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January 13, 2016

Be prepared

If there’s a downside to the current heightened interest in communities and the focus on giving local people new rights and responsibilities, it is that the potential for misunderstandings and conflicts has increased proportionately. Whether it’s a community at odds with some public sector body or when there’s conflict between different factions within a single community, where the stakes are high so is the potential for fall-out between parties. Mediation services have been around for some time but not specifically aimed at our sector. They are now.

Scottish Mediation Service

The third sector is made up of highly committed staff and volunteers providing vital work in the community and therefore relationships are always happy and constructive with everyone working together towards shared objectives. True? Unfortunately not!

As in any group, people do not always agree or get on easily with each other and in charities and voluntary organisations difficult situations can easily arise out of the complex relationships between volunteers, staff, committee members and boards.  The very passion, drive and commitment that draws people into the third sector can heighten issues and very quickly escalate disagreements into major disputes. This is not only stressful and unpleasant for everyone involved but can lead to the loss of valuable individuals who choose to walk away from the stress and in some cases can jeopardise the future of the whole organisation.

Usually an informal discussion can resolve most issues but not everyone has the skills or confidence to handle potentially sensitive and difficult conversations and sometimes the informal approach just isn’t enough.

This is where mediation can help as it involves a skilled, independent mediator who supports both parties in finding a solution to the issues they are facing. The mediator helps people work out and express what their issues are and then explore what options might be available for moving forward.

The mediator does not take sides or make judgements but will make sure that everyone gets a chance to tell their version of events, hear the other side, work through the issues that are important to them and make an agreement. The parties to the mediation are in control of finding the solution.

Mediation is one of the most successful ways of resolving a dispute or disagreement and is particularly effective in “nipping issues in the bud” before they become too disruptive. It is a flexible process and can be used in a wide variety of situations. It is entirely voluntary and is usually much quicker and more effective than traditional dispute resolution methods such as grievance and complaints procedures.

Disputes can be very costly not only in terms of the financial impact on the organisation and the time spent trying to resolve the issues but also in the personal stress of those involved and their colleagues. Mediation is an effective way of minimizing these costs but even so the nature of the third sector and its financial limitations means that in many cases costs will be seen as an insurmountable barrier to the use of mediation.

To overcome this barrier the Scottish Mediation Network have launched a new service tailored to Third Sector organisations. Anyone in the third sector can phone the Scottish Mediation Network for advice on whether an issue is appropriate for mediation. If it is and both parties are happy to participate, SMN will arrange for a professional, accredited mediator to conduct a mediation at a low cost depending upon the size of the organisation.  Organisations with an income of under £50,000 p.a. may be eligible for pro-bono mediation at no cost.


For more information or to discuss a specific case contact the Scottish Mediation Helpline on 0131 556 118 and quote “Third Sector”.