About AlysounBoyle

Alysoun is a PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle Law School, investigating mediator effectiveness. She is a member of the ADR Research Network, ADRAC, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the Law and Society Association (USA). She was a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Dispute Resolution Task Force on Research on Mediator Techniques until that Task Force's disbandment following publication of its Final Report in 2017. The Final Report included recommendations for future activity in the field of mediation research, and Alysoun continues to work with other key former Task Force members to progress those recommendations. Alysoun is a member of ADRA, and a former Director of Resolution Institute. She is a Co-Convenor of the National Mediation Conference being held in Canberra in 2019, and is Chair of the Conference Design Committee. She is an experienced DR practitioner and educator/trainer. She is also the Training Officer and Call-Out Officer for her local brigade in the NSW Rural Fire Service. Contact: alysounboyle@gmail.com




This will be a remarkable event.  Not only 11 national and international Plenary Speakers.  Not only more than 130 national and international presentations.  Not only more than 500 delegates to catch up with, or to lose yourself among.

But also a Welcome Function with views to die for.  A cocktail party with the Australian Government Solicitor.  An informal dinner at a smokehouse that just happens to be a winery, too.  A (competitive) poetry slam.  And a farewell function to wrap it all up.

Pre-conference workshops to refresh your practical skills.  Not only traditional presentations, but opportunities to contribute and to take part: mini-workshops, collaborative conversations, interactive panels.  Child-inclusive FDR; ethical complexities in Elder Mediation; perspectives on leadership; unexpected applications for restorative practice; what’s happening in conciliation; research and you; younger people, older people, and everyone else.  And illuminations from other countries, other cultures, other societies.

And three journals calling for papers from the conference: the ADRJ, The University of Newcastle Law Review, and the Bond Law Review.

And the ADRRN NMC2019 Blogfest.

Phew!  Thank goodness the Easter break is so close – you’ll have earned a rest.


[© A. Boyle 2018]

Get on to it, before it’s too late:


Please do contribute to our Indigenous Delegate Support Fund while you’re registering.


Who to Ask: Transferability of Findings Reported in Empirical Studies of Mediation

This is a summary of a research paper presented at the ADRRN Roundtable convened at the University of the Sunshine Coast in December 2018; comments made by ADRRN colleagues have been taken into account in this summary.  The research paper reports on one component of a much larger research project in which a systematic appraisal is being conducted of a selection of articles describing empirical studies of mediation


[Vektor ID 563739124/Shutterstock.com]

When I am reading an article about an empirical study of mediation effectiveness, I want to know whether I should incorporate into my mediation practice the techniques, strategies, and behaviours that are described in the article as having been effective.  In other words, how transferable are they?

When appraising the transferability of the results of an empirical study in any field of research, two key factors are taken into account: the study’s identification of its broad sample population, and its selection of study subjects from that population.  Where neither the sample population nor the selected study subjects are appropriately representative, there is a significant reduction in the external validity of the study’s results.  In this context, it is important to establish what might be a representative mediation population.

It has been said that mediation can ‘… play a role in virtually every significant area of social conflict’ (K. Kressel, The Mediation of Conflict: Context, Cognition, and Practice, in: P. T. Coleman, M. Deutsch, and E. C. Marcus (Eds), The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (3rdEdition, Jossey-Bass, USA, 2014), p 817).  This suggests that a representative mediation population is the broad diverse community, all of whom are actual and potential mediation participants.  When mediation researchers select people to participate in their studies, it can be assumed that they are choosing subjects who represent that broad diverse community. Yet analysis of the selected mediation literature suggests that this is not the case: mediation researchers rarely mention population representativeness, and appear to choose their study subjects from a very limited range of groups (or programs):

  • Mediator and non-mediator participants in some court-connected mediation programs;
  • Mediator and non-mediator participants in some structured community mediation programs;
  • Mediator and non-mediator participants in some programsdesigned for family/custody disputes; and
  • University students (where the studies are of simulated mediation).

As the list shows, subject diversity in mediation research is restricted by the research’s own limited focus on a selection of government funded services and programs, as well as services provided through public institutions.  This focus leaves other services, and participants, largely unexamined.

