Future mediation: A flexible bundle of knowledge, skills, attitudes and ethical attributes

We hope you find this next excerpt from Mediation in Australia (LexisNexis, 2018) thought provoking:

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If mediation, despite its versatility and diversity of applications, is looked at as an analytical model, then it is not clear how it might endure, grow and respond to some of the big challenges ahead. There is no necessary longevity to the system we currently call ‘mediation’, although nostalgic sentiment would wish it a long and productive life. DR innovation, technological disruption, authoritarian governance and other intervening factors will not leave mediation unaffected, and the system as we know it may be subverted, rejected, replaced or modified beyond recognition.

Regardless of these prognostications, an inevitable shift will involve looking at mediation less in definitional terms or as a procedural model and more as a flexible bundle of knowledge, skills, attitudes and ethical attributes (KSAE). This bundle might have endless possibilities for future application.

As regards the knowledge factor, sound understanding of problem-solving strategies and procedures is an assumed element of current mediator competence, with potential future applications in the big issues. The skills element of KSAE will remain focused on relational engagement and communication — empathic listening, acknowledging, reframing, summarising and questioning — with new skill sets emerging from the new forms of knowledge referred to above. The attitudinal element of KSAE will emphasise the responsiveness value discussed in Chapter 2 of Mediation in Australia through the potential mediation affords to achieving justice in a democracy centred on the Rule of Law, and the promotion of party and community well-being through the resolution and management of disputes.

Finally, the ethical attributes necessary into the future will continue to include mediator impartiality, but will need to be far more contextual in response to this flexible KSAE bundle. What will be the ‘right thing to do’ in mediation will no longer be governed by abstract concepts such as neutrality but will depend on the specific DR needs and circumstances of parties, their context and the ‘fitting response’ to upholding party self-determination (defined in Mediation in Australia as including informed consent and an absence of external determination).


Within the confinements of law and legal processing alone the KSAE have influenced the development and practices, inter alia, of collaborative law, unfacilitated negotiation, expedited arbitration, less adversarial trials, conjoint expert evidence, industry dispute schemes and judicial DR. Beyond these developments, the KSAE factors have potential applications in peace-making initiatives around the world, in political systems, in educational bodies, in international relations, in trade and investment matters, and in all situations where there are continuing interactions within cognate groups, from nuclear families to global supply chains.

The relational and responsive nature of mediation sits at the centre of the system into the future, providing a motivation for moving beyond the current focus on models of mediation, such as facilitative versus evaluative or transformative versus settlement, to a focus on the intrinsic skills, techniques and attitudes associated with an inclusive concept of the mediation system. It is in this dimension that we consider that mediation will be able to engage in, and impact on, the bigger issues.

We welcome your comments and responses to these thoughts.

Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field

Image acknowledgement: https://www.shutterstock.com/search/ethical

This entry was posted in Dispute resolution by Dr Rachael Field. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr Rachael Field

Rachael is a Professor of Law in the Bond University Faculty of Law, and Co-Director of the Bond Centre for Dispute Resolution and Bond’s Centre for Professional Legal Education. Her areas of teaching and research expertise include dispute resolution, family law and domestic violence, lawyer and law student well-being and legal. Rachael has published widely in the dispute resolution field and completed a PhD on mediation ethics in 2011. Amongst other works, she is the author of Australian Dispute Resolution (2022) and co-author with Laurence Boulle of Mediation in Australia (2018). Rachael founded the Australian Wellness Network for Law and co-founded the ADR Research Network. She has been involved with Women’s Legal Service, Brisbane since 1993 and is now an Ambassador for the Service. In 2013 Rachael was named Queensland Woman Lawyer of the Year and in 2020 she was elected to be a life-long Honorary Academic Bencher of the Inner Temple in London.

2 thoughts on “Future mediation: A flexible bundle of knowledge, skills, attitudes and ethical attributes

  1. Pingback: Mediation, Mediator, Mediation – PART II | The Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network

  2. Pingback: Mediation, Mediator, Mediation – Part III | The Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network

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