Pre-caucusing (sometimes referred to as pre-mediation) is a preliminary meeting between the mediator and each of the parties prior to the joint conflict resolution session. This is considered quite a controversial mediation tool. Traditionally, mediators have been instructed to meet with both parties at the same time in a joint session without a pre-caucus. The main reasons found in the literature for avoiding pre-caucuses is fear of collusion between the mediator and one of the parties. This concern is warranted in those cases in which mediators take a strong directive role. However, when the pre-caucus is used as an opportunity for parties 1) to vent and 2) to be coached on how to better negotiate their own agreements, the pre-caucus can be especially effective.
In Party-Directed Mediation, contenders face and speak to each other--rather than the mediator--in the joint session. The pre-caucus is an essential element for preparing disputants for such a dialogue within the conflict resolution process. An important mechanical aspect of paring disputants for su is having the third party sit further away from the action, thus giving the message to the parties that they are there to speak to each other. I have been mediating since 1992 using such an approach with great success. My work focuses on deep-seated interpersonal or relational conflict resolution. There is a growing body of case studies and research that show that pre-caucusing can be effective in reducing emotions and improving the outcome of mediation.
Pre-caucusing and pre-mediation have been used as synonymous terms. I would suggest, however, that pre-mediation be used for preliminary work associated with explaining the mediation process to parties ahead of the joint session, and pre-caucus to indicate a longer meeting in which parties can fully vent their emotions and be coached on interpersonal negotiation skills. Once again, because the mediator in Party-Directed Mediation sits further away from the parties in the joint session, and thus encourages a direct dialogue between the parties, issues of mediator bias and impartiality play less of a role. I wrote a paper entitled "The Contributions of Caucusing and Pre-Caucusing to Mediation" which was published in 2002 by Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal. I searched for arguments in the literature in favor and against any sort of caucusing during mediation.
I have also presented papers on pre-caucusing at the International Association for Conflict Management (IACM) annual meetings in Seville, Spain (2005) and in Kyoto, Japan (2009). The first speaks of pre-caucusing in the context of peer-to-peer mediation, and the latter, of pre-caucusing in the context of hierarchical conflicts (superior-subordinate mediation). You may download the free book, Party-Directed Mediation: Helping Others Resolve Differences, which covers both of these mediation approaches, as well as the 2002 paper mentioned above.
20 August 2009
External links on conflict resolution:
Academy of Management
Campus ADR - Conflict Resolution
SSRN Abstract Party-Directed Mediation
Wikipedia Party-Directed Mediation
Mediate.com Party-Directed Mediation
Answers.com Party-Directed Mediation
American Vegetable Grower - Conflict Resolution
Nation Master - Party-Directed Mediation
VisWiki Party-Directed Mediation
Dairy Today - Conflict Resolution
Asociación de Mediación para la Pacificación de Conflictos
Mediación Familiar - Chile
Idealawg Party-Directed Mediation
Revista Futuros - Mediación Interpersonal