To participate in VML, mediators mark their availability on an
online calendar. They can choose not only the kind of case they
are interested in — commercial,
family or workplace — but also
which role they are willing to play:
the mediator's role, the role of one
of the parties, or any role.
As soon as three mediators are
available on the same day/time and
for the same kind of simulation
case, they receive a script/role
play. All scripts assume that the
parties have never participated in
a mediation before, and therefore
it is up to the mediator to start from scratch, explaining what
mediation means, how it works, the mediator's neutral role,
confidentiality, and so on.
Each VML online mediation simulation consists of a 60-minute
mediation session, a de-briefing session, video recording and video sharing.
The purpose of the 60-minute mediation session is to give the
mediator the opportunity to:
• Practice any method or techniques learned during their
• Test any new method or techniques that the mediator has
never tried before.
• Learn how to mediate online and how to perform online
the same tasks they perform face-to-face: joint and
private meetings, information/documents sharing, using a
whiteboard, writing up a Memorandum of Understanding
or the agenda for the next mediation session.
Mediators are not expected to help the parties reach an agreement
in one hour. Mediators are encouraged to use the mediation
method of their choice, such as facilitative, transformative, narrative,
or evaluative methods, or to try out methods or techniques that
they have not used before. For example, a mediator trained in the
facilitative method could try a transformative method, or vice versa.
In the debriefing session, a VML coach helps the three participants
analyze and reflect on what happened, both from the mediator's
and the parties' perspectives. For example, to the mediator, the
VML coach might ask: Which factors did the mediator consider
when choosing to do or say A instead of B or C? To the parties, the
VML coach might ask: Was the mediator's opening statement clear
as to what mediation means and how it works? Did the parties
feel heard and understood by the mediator? Were the mediator's
questions helpful for considering the case from a broader or clearer
perspective? Was the time spent in mediation worthwhile?
At the end of each simulation, all three mediators receive the video
recording of the entire simulation. Thus, they can watch what
happened during the mediation and relate what they see to what
was discussed during the debriefing session.
VML mediators can also learn by watching videos of other
mediators who mediated the same simulation case applying a
different method, different techniques, or perhaps just a different
personal style. The videos of our simulations are shared only
among VML mediators. In some specific cases, however, they
can also be posted on our blog VirtualMediationLab.com, if all
Mediators are encouraged to use the
mediation method of their choice in
the simulation, such as facilitative,
transformative, narrative, or evaluative
methods, or to try out methods or
techniques that they have not used before.
For example, in order to show mediators that the method they
learned during their training is not necessarily the only mediation
method, we did an experiment.
After a mediator had mediated a
typical employee vs. supervisor
workplace discrimination case
with the well-known facilitative
method, we invited Dan Simon,
a mediator from Minnesota, to
mediate the same case using the
transformative approach. We then
posted both video recordings on
our blog. Our point wasn't to
prove that one mediation method
is better than another. We wanted to make mediators aware that,
in a sense, mediation is similar to playing jazz or writing a book.
Just as there isn't only one way to play jazz or to write a book,
there isn't only way to mediate — and that's what makes each
mediation so unique.
For our first 50 VML simulations we asked each participant/
mediator to fill out an online survey form with a number of
questions: (e.g., what did you like the most and the least? What
did you learn? What would you change, improve for the next
simulations, and so on). One question was particularly telling:
How useful was this simulation to you, on a scale of 1 (waste
of time) to 10 (very useful)? The average grade was 9. 9, even
though some participants had encountered video/audio problems
encountered during their simulation.
Among the common reactions from participants were the
• Online mediation is much simpler than they thought.
• Online mediation can be easily integrated with mediation by
phone, email or face-to-face, depending on each case or the
specific mediation stage of that case.
• When parties participate in an online mediation from the
comfort and safety of their home or office, they tend to be
less tense and angry at each other than when they are face to
face in the mediator's office.
• Since in online mediation the parties are not physically
together, it is much easier to change the sequence of the
mediation sessions. That is, instead of having a joint session
first and two private sessions next, an online mediator can do
the opposite, and bring the parties together only after each
of them, with the mediator's help, has already identified his
or her interests, fears, priorities, and is fully aware of what
their mediator can — and cannot — do for them.
The mediators found all four components – mediation session,
debriefing session, video recording of the simulation, and video
sharing – to be equally useful.