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Conference on Transformative Mediation in Paris (May 2018)

The transformative mediation model started in the USA in the early nineties of the last century, more than twenty years ago. Its founding fathers, Baruch Bush and Joseph Folger, wrote their book "The promise of mediation" in 1994, which was republished in 2004, partly rewritten and with several revisions. Since then, they have published another seminal work on the subject, "Transformative Mediation: A sourcebook" (Sourcebook), published in 2010. The most important chapters of this book (according to the subjective viewpoints of the mediators who acted as translators) were published for the first time in French this year, and the 2018 edition of the conference was held in this context. A conference on transformative mediation, followed by one-day master classes (on the transformative management of situations of conflict) with Peter Miller, one of the "old hands" of the field, was held in Paris on 29 May. I was lucky enough to attend both, my report follows.

One of the conference's star names was Baruch Bush himself, who made a video for the event, logging in from New York. He welcomed his French colleagues and, recalling the history of the birth of the transformative model, its circumstances and its difficulties, spoke about the present of the school and expressed his delight at the spread of the method in Europe. Jacques Faget, researcher, teacher and mediator, and Marianne Souquet, trainer and mediator, who presented the applicability of the method in family cases, also spoke at the beginning of the conference. Damien d'Ursel, lawyer, mediator, and Olivier Chambert-Loir, coach, mediator (one of the French translators of the Sourcebook and father of the other translator), also discussed other applications, such as intercultural mediation and cases within large organisations (of a work-related nature).

But the most interactive and memorable presentation of the evening was a video presentation by mediator and trainer John Peter Weldon (the French "father" of the method), who demonstrated through situational games the techniques used by a real transformative mediator. Thus, we were able to see illustrative examples of reflection, summary, check-in questions and active listening. From the commentaries on these, it became clear that the transformative model does not focus on keeping the process on track, on negotiation in the classical sense, or on finding solutions.

I would summarise the main messages of the conference in this way:

The transformative model is based on a new understanding of the dynamics of conflict that takes into account the impact on individuals and the relationships between them. The transformative method aims at enabling parties in a state of destabilisation and closure caused by conflict to gradually rediscover their resources, to become capable of (self-)reflection and movement/action ('empowerment') and, beyond that, to (re)open to the recognition of the other's truth(s). The method focuses more on transforming the conflictual interaction than on finding a concrete solution, which will be seen as a side gain. The mediator uses exclusively non-directive techniques, encouraging the parties to express their feelings and positions to each other, while fully respecting the self-determination of the individuals.

These were the main messages in terms of content. More to the point, I was very surprised that there were more than 200 mediators in a packed room, that the conference was already weeks overbooked, and that the newly published Sourcebook in French was selling like hotcakes... Could it be that the organisations promoting the model in France are on to something? :)

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