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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Common Ground On Hostile Turf: When Resolving Conflict Isn't Enough

I discovered this book because I follow the science fiction author Cary Neeper on Goodreads.  She was really enthusiastic about the book.  I was motivated to read it because the protagonist of The Pipe Woman Chronicles, which I reviewed here, is a mediator.  Author Lynne Cantwell's portrayal of a mediator caused me to become interested in real life mediators.  I wanted to know about real life mediation cases and whether the results of mediations are honored by their participants.  So I obtained this book from the library to find out how mediation works.


Lucy Moore's stories about her mediation cases were fascinating to me.  Yet I wished that she was more committed to getting the best results for the environment rather than resolving conflict between  the parties in the mediation.  The compromises necessary to resolve conflict didn't always bring about any changes that would benefit the environment.  This would happen when a mediation prioritizes the concerns of government and industry, but marginalizes those of environmentalists.  Moore deals with the question of defining success in a mediation, but I don't think she gave enough thought to the topic due to her professional biases as a mediator.  I think that the perspective of the profession is short-term. If the main stakeholders have been included, she doesn't consider whether the failure to address the concerns of other stakeholders could reflect on the success of the mediation in resolving long-term conflict on the issue. 

Since she had lived on the Navajo reservation, Moore had credibility with Native Americans.  So she mediated in conflicts between the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the governments of Native American nations that didn't have to do with the environment.

 Moore considered a mediation dealing with BIA schools a success. She didn't really consider the interests of Native American students. The purpose of the mediation was to implement No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in BIA schools.  NCLB is a failed educational policy that has caused all Americans to be left behind.   Our educational system has worsened as a result of this policy, and this is  negatively impacting the U.S. economy.   I am convinced that NCLB is one of the underlying causes of  our recession.  NCLB emphasizes the results of standardized tests which aren't an adequate measure of learning for all student populations.  Under NCLB, teachers have been  discouraged from employing creative approaches that will allow all students to succeed.  It's briefly mentioned in this book that Native Americans are one of the populations that aren't being well-served by standardized testing, but this issue wasn't brought up during the mediation.  A mediator who understood the educational issues involved would have assisted the Native American participants in preparing better.  They could have come armed with criticisms of  the effectiveness of standardized testing among Native Americans and gotten the government to address that concern.  No one at the mediation questioned whether NCLB would really be a desirable improvement for BIA schools. The mediation accomplished the goal of Moore's client, the BIA, but I considered it a terrible loss for the children it was meant to benefit.

Probably the worst example of conflict resolution without any benefit to the participants was when Moore's firm took on the running of the EPA's annual meeting at a Superfund cleanup site.  If I were her, you could not have paid me to take on that job. The EPA's purpose in hiring her was to make the meeting run smoothly for them.   They had no intention of actually doing anything for the residents.  These were people who had no potable water.  No government agency or NGO was even stepping in to search for a source of pure water for them.  Moore applauded an EPA official for recording the concerns expressed in the meeting, but the inadequacy of that response in the face of their emergency situation was staggering.

Reading this book showed me the limitations of mediation and conflict resolution in resolving many serious problems.  If a government entity is one of the parties in the mediation, the current political situation will be the most important factor in determining the results of the mediation.   This decreases my interest in mediation.






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