Sharing Neutrals Policy
This document revises and expands upon policy guidance issued in January 1999. It reflects recent developments in federal Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) policy. In addition, the policy addresses roles and responsibilities of the various participants: roster members, agency contacts, Sharing Neutrals Administration. In order for this collaborative effort to remain effective, it is important that all participants follow the same policies and procedures.
The program began as a pilot in the mid-1990s as a way to provide low cost, high quality neutrals to federal agencies. During the first few years, considerable emphasis was placed on training mediators. Over time, the supply of neutrals as measured by roster membership, has expanded significantly.
Sharing Neutrals provides a pool of experienced, qualified collateral-duty mediators to participating federal agencies. For example, access to the roster is helpful when the size of an agency prohibits the use of in-house neutrals, the parties request mediators from outside the agency, the dispute involves specialized or technical issues beyond the scope of many mediators, or budgets preclude contracting for mediator services.
The following policies are important to fulfilling program goals and maintaining the integrity of this unique interagency effort.
All participants should be guided by the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 (ADRA). More detailed guidance can be found in an issuance of the Federal ADR Council published in the Federal Register, December 29, 2000. The Standards of Practice for Sharing Neutrals contains a section on confidentiality that primarily applies to mediators. These three documents, the ADR Act, the ADR Council’s guidance on confidentiality in Federal programs, and the Standards of Practice, are the bases for confidentiality policy and practice in Sharing Neutrals.
The Federal ADR Council recognized the need for confidentiality protections beyond the mediation proceeding. As a result, confidentiality considerations apply to a variety of ADR functions including intake, screening, and scheduling. Participating agencies may want to review their processes and procedures in light of the expanded requirements for confidentiality.
Use of Co-mediators Policy
Since its inception, the Sharing Neutrals roster has included both experienced mediators and trained, but relatively inexperienced, co-mediators. Both types of mediators complete a registration form, provide requested documentation and have the written approval of their supervisors to do collateral-duty mediation through Sharing Neutrals. Co-mediators are eligible to become lead mediators when they can document they have successfully completed three to five co-mediations and are approved by the Sharing Neutrals Administrator.
Due to expanded mediation training, the number of roster co-mediators has rapidly increased to nearly double that of the experienced mediators. In order to provide experience to co-mediators, the policy on co-mediators is as follows:
- with rare exception, all cases mediated through Sharing Neutrals should have both a mediator and a co-mediator;
- only Sharing Neutrals co-mediator roster members are eligible to co-mediate Sharing Neutrals cases;
- the mediators agree to debrief at the close of mediation as an assessment tool; and
- agencies with trained, but inexperienced mediators, who need co-mediation experience should either a) encourage these individuals to register with Sharing Neutrals or b) establish their own mentoring program that does not depend on Sharing Neutrals.
Securing Mediators Policy
Agencies contact Sharing Neutrals for mediator referrals on a case-by-case basis by emailing ADR@hhs.gov. After receiving the request, Sharing Neutrals searches for available mediators. When a lead and co-mediator have been located, Sharing Neutrals will issue a Notice of Assignment to the requesting agency and the assigned mediators. If these individuals are unavailable, the agency may contact Sharing Neutrals for additional names.
Agencies should not keep a "short list" or otherwise abuse the process for the reasons given above. Mediators may contact Sharing Neutrals to verify referral for a specific case. Should an agency continue to misuse Sharing Neutrals, they will be removed from the list of Participating Agencies. Likewise, Mediators will be removed from the roster if they knowingly abuse the process. Mediators who wish to do collateral-duty mediation outside of Sharing Neutrals should get supervisory permission to do so.
Program Evaluation Policy
Sharing Neutrals prepares an Annual Fiscal Year Report on program use. Items include number of requests for referrals, number of requests by agency, mediators’ contribution by agency, and some outcome information. The Report is made available to participating agencies and roster members.
Feedback from parties is sought through the Sharing Neutrals User Survey. Information on the surveys is used only for evaluation purposes; a statement to that effect appears on the survey form. The raw data, which sometimes include names of individuals, are kept separate from case records.
Some agencies use their own evaluation instruments. Agencies may want to review these instruments and their evaluation process in light of confidentiality guidelines.