Mediation as an Agreement-seeking Process

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of neutrality and the exclusive use of dialogue if mediation is to be successful. That was just one of the messages one of the founding fathers of mediation, Mr. Howard Bellman, stressed at a lecture, hosted by The Hague Institute for Global Justice on 14 April. His presentation on Public Mediation: A Practical Strategy for Conflict Transformation was organized by The Hague Institute in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam.

Drawing on his almost fifty years of experience as mediator and arbitrator, Mr. Bellman explained the different stages and challenges that the mediation process entails; from recognizing that a problem is arising to gathering all involved in a dialogue to solve it. He was personally involved in hundreds of mediation processes in the United States, ranging from labor and discrimination issues, land claims, to trades and environmental disputes.

Mediation begins by identifying the opposing views and complaints of the parties in conflict, in a process that might be compared to a medical diagnosis. The real challenge for a mediator is to identify the elements and root causes of the dispute: “The important thing to do before you conduct a surgery or write a prescription or tell somebody to go on a diet, is to make sure you have the right diagnosis”.

Building trust and understand the positions of the parties involved is of primary importance to ensure a successful mediation. The mediator has to guide the parties and ensure the ownership of the final outcome, which must be the result of their consultation and their effort to reach common positions. Therefore, the mediator must remain neutral, and can only use dialogue to encourage compliance. The moment the mediator starts using sanctions, he becomes a stakeholder and therefore loses his authority as non-intervener.

Gathering the right stakeholders together is also crucial, to ensure a fair representation of all the interests involved and that each constituency has a say in the process. At the same time, Mr. Bellman emphasized the need to let all parties involved in the dispute select their own representatives to participate in the mediation process.

To give the audience a concrete sense of how mediation can bring parties together and facilitate a common agreement, he presented his experience with the single text method. This consists of engaging all parties in a conflict in working together on the text of an agreement. The rationale behind this approach is that is facilitates forming an entity out of the diverse array of participants.

The discussion was concluded by some reflections on how to adopt mediation in the complex context of international crisis, such as the one that is currently affecting Yemen. While it cannot provide an overarching solution, Mr. Bellman explained that as a form of public participation process, “mediation could be used in settling the dispute on a very specific and concrete aspect of the dispute such us on the access and management of water”. If successful, the dialogue and the cooperation triggered by the mediation process can spread and create the foundation for further cooperation that will eventually lead to peace.

This coincides with the conclusions of our recently published report on the Political Economy of Water Management in Yemen. While analyzing the relationship between water scarcity and conflict, this publication explores the possibilities for conflict settlement based on inclusive negotiation. The full text of the report is accessible here.

Drawing on his almost fifty years of experience as mediator and arbitrator, Mr. Bellman explained the different stages and challenges that the mediation process entails; from recognizing that a problem is arising to gathering all involved in a dialogue to solve it. He was personally involved in hundreds of mediation processes in the United States, ranging from labor and discrimination issues, land claims, to trades and environmental disputes.

Mediation begins by identifying the opposing views and complaints of the parties in conflict, in a process that might be compared to a medical diagnosis. The real challenge for a mediator is to identify the elements and root causes of the dispute: “The important thing to do before you conduct a surgery or write a prescription or tell somebody to go on a diet, is to make sure you have the right diagnosis”.

Building trust and understand the positions of the parties involved is of primary importance to ensure a successful mediation. The mediator has to guide the parties and ensure the ownership of the final outcome, which must be the result of their consultation and their effort to reach common positions. Therefore, the mediator must remain neutral, and can only use dialogue to encourage compliance. The moment the mediator starts using sanctions, he becomes a stakeholder and therefore loses his authority as non-intervener.

Gathering the right stakeholders together is also crucial, to ensure a fair representation of all the interests involved and that each constituency has a say in the process. At the same time, Mr. Bellman emphasized the need to let all parties involved in the dispute select their own representatives to participate in the mediation process.

To give the audience a concrete sense of how mediation can bring parties together and facilitate a common agreement, he presented his experience with the single text method. This consists of engaging all parties in a conflict in working together on the text of an agreement. The rationale behind this approach is that is facilitates forming an entity out of the diverse array of participants.

The discussion was concluded by some reflections on how to adopt mediation in the complex context of international crisis, such as the one that is currently affecting Yemen. While it cannot provide an overarching solution, Mr. Bellman explained that as a form of public participation process, “mediation could be used in settling the dispute on a very specific and concrete aspect of the dispute such us on the access and management of water”. If successful, the dialogue and the cooperation triggered by the mediation process can spread and create the foundation for further cooperation that will eventually lead to peace.

This coincides with the conclusions of our recently published report on the Political Economy of Water Management in Yemen. While analyzing the relationship between water scarcity and conflict, this publication explores the possibilities for conflict settlement based on inclusive negotiation. The full text of the report is accessible here.

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