The lack of representative diversity in study subjects applies to the mediator as well as non-mediator participants, and it is only one of many issues claimed by mediation researchers to affect how they are able to do their work.

The issues that have been described can be categorised as follows:

  • Obstacles (preventing certain empirical research from being undertaken): the lack of access to adequate funding; ethical restrictions that prevent rigorous examination of mediation practices and thus limit what is known about mediation,potentially disadvantaging future mediation clients;
  • Impediments(making it difficult to conduct certain empirical research): the nature of the mediation process itself (including confidentiality restrictions); the increasing incidence of mediation research being conducted in law schools where there is limited social research experience and expertise; the lack of consistent research methodologies; definitional problems (e.g., the meaning of “mediation” itself, the variety of models of practice, and the various measures of mediation effectiveness); external influences on research purpose and design (such as interest groups, funders, and researcher affiliations); and reputational concerns of potential subject mediators (i.e., if they participate in a particular study, what might be reported about them?);
  • Recurrent flawsin research design have been noted to include: heavy reliance on data collection from mediator and non-mediator self-reports; and the inherent tension between funder preferences for relatively cheap/quick studies, and protection of research rigour; and,
  • Persistent gapswhere little is known about: private mediation; mediation outcomes other than settlement;individual mediator behaviours, or microskills; how mediator values and preferences influence what they say and do in mediation; systemic issues that might influence the mediation process, and what mediators say and do within it; and the lack of comparative studies (i.e., investigations of similar mediator approaches in different contexts, or of different mediator approaches in the same context).

Other potential problems that are not mentioned often in the mediation literature include:

  • How the researcher’s own preferences and experience might influence:
    • Research design,
    • Choice of data collection methodologies,
    • Method of data analysis, and
    • Study subjects’ responses;
  • The lack of gender, race, ethnic, and socio-economic differentiation in the selection of study subjects, in the collection of data from and about research subjects, and in the analysis of that same data. In addition, not enough is known about the demographic differences between mediators in any context, nor about how those differences might affect what mediators say and do, and affect the responses and behaviours of non-mediator participants.

It has been observed that, in all fields, there is pressure on academics to publish as frequently as possible, with their research ability being assessed by the numberof published items rather than by the qualityof reported studies.  In the mediation field, this issue is compounded by the relative lack of specialist mediation publications, and the lack of sufficient mediation knowledge in other publication areas where mediation researchers do publish (e.g., law journals, business journals, social science journals); the latter can result in valuable articles not being published at all, and/or their value not being recognised.  Also, it has been suggested that publishers give preference to articles that confirm mediation’s outcome effectiveness.

Any of the above issues can influence the context and setting of an empirical study of mediation, as well as the research design and its scope, the nature of the research data that is collected, the methods used to collect the data, and the focus of the data analysis.

In particular, many of the issues are likely to influence the researcher’s access to appropriately representative populations, and, ultimately, the transferability of the study findings, and their relevance to practicing mediators.  It is important for the future practice and development of mediation that some of these issues are openly acknowledged and addressed.

The ADRRN is a valuable, respectful, and friendly forum in which mediation researchers can discuss their work with their peers.  It is also a forum in which mediation researchers can consider the above issues.  For example:

  • What are the options for improving mediation researchers’ understanding about social science research methodologies?
  • How to identify realistic and creative research funding and support that enables:
    • Access to a broader and more representative population of subjects for empirical research;
    • Access to diverse mediation settings and diverse research subjects;
    • Empirical investigations that are more complex and innovative than evaluations of mediation outcomes; and
  • How to encourage the dissemination of, and access to, mediation research, without being guided solely by results and findings?

NMC2019 – PhD Research Reports

NMC2019 logo and brand

The next National Mediation Conference will convene in Canberra on 15-17 April next year.  the Conference streams include one devoted to DR research: Research, Education, and Training: Building a rigorous research base for DR.  Although the stream will have a broad focus on the many facets of DR research and education, the Conference Design Committee is keen to provide an opportunity for conference delegates to gain an appreciation of what is happening in current DR research round Australia.  To this end, they have suggested that a specific session be included in that stream, and that it be dedicated to reports from current PhD candidates for whom some aspect of DR is the focus of their research.  The research project does not have to be completed in order to be included in the session.  Nor does participation in this session require the submission of a formal Abstract for the conference.

