New research highlights the opportunity to clarify and create guidance around the use of reality testing techniques.

Dr. Lola Akin Ojelabi, Professor and Head of the Department of Law in the Graduate School of Business at RMIT University, and Senior Researcher, Dr. Alysoun Boyle, have completed a comprehensive research project on the topic of "reality testing" in the context of mediation in Australia.

The project was wholly funded by the Mediator Standards Board's 2021 Annual Research Grant, which aims to increase knowledge about the practice of mediation and improve its theoretical, practical, and ethical framework. The RMIT Research team conducted surveys of Australian mediators and a limited number of conciliators, held focus groups, and conducted a thorough review of relevant literature to complete the project, which aimed to identify and address the current knowledge gaps surrounding the use of reality testing in mediations.

‘Reality testing’, which some survey participants referred to as “playing devil’s advocate”, is a technique that a practitioner may choose to use during a mediation or conciliation. The researchers considered various factors relating to the technique, including the way in which professional mediators describe it, along with when and how it is utilised during mediations, and any observed effects of its usage.

The research findings suggest that while reality testing is commonly used by professional mediators, there is a range of factors that influence when or if the technique is used, and few mediators consider what impact its use might have on self-determination (a principle fundamental to mediation practice).

The resulting 5-part report, ‘Playing Devil’s Advocate’: Reality Testing in the Context of Mediation in Australia, has been submitted to Australia’s Mediator Standards Board (MSB) and includes 19 recommendations relating to training, education and support for dispute resolution practitioners as well as the National Mediator Accreditation System (NMAS) which is currently being revised by the MSB.

"There are still many unanswered questions about the interventions and techniques that make up different models of mediation practice, as well as which models are most effective overall.

The MSB is committed to filling these gaps in knowledge through supporting research into mediation skills and techniques such as reality testing. By doing so, we aim to improve professional mediator training and continue to evolve the National Mediator Accreditation System to be a comprehensive, high-quality reference for both practitioners and the organisations accrediting them.”*said Christopher Boyle, Chair of the MSB.

“It was an exceptionally high quality project and the outcome will be of use to the Mediator Standards Board as well as our members, organisations responsible for training and accrediting professional mediators. It was encouraging to see diversity among participants, including near equal gender representation and the participation of Indigenous practitioners.” said Dr. Peter Condliffe, Chair of the MSB’s Research SubCommittee

“This research is significant given the precarious balance mediators seek to maintain between their ethical responsibilities and their use of reality testing techniques...

“We have also gained valuable information from mediators and conciliators about participant’s self-determination, and the range of in-mediation/conciliation events that can affect how, and sometimes if, it is protected.” said Dr Akin Ojelabi

Dr Akin Ojelabi, and Dr Boyle were recipients of the Mediator Standards Board 2021 Annual Research Grant, part of MSB’s ongoing grant program designed to bolster research efforts that will inform mediation training and practice.

“The MSB’s ongoing support for mediation research has enormous value in a sector that struggles to attract suitable research support and funding” said Dr Akin Ojelabi The Report is publicly available and can be downloaded via the Mediator Standards Board website

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Release date: 02 Mar, 2023