I am an off-campus PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle – having just moved from Monash University. I am also a Director and Fellow of Resolution Institute, and was the national vice-president of IAMA before its integration with LEADR. I am an ADR practitioner and trainer, especially mediation training, and a Senior Mediator Member of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (having designed the mediation program that ACAT uses), and am on the mediator panels for the ACT Supreme Court and for the Arts Law Centre of Australia. I am also a member of the ADR Advisory Council (ADRAC), of the Law and Society Association (USA), and of the American Bar Association Task Force on Research into Mediator Techniques. Prior to entering the world of ADR, I worked in various public service positions, including as a senior policy advisor on illicit drugs, advising the then ACT Chief Minister; in that capacity, I conducted an extensive international consultation process that informed the ACT Government’s proposal for a trial of medically prescribed heroin. I live on a mountain property in a small, remote community in NSW, where I am the Training Officer for, and an active member of, the local fire brigade. My son lives and works in Seattle (USA), and I have immediate family in Sydney, and in Switzerland.
Thesis Research Project
My research topic arose from my mediation practice and my training of mediators: what is it that makes some mediators so much better, or more effective, than others? I am concentrating my research on review and analysis of existing empirical studies of mediation and of mediator techniques, and have been very fortunate to have access to a compilation of almost 90 reports from such studies that was pulled together by the ABA Task Force on Research into Mediator Techniques. I am constantly updating and rewriting my research questions, but, in essence, they are:
1. What is known about mediator influence over participant behaviour and participant perceptions, including perceptions of mediation effectiveness?
2. What is known about what mediators actually do in mediation that is so influential?
3. How can mediator behaviour and levels of influence be effectively measured and analysed?
4. What differences might it make to existing theories about mediation, existing mediator practices, and existing mediator training regimes if specific mediator behaviours (rather than models of practice, or styles and approaches) were found to be key predictors of mediation effectiveness?
What is most exciting for me about my research?
I am thoroughly enjoying learning about mediation research, meeting ADR researchers (in Australia and overseas), and gaining insight into, and understanding about, the characteristics of very effective mediators. I am currently working with a US academic on a report to be presented by the ABA Task Force, and that is certainly an exciting project. Last year, I attended a compulsory seminar on the philosophy of law and that activated every curiosity neuron in my brain, which is always an exciting event; however, the most exciting aspect of my research has been learning about the unfamiliar world of academic research: its social norms, its language and its rules. It has been something of a cross-cultural experience for me.
What challenges have I experienced with my research?
It seems to me that everything I have done around this research project has been a challenge. For example, I have had to learn how to turn ideas into formal research questions; how to write in an academic style; how to consistently apply strict citation styles. I have also had to master some of the infinite capacities of the internet so my off-campus attendance is neither isolating nor an obstacle.
While learning how to be an academic researcher has been exciting for me, it has also been a challenge. Although I have conducted many graduate and post-graduate ADR courses at universities, these have always been in the form of 3 or 5 day intensives, rather than extended, regular university attendance. Becoming an academic researcher is quite different from parachuting in for an intensive and then jumping back out.
Where would I like to go after I finish my research project?
Once this project is completed, I would like to progress to empirical study of mediator behaviour to identify, or confirm, what very good mediators actually do that makes them so much better. Some commentators have referred to the ‘black box’ of mediation*, and I would like to see that dark, mysterious container opened so researchers can properly study what actually happens in a mediation, and mediators can use accessible research findings to improve their practice techniques.
On the other hand, my family owns a very small, mediaeval house in a perched village in Provence (built in around 1100AD), and I would really enjoy some time on its balcony, listening to the bees in the lavender, the church bells in the distance, and the rhythms of local greetings.
* For example, see: L. B. Bingham, ‘Transformative Mediation at the United States Postal Service’ (2012) 5 Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, p 363; L. Charkoudian, ‘Just My Style: The Practical, Ethical, and Empirical Dangers of the Lack of Consensus about Definitions of Mediation Styles’ (2012) 5 Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, pp 371 and 380; J. A. Wall, Jr, and S. Chan-Serafin, ‘Processes in Civil Case Mediations’ (2009) 26 Conflict Resolution Quarterly, p 262.