What is Mediation?
By Simon J. A. Mason
This ISN Blog first appeared on 11 December 2014
On 25 November 2014, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with various German mediation support NGOs, organized a conference on Peace Mediation. The aims of the conference were to explore the role that Germany can play in this field and to raise the country’s profile as a conflict mediator. As part of the discussion, one of the working groups focused on the types of human resources and institutional structures needed for effective mediation and mediation support. In this context, the first question to arise was “what is mediation?” Indeed, only once this question is answered can the relevant resources and institutions be assembled to effectively provide the desired forms of ‘mediation.’ This implies that the first step for organizations seeking to expand their role as mediators is to be clear about what exactly they have in mind.
Without being comprehensive, the following seven types of third-party supported peace promotion can all fall under the broader umbrella terms of ‘mediation’ and ‘mediation support’:
1. Peace diplomacy: This is often the most visible form of mediation, where diplomats and special envoys shuttle between parties, pass messages, and bring parties together, in pursuit of an agreement. Peace diplomacy efforts often occur in response to political crises, and there is little long-term structure to the process. While some mediation techniques are used, the focus is mainly on communication techniques. The OSCE efforts in the Ukraine crisis illustrate this type of ‘mediation,’ which is often called ‘facilitation’ or ‘crisis diplomacy’ because the third party helps with communication and ‘convening’ (i.e., organization and bringing stakeholders to the table) but does not provide a structured process.