How do we ensure mediation support actors enjoy the trust of mediators to take on their advice? For them to be accepted to a peace process rather than being kept at bay? And how can they get their message across in a way that mediators understand and welcome? We asked the field’s leading mediation support experts. Here are some of the answers.

On the 30th of August, the European Institute of Peace (EIP) hosted a seminar to take stock of ten years of mediation support. The purpose was to start a process of self-reflection on how to improve mediation support services by pulling in both those offering the support and those receiving it. Through this initiative, the EIP aims to support the evolution towards strengthened and durable peace processes. The seminar brought together key mediation support actors