The session is expected to provide conference delegates with a sense of what is happening in DR research, and to provide current researchers with a sense of what their research colleagues are doing.

If you are a PhD candidate focusing on one or more aspects of DR and you would like to participate in this session, please email me directly at: alysounboyle@gmail.com   If you know someone else who is a PhD candidate and might be interested in participating, please encourage them to email me.

Conference website: https://nmc2019.com.au/

Alysoun Boyle, Chair, NMC2019 Conference Design Committee, Co-Convenor, NMC2019

National Mediation Conference 2019: Call for Abstracts

NMC2019 logo and brand


The Conference Design Committee has released the Call for Abstracts for NMC2019.  The dedicated website provides guidelines, key dates, and an electronic submission pro forma.  Only electronic submissions will be accepted, and they must arrive by the due date of 5 October this year:


There are eleven Conference Streams (in alphabetical order):

  • Approaches to Indigenous dispute management and decision-making processes.  Key words: Governance; peace-building; evaluation; effective policy & services.
  • Business and construction, workplace and employment.  Keywords: DR clauses in contracts; business, construction and workplace arbitration; industrial and employment DR; innovation in business and workplace DR; international commercial dispute resolution; evidence in commercial and business disputes.
  • Community-focused mediation, and other community-focused processes.  Keywords: Conflict coaching; alternative approaches; environmental DR; multi-party, consultative, and whole-of-community processes; innovative approaches; evidence-based approaches.
  • Conciliation, including public and private advisory processes, and statutory programs.  Keywords: Evidence-based approaches; conciliation, evaluative mediation, advisory dispute resolution, hybrid dispute resolution; statutory programs and processes; conciliation training, standards, and accreditation.
  • Court-connected DR services, including services associated with courts and tribunals.   Keywords: Mandatory DR; judicial DR; artificial intelligence; theoretical frameworks; evidence-based approaches; current developments.
  • Dispute System Design, online DR, and technological innovations.  Keywords: Theoretical frameworks; current developments; sociocultural influences; innovative approaches & applications; artificial intelligence; evidence-based approaches.
  • Elder mediation and other developing specialist areas of practice.   Keywords: Elder mediation; age-related issues; Elder abuse; Elder law; new specialist approaches; evidence-based approaches.
  • Family mediation and dispute resolution, including Family Dispute Resolution (FDR).   Keywords: Child inclusive and child focussed processes; family and domestic violence; parenting plans, including shared parenting; parental responsibility; property and financial matters; mandatory FDR; confidentiality; lawyer assisted FDR; family group conferencing.
  • Peace-building, transitional justice, reconciliation, and civil society.   Keywords: Sociocultural influences, including: intra-cultural, cross-cultural and multi-cultural approaches; discourse analysis; evidence-based approaches; innovative approaches.
  • Research, training, and education: building a rigorous evidence base for DR. Keywords: Research design, empirical methodologies, program evaluations; standards & accreditation; innovative research; evidence-based approaches to training and education.
  • Restorative justice and other innovative approaches.  Keywords: Circles, conferencing, mediation; theoretical frameworks; current developments; innovative approaches; evidence-based approaches.

When assessing proposals, the Committee will give priority to the following criteria:

  • The introduction of new and innovative concepts not previously canvassed or fully explored in the sector;
  • Where applicable, the rigour of any research that will be included in the presentation, or on which the proposal relies;
  • The inclusion of credible demonstration of the importance of the subject matter to the mediation, or DR field, and to the preferred Conference Stream;
  • The inclusion of intercultural, cross-cultural and/or multicultural considerations;
  • The potential appeal of the proposal to a broad spectrum of delegates; the proposal should include appropriate comments if it would appeal more to one cross-section of the sector (e.g. newly trained practitioners, or experienced practitioners);
  • The demonstrated capacity of the proposal to allocate appropriate time for coverage of the topic, and, if for a panel, to include all presenters; and
  • The title of the proposal conveying to delegates what they can expect from the session.

