OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Transformative Mediation

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Though transformative mediation has roots that go back to the 1970s, the term and approach have been brought to the fore by the publication of Baruch Bush and Joe Folger's book The Promise of Mediation in 1994. This book contrasts two different approaches to mediation: problem-solving and transformative. The goal of problem solving mediation is generating a mutually acceptable settlement of the immediate dispute. Problem solving mediators are often highly directive in their attempts to reach this goal--they control not only the process, but also the substance of the discussion, focusing on areas of consensus and "resolvable" issues, while avoiding areas of disagreement where consensus is less likely. Although all decisions are, in theory, left in the hands of the disputants, problem solving mediators often play a large role in crafting settlement terms and obtaining the parties' agreement.

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 require agreeing 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, thereby enabling them to approach their current problem, as well as later problems, with a stronger, yet more open view. This approach, according to Bush and Folger, avoids the problem of mediator directiveness which so often occurs in problem-solving mediation, putting responsibility for all outcomes squarely on the disputants.


"Empowerment" is used by Bush and Folger in a way that differs from common usage. It does not mean power-balancing or redistribution, but rather, increasing the skills of both sides to make better decisions for themselves. Specifically, Bush and Folger use the term "empowerment" to mean "the restoration to individuals of a sense of their own value and strength and their own capacity to handle life's problems." (Folger and Bush, 1994, p. 2) In a latter publication, they further explain that through empowerment, disputants gain "greater clarity about their goals, resources, options, and preferences" and that they use this information to make their own "clear and deliberate decisions." (Folger and Bush, 1996, p. 264)

Clarity about goals means that parties will gain a better understanding of what they want and why, and that their goals are legitimate and should be considered seriously. Clarity about resources means that the parties will better understand what resources are available to them and/or what resources they need to make an informed choice. In addition, parties need to learn that they hold something that is of value to the other party, that they can communicate effectively with the other party, and that they can utilize their resources to pursue their goal(s). Clarity about options means that the parties become aware of the range of options available to them, they understand the relative costs and benefits of each option, and that they understand that the choice of options is theirs alone to make. Clarity about preferences means that the parties will reflect and deliberate on their own, making a conscious decision about what they want to do, based on the strengths and weaknesses of both sides' arguments and the advantages and disadvantages of each options.

In addition to these forms of empowerment, Bush and Folger add skill-based empowerment to the list, meaning that parties are empowered when they improve their own skills in conflict resolution, or learn how to listen, communicate, analyze issues, evaluate alternatives and make decisions more effectively than they could before.

Empowerment occurs in transformative mediation when the mediator watches for opportunities to increase the parties' clarity or skills in these areas, but does so in a way that the parties maintain control of both the process and the substance of the discussions. Unlike problem-solving mediators, transformative mediators are careful to take a secondary role, rather than a leading role in the process--they "follow the parties around," and let the parties take the process where they want it to go.


By "recognition," Bush and Folger mean considering the perspective, views, and experiences of the other: recognition, they say, "means the evocation in individuals of acknowledgment and empathy for the situation and problems of others." (Bush and Folger, 1994, p. 2.) Thus recognition is something one gives, not just something one gets. Given the importance of empowerment, however, transformative mediators allow the parties to choose how much they want to recognize the views of the opponent. They may do so to the point that complete reconciliation takes place, or they may do so to a much lesser extent, just momentarily being willing to "let go" of their interest in themselves and focus on the other person as a human being with their own legitimate situation and concerns.

Comparing Transformative to Problem Solving Mediation

There are many differences between transformative and problem solving mediation. The only similarity is that each uses a third party to assist the disputing parties to begin dealing with the dispute in a new way. That "new way," however, differs considerably from one process to the other. Problem-solving or "settlement-oriented" mediation, which is by far the dominant approach in the field today, is just what the name implies--it is focused on solving a problem by obtaining a settlement.

The settlement-oriented mediator usually explains that this is the purpose at the outset and defines a process that will assist the parties to work toward that goal. All of the mediators actions also are designed to facilitate that outcome. Emotions which might escalate anger and thus prevent a settlement are controlled. Issues that are non-negotiable are diverted, while parties are encouraged to focus on negotiable interests. Mediators tend to discourage a discussion of the past, as that often involves blame which can make progress more difficult. Rather, parties are encouraged to focus on what they want in the future, and develop ways in which their interests can be met simultaneously.

Sometimes the settlement-oriented mediator acts more like an arbitrator than a transformative mediator, proposing a solution and working hard to "sell" it to the parties. (An arbitrator's decision is binding, he or she does not have to "sell" it. However, the settlement oriented mediator sometimes acts like an arbitrator when he or she takes the role of the "expert," and comes up with the settlement provisions for the parties.) Settlement-oriented mediators often try to keep the parties moving forward, encouraging them to move from one "stage" to the next as quickly as possible and using a deadline as an inducement to come to an agreement.

