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When people complain, there are two primary reasons they do so; firstly, they want to be heard, and secondly, they don’t want someone following them to have the same difficulties or issues they have faced. Yet in most cases one of the most useful tools in resolving complaints, mediation, is not widely used in Scotland.

It was with this in mind that Scottish Mediation held a seminar this month chaired by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), Jim Martin, to hear how mediation is successfully being used in complaint resolution and to identify how it could be more widely adopted. We heard from two organisations that successfully use mediation as one of the ways they attempt to resolve complaints and disputes.

At the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), people making complaints about the service lawyers have provided are given the opportunity to try mediation to resolve their complaint. Just under 50 per cent of those offered mediation take up the offer and of those that do there is a 75 per cent resolution rate, with 88 per cent of those taking part saying that they would recommend it to others.

The SLCC scheme, which has helped to provide earlier resolution of complaints, is free and has been empowering for the parties – who have often come up with resolutions that may not have been otherwise possible – and effective in allowing people to resolve and move on.

At the University of Dundee, Early Dispute Resolution (EDR) has been in place since 2008. Mediation is used widely across the university. EDR’s purpose is to help staff and students anticipate, avoid, prevent and resolve disputes. It has a wider potential impact on culture and communication, providing an alternative route to formal complaints and grievance processes. The mediators are staff and students from a wide range of departments. Since 2008 they have carried out more than 200 workplace mediations.They also carry out group -facilitated discussion and train people in the skills of mediation to help with day-to-day interactions across the university.

There has been common feedback from both schemes, with the wider benefits summarised as early resolution; allowing complainers and practitioners to “clear the air”; and mutually satisfactory outcomes leaving both parties with less ill will towards one another – it can actually rescue relationships.

There is scope to make learning a key part of mediation outcomes as for many complainants the key motivation is for the same thing not to happen to those who subsequently use the service being complained about.

There is also scope for such learning to be anonymised in the same way that current cases are by the Ombudsman.

So how would mediation fit in a complaints environment? The discussion highlighted that efforts by people such as the SPSO are right to focus on frontline resolution. That means resolution within a period such as 72 hours, dealt with by staff close to the issue.

To get better at that, those staff need to be empowered to act to resolve and to have the skills in which to listen, reflect and resolve. For some organisations that may require a change in culture, and certainly, spreading the skills of mediation would support such a culture change.

Should resolution not be possible at this early stage mediation should be available and its use encouraged. For organisations, there is the question of how they might access mediation and there are a range of options that could be considered. The SLCC have their own panel of mediators whose work is organised by a mediation co-ordinator, some public service organisations share workplace mediators, mediators can be employed in-house and for smaller organisations access to mediations can be facilitated through organisations such as Scottish Mediation, which holds a register of mediators.

Scottish Mediation’s view is that for more organisations to use mediation to help resolve complaints, encouragement and support from organisations such as Scottish Government would help.

A key driver will also be organisations being aware of the benefits of such a change and the positive culture that such an approach could support. Organisations that are proficient in listening and responding to customers tend to be those that are successful. Using mediation as one of the tools of everyday work can play a key part in that.

By: Graham Boyack, Director, Scottish Mediation
Read more at: http://www.scotsman.com

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