We look forward to considering your proposals as we prepare for 2019 being a belated celebration of NMC’s 25th Anniversary.


NMC2019 logo and brand



Some questions about empathy and rapport


This article reports on a side-issue that has arisen within a much larger research project. A separate part of the large research project was presented to the ADRRN at its last Round Table in December 2017.

Empathy and rapport are complex aspects of human interaction, and there is a significant literature on them dating back at least to Alfred Adler in the 1920s.  The literature occurs principally in the research fields that include sociology, linguistics, neuroscience, social psychology, and cognitive psychology.  In essence, empathy is accepted as being able to identify with another person, to understand what it might be like to be that person, while simultaneously retaining your own sense of self and maintaining your own sense of emotional control.  It has been established that empathy and rapport are essential prerequisites for building trust and maintaining effective communication, and that establishing empathy will increase a person’s sense of satisfaction with business services.  Empathy has been said to be underpinned by what are called the “rules of communicative competence” by which individuals calculate the appropriate levels for relating to others depending upon cultural and personal influences at any given time.  Where one person has high levels of communicative competence, in any given situation, they remain sufficiently aware of the presence of others that their behavioural and linguistic preferences will enable them to assume an appropriate level of relationship with those other people.  These rules of communicative competence have since become better known as the “Rules of Rapport”

It is widely accepted that empathy and rapport are different states.  Research in other fields has shown that empathy plays an important role in developing rapport, rapport plays an important role in developing trust, and trust plays an important role in creating a cooperative atmosphere in which mutually beneficial outcomes can be crafted.  However, understanding and acknowledgement of the differentiations in that sequence is rare in the mediation literature, as are explanations of how the researchers intend any of the terms to be interpreted in the context of their study.

Given what is known about empathy and rapport, it is a pity that the mediation literature includes very little about what mediators actually say and do to establish an empathic relationship with and between the disputants in any particular mediation; nor what the mediators say and do that enables that empathy to contribute to building rapport and trust.  For example, researchers often report a general sense of what mediators say (e.g. the mediator described the mediation process), or of what the mediators do (e.g., the mediator created an atmosphere suitable for negotiation), yet they do not report what the subject mediator actually said or did: when the mediator described the mediation process, did they use formal or less formal language, did they speak to the disputants jointly or separately (or both), what was the mediator’s tone of voice and demeanour (It has been reported elsewhere that actual demeanour is important in the development of empathy and rapport)?  What did the mediator say and do that created a sense of the atmosphere being suitable for negotiation?

There is a reasonable amount of research outside the field of mediation that has reported on how empathy and rapport are established and the range of effects they can have (e.g., improving witness recollection, and increasing engagement in and commitment to business relationships).  It is likely that, because of mediation’s essential links to conflict, empirical studies of mediators and of mediation would be a significant contribution to knowledge about empathy, rapport and trust.  Well-designed, rigorous empirical studies could investigate: how can empathy, rapport, and trust be established in situations of conflict; how do the indicators of empathy, rapport, and trust differ in the context of conflict; how do the effects of empathy, rapport, and trust differ in the context of mediation generally (compared with other contexts); how do they differ between mediations conducted in different contexts?

How much does the establishment of empathy, and the building of rapport, influence the often-reported mediator experience of disputants and other participants reporting high levels of satisfaction with the mediation process despite not having achieved any form of settlement?

Finally, during all the emphasis on the mediator’s role in establishing empathy and building rapport, have we forgotten a different perspective: how often do the disputants seek to establish an empathic relationship with the mediator?