Transformative mediators work very differently. They explain in the opening statement that mediation provides a forum for the parties to talk about their problem with a neutral third party present. This can be helpful, it is explained, to clarify the nature of the problem from both parties' points of view and for developing a range of options available for dealing with the situation. This process should help the clients make better choices about how to proceed and may help them better understand the views of the other person. This understanding may enable the clients to reach a mutually satisfactory solution, or it may suggest other approaches for handling the situation. Thus settlement is presented as one, but clearly not the only possible successful outcome of mediation.

Usually, transformative mediators will then work with the parties to develop goals, ground rules, and a process they want to use. Mediators will make suggestions about process and ask questions (usually to encourage either empowerment or recognition of the other), but they will not direct the conversation, nor will they suggest options for settlement. This is the parties' job. Bush and Folger describe the mediator's job as "following the parties around," helping them clarify for themselves and for the other what their real concerns are and how they want to see them addressed. Sometimes, recognition by the other is all that is really needed to reach mutual satisfaction. Other times, parties must go beyond this to negotiate interests. Interest-based negotiation is, of course, allowed in a transformative process--but it usually shares center stage with the discussion of feelings and relationship issues.

The definition of success also differs in the two kinds of mediation. Typically, settlement-oriented mediation is not considered successful unless a settlement is reached. Transformative mediation, however, is successful if one or both parties becomes empowered to better handle their own situation and/or the parties better recognize the concerns and issues of the other side. Very often, the empowerment and recognition gained by the parties allows them to develop a mutually agreeable outcome. However, according to Bush and Folger, the opposite is not as often the case--the settlement-oriented mediation process does not lead to empowerment and recognition, as it tends to ignore the relationship issues in favor of the narrower and more concrete interests.

Hallmarks of Transformative Mediation

The Summer 1996 issue of Mediation Quarterly was a special issue on transformative approaches to mediation. The lead article in that issue was written by Folger and Bush, as a follow-up to their 1994 book, The Promise of Mediation which brought the concept of transformative mediation to national attention. While the book began to describe what transformative mediation might look like in practice, the Mediation Quarterly article ("Transformative Mediation and Third-Party Intervention: Ten Hallmarks of a Transformative Approach to Practice" Volume 13, Number 4) goes further to list ten "hallmarks" that distinguish transformative mediation from other forms of intervention. This article is abstracted elsewhere in this website, but a quick list of Folger and Bush's hallmarks are found below.

Summary of Folger's and Bush's ten hallmarks:

1. In the opening statement, the transformative mediator will explain the mediator's role and the objectives of mediation as being focused on empowerment and recognition.

2. The transformative mediator will leave responsibility for the outcomes with the parties.

3. A transformative mediator will not be judgmental about the parties' views and decisions.

4. Transformative mediators take an optimistic view of the parties' competence and motives.

5. Transformative mediators allow and are responsive to parties' expression of emotions.

6. Transformative mediators allow for and explore parties' uncertainty.

7. Transformative mediators remain focused on what is currently happening in the mediation setting.

8. Transformative mediators are responsive to parties' statements about past events.

9. Transformative mediators realize that conflict can be a long-term process and that mediation is one intervention in a longer sequence of conflict interactions.

10. Transformative mediators feel (and express) a sense of success when empowerment and recognition occur, even in small degrees. They do not see a lack of settlement as a "failure."

Applications of Transformative Mediation

Transformative mediation is a new concept that has not been widely applied, although many mediators have been acting in this way, without having a name for it, for a long time. Since empowerment and recognition are things that happen to people, the transformative approach is most often thought of in terms of interpersonal conflicts--family conflicts, conflicts between neighbors, between co-workers, etc. However, Bush and Folger argue in The Promise of Mediation, that the approach is just as applicable in other kinds of settings as well. Legal mediation can be criticized for being more directive than most other forms of mediation, and would benefit greatly, they argue, from the adoption of a transformative approach, leaving directive intervention to the courts and judges.  The same is true, they argue, for business mediation.

Mediation with organizations, rather than individuals becomes more complicated, although it is always individuals who represent the organizations at the table. However, problems can develop when the representatives are transformed by the mediation process, but their constituencies, who are not at the table, are not. This creates what Burgess and Burgess (Mediation Quarterly 13:4) call the "scale up problem." Methods must be found to transfer this transformation to the constituencies if the effect is to have widespread significance at the organizational, public policy, or societal level.

Although few people have explored how this might be done, several experiments have been suggested and/or tried. Ones written up in the Mediation Quarterly special issue on transformative mediation (13:4) include the Burgesses' technique of "constructive confrontation," the Public Conversation Project's use of dialogue on public policy disputes, and Jay Rothman's approach of "reflexive dialogue" which he uses with people involved in societal level identity conflicts, such as the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Also of interest is Frank Dukes' investigation of transformative public policy conflict resolution and John Paul Lederach's concept of conflict transformation in protracted and deep-rooted religious, ethnic and nationalistic conflicts.


Links to Further Reading about Transformative Mediation.

Note:  This entry has many more readings than most of the others because we have already done a website on transformation mediation for another project, and many of these readings came from that.  For even more information on this topic, see http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/transform.

Bush, Robert A. Baruch, and Joe Folger. The Promise of Mediation
This is a summary of Bush and Folger's pathbreaking book which introduced the concept of transformative mediation to the field.  Although this approach to mediation has been used before, especially in the 60s and 70s, mediation in the U.S. during the last two decades has become increasingly settlement oriented, and the notion of transformation had been largely forgotten until this book came out.
Bush, Robert A. Baruch The Dilemmas of Mediation Practice: A Study of Ethical Dilemmas and Policy Implications
This is a report on a study for The National Institute For Dispute Resolution on the ethical dilemmas presented by mediation as it is practiced in the U.S.  Many of these ethical dilemmas gave rise to the concept of transformative mediation, developed by Folger and Bush.
Cobb, Sara. "Empowerment and Mediation: A Narrative Perspective"
Cobb investigates and critiques current concepts of empowerment, and current mediation practices designed to empower parties. She then suggests a narrative understanding of empowerment, and describes several mediation practices which follow from the narrative approach.
Davis, Albie. "The Logic Behind the Magic of Mediation"
Davis recounts an example of mediation "magic". She describes the community mediation of a case involving the burglary and vandalism of a woman's home by a group of neighborhood youths. Within mediation the woman was able to express her loss. The youths came to understand the harm they had done. They apologized and agreed to make restitution. In addition, the oldest youth shared his prior prison experience with the younger children and urged them to avoid his mistakes. Davis identifies the elements of mediation which help such "magical" events to occur.
Fleischer, Janice M. "Directing and Administrating a Mediation Program: The Transformative Approach"
Fleischer describes the development of the Pro Se Family Mediation Project, a project designed to emphasize transformative mediation. The Pro Se Mediation Project provides court-ordered mediation services to middle income divorcing couples on a sliding fee scale. The Project was developed in Florida, in compliance with Florida state law.
Folger, Joseph and Robert Baruch Bush. "Ideology, Orientation to Conflict, and Mediation Discourse"
Folger and Bush begin by describing a current criticism of mediation. They attempt to show how problem solving mediation is linked to one way of seeing the world and conflict processes, while transformative mediation sees the world and conflict very differently.
Folger, Joseph and Robert A. Baruch Bush. "Transformative Mediation and Third-Party Intervention: Ten Hallmarks of a Transformative Approach to Practice
This article describes ten things that distinguish transformative mediation from problem solving mediation.
Grillo, Trina. "Respecting the Struggle: Following the Parties' Lead"
Trina Grillo explores the elements of transformative practice in the context of divorce mediation.
Matz, David E. "Mediator Pressure and Autonomy: Are They Consistent with Each Other?"
Matz discusses party expectations and needs and compares them to what is typically done in problem solving and transformative mediation.
Boskey, James B. "The Proper Role of the Mediator: Rational Assessment, Not Pressure (reply to Matz)"
This article is a reply to Matz saying that there are a variety of views about the purpose and needs of mediation, and that each are equally valid in their own context.
Pope, Sally Ganong. "Inviting Fortuitous Events in Mediation: The Role of Empowerment and Recognition"
Pope has come to realize that the sorts of "fortuitous events" that she seeks in her own mediation practice are just what Folger and Bush have described as transformative events. This insight has led her to redescribe the "fortuitous events" from her earlier cases in terms of empowerment and recognition. She has also revised a number of her mediation practices, so as to better facilitate empowerment.  
Dave Brubaker -- Northern Ireland: Projects of Hope in the Midst of Violence
This article discusses the transformative potential of mediation training in Northern Ireland.
Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess - Transformative Mediation
The set of articles available at this location describe Baruch Bush and Joe Folger's concept of transformative mediation, compare it to problem solving mediation, and discuss the key components of empowerment and recognition in detail.
Baruch Bush and Joe Folger - The Promise of Mediation
This is a summary of Bush and Folger's pathbreaking book introducing the concept of transformative mediation.

Links to Related Approaches

Conflict Transformation

Constructive Confrontation

Third Party Intervention



Links to Related Problems

Almost all intractable conflicts could benefit from an attempt at transformative mediation, analytical problem solving, or constructive confrontation, three different yet related approaches for dealing with protracted and difficult conflicts.  The one particular problem that seems especially relevant is Stalemate, as parties need mediation especially (and the conflict is generally "ripe" for mediation once a stalemate has occurred).

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu