In May Scotland hosted the prestigious International Academy of Mediators conference with mediators from over 20 countries around the world attending. The event was an inspiration giving an insight into how mediation can perform a central role as part of a countries civil justice system. However, two events will dominate my memories of the week.
The first was a session in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament on the Saturday morning where we were addressed by William Ury author of ‘Getting to Yes’, a book which outlines how when parties’ interests are taken into account during a negotiation that a win-win agreement is the most likely outcome. Ury argued that to truly understand the other parties interests that people had to put themselves in the right frame of mind and understand what it was like to be in the other persons shoes. For a better future he also called on listening skills to be an essential part of children’s education. His contribution was followed by our own First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who captured the mood of the occasion outlining how interest-based negotiation was being used by the Scottish Government and how Scotland could play an international role in supporting peace building. The First Minister was also not surprisingly delighted with the idea of a book called Getting to Yes.
The second event was a Masterclass given by William Ury in the Hub where he was able to reflect on the range of international conflicts he has helped mediate and the valuable lessons which can be applied by others. With his vast experience Ury was able to illustrate how even things as simple as listening, taking a wider view of the possibilities and controlling your reactions can have such a positive impact. Perhaps most inspiring was his view that Scotland could be one of several world hubs to promote the adoption and development of the skills of peace-making supporting other countries in resolving their conflicts.
As is often the case having the time to reflect, as I did last week, provided me with the opportunity to look at what we might achieve in Scotland.
The first area of opportunity that struck me was that mediation has a role in education. Scottish Mediation already engage with schools to train school students how to mediate and resolve the conflicts that they face every day. We are working to figure out the best ways to integrate this into everyday school life. Delegates from India told me how students successfully resolving conflicts gained extra marks for their whole classes. The next step for me would therefore to make the teaching listening skills a core part of education from Primary School all the way to University and College. Such a step would surely pay dividends in the long run giving the capacity for people to engage more constructively in conflict for better outcomes.
The second opportunity was to improve the choices available for parties in the Justice System. Lord Briggs spoke of how mediation is being used in the English and Welsh Courts and his vision that mediation will be the norm with an approach of case management for resolution. The benefits arising from this approach include a quicker resolution of disputes, courts being able to effectively focus on cases where a ruling is required and in many cases a more affordable way of getting a resolution. Scotland’s next steps must surely include a wider inclusion of mediation as an option in the court rules and an encouragement to use it.
My final thought was prompted by discussion of the impact of the Scottish Government’s use of William Ury’s interest negotiating principles in Getting to Yes. The first thing to say that what was described was not an easy option, but one which required significant investment in training and the engagement with people involved to make it work. That investment however is something that if adopted more widely would pay dividends and not just in monetary terms but by reaching better and more sustainable agreements. I sometimes think some of our current agreements simply postpone the conflict until the next year rather than addressing the underlying issues at stake. More critically is also Ury’s point that by doing so we need also to factor in the interests of the wider public who are sometimes not at the forefront of the minds of those involved, when they need to be.