Some Readings and Sources

  1. Adler, Understanding Human Nature (Greenburg, New York, USA, 1927).
  2. J. Clark, ‘Empathy and Alfred Adler: An Integral Perspective’ (2016) 72(4) The Journal of Individual Psychology.
  3. Lietz, K. E. Gerdes, F. Sun, J. M. Geiger, M. A. Wagaman, and E. A. Segal, ‘The Empathy Assessment Index (EAI): A Confirmatory Factor Analysis of a Multidimensional Model of Empathy’ (2011) 2(2) Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research.
  4. Madsen, Therapeutic Jurisprudence in Investigative Interviews: the effects of a humanitarian rapport-oriented and a dominant non-rapport oriented approach on adult’s memory performance and psychological well-being, PhD Thesis, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Abo Akademi University, Finland, 2017.
  5. Davis, L. Jiang, P. Williams, A. Drolet, and B. J. Gibbs, ‘Predisposing Customers to be More Satisfied by Inducing Empathy in Them’ (2017) 58(3) Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.
  6. T. Lakoff, Stylistic Strategies within a Grammar of Style (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, USA, 1979).
  7. Tannen, ‘Framing and Face: the Relevance of the Presentation of Self to Linguistic Discourse Analysis’ (2009) 72(4) Social Psychology Quarterly.
  8. Zaki, ‘Empathy: A Motivated Account’ (2014) 140(6) Psychological Bulletin.
  9. Holmberg and K. Madsen, ‘Rapport Operationalized as a Humanitarian Interview in Investigative Interview Settings’ (2014) 21(4) Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law.
  10. P Vallano, J. R. Evans, N. S. Compo, and J. M. Kieckhaefer, ‘Rapport-Building During Witness and Suspect Interviews: A Survey of Law Enforcement’ (2015) 29 Applied Cognitive Psychology.
  11. Holmberg and K. Madsen, ‘Rapport Operationalized as a Humanitarian Interview in Investigative Interview Settings’ (2014) 21(4) Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law.

National Mediation Conference Canberra 15 – 17 April 2019

“Over the Horizon: Expanding the Dispute Resolution Landscape”

Celebrating 25 years of NMC


Mountain tops 2018

The Conference Design Committee is focused on providing a landmark conference that will interest equally the seasoned professionals as well as the new comers, and has already flagged its lean towards innovation by suggesting some new integrated conference streams devoted to: innovation in the sector, indigenous issues, Restorative Justice, and research and education.  These will complement the traditional areas and topics.  The Committee is keen to see all areas of the sector being welcomed to the conference, including lawyers, conciliators, academics, and facilitators.

Members of the Conference Design Committee come from all around Australia, and include some of Australia’s top DR thinkers; there are people who have worked on previous NMC events, and people who are new to the task.  Each brings their own expertise to contribute to the design and population of the conference.  In addition to designing the conference program, they are overseeing preparation of the Call for Papers, which is scheduled for distribution in July this year, and have agreed to apply their own rigour to the final selection of presentations.  Consideration is also being given to ensuring the conference program and format can meet the needs and expectations of DR academics.

The Committee is intent on designing a conference that:

  • reinvigorates this important DR event
  • maintains a balance between practice and theory/research; between interactive and didactic presentation formats; and between formal and informal styles of presentation
  • takes into account the application of DR skills in areas that are not focused on disputes and conflict

All power to the Conference Design Committee.

NMC Ltd is a company with statutory responsibilities.  A Board of Directors has been appointed, on a voluntary basis, to oversee this aspect of the conference, and is undertaking a comprehensive review of the company’s governance, constitution, protocols, and purpose.  Although this is very much a “behind the scenes” activity, it is pivotal to NMC Ltd’s ongoing viability.  Thank you to the Board of Directors, and, in particular, to Professor Laurence Boulle AM for Chairing the Board.

Conference Logistics is the professional conference organiser for NMC2019, and they are providing valuable administrative and logistical support for both the Conference Design Committee and NMC Ltd’s Board of Directors.  Their staff are currently working on a conference design/logo that celebrates the silver anniversary, and on developing a dedicated website that will enable registration for the automatic receipt of email updates in the lead-up to NMC2019.

In summary, the Conference Design Committee is already focusing on attracting, and welcoming, all areas of the sector; ensuring that DR research is an integral part of the package; and taking an innovative approach to the design and content of what is already shaping up to be a great event.

We may have been late out of the blocks, but you can already smell the excitement.

[illustration copyright 2018 ABoyle]