based reflection on mediation cases, and no doubt we have each been doing this to varying degrees already in our practices.
Turning to group-based activities, the APS recommends a minimum of 6 participants at any such meeting, and further suggests that a group of 12 – 15 regular, ongoing members is required to ensure a viable group over the long term. The APS Guidelines remind groups to ensure that all attendees have ample opportunity to contribute and benefit from the meetings, and recommends the group appoint a coordinator/facilitator who will ensure that the agreed processes occur, and who may provide liaison with the APS National Office or regulatory bodies as needed.
For a peer-consultation group to flourish, the APS recommends meeting once every 4 – 6 weeks, for at least 1.5 hours per meeting.
Proposed structure for peer-based reflection on mediation cases for the purpose of the NMAS
Drawing on the models adopted in the field of psychology, I propose that we, as mediators, convene regular group meetings, involving both case and topic discussions, between practitioners of differing levels of experience. Ideally, a group of 15 or so practitioners will be regularly involved, with at least 6 attending each meeting.
Each meeting should run for at least 90 minutes, with a facilitator or convener whose role it is to lead the discussion and to ensure that each mediator present has the opportunity to contribute and receive benefit from the reflection.
Participants in peer-based reflection are expected to observe the ethical standards set out in the NMAS Practice Standards.
Research into the teaching, learning and practice of counselling psychology shows that students and practitioners benefit from participating in peer-based supervision and consultation. As the revised NMAS now provide mediators the opportunity to include peer-based reflection on practice among their CPD activities, the question must be asked what is it and how is it done.
In this paper I have set out some of the benefits I predict will come from practicing peer-based reflection, and a methodology for organising and participating in it.
I welcome your comments, your experiences of peer-based reflection, and welcome you to continue the conversation on line and in person.
Rebecca Carroll-Bell, Nationally Accredited Mediator,
RCB Mediation Services
6 September 2015
Connect with me online:
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[i] Mediator Standards Board, ‘National Mediator Accreditation System’ (1 July 2015) accessed at http://www.msb.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/NMAS%201%20July%202015.pdf on 6 September 2015.
[ii] Australian Psychological Society Ltd, ‘APS Peer Consultation Network Guidelines’ (undated) accessed at https://www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/PeerConsultNetwork.pdf on 6 September 2015.
[iii] Carroll, Michael, ‘One more time: what is supervision?’ (2007) Vol 5 No 3 Psychotherapy in Australia 34 accessed at http://www.bps.org.uk/system/files/documents/one_more_time_0.pdf on 6 September 2015.
[iv] Ibid at 36
[v] Cross, Alexandra, ‘Self- and Peer-Assessment: the case of Peer Supervision in Counselling and Psychology’ (2011) Vol 7 Spring Investigations in university teaching and learning 73 accessed at https://metranet.londonmet.ac.uk/fms/MRSite/psd/hr/capd/investigations/Volume%207/Investigations%20Vol%207%20pdf%20Version%202/Inv%20vii%20009%20Cross.pdf on 6 September 2015.
[vi] Ibid at 77
[vii] Op. cit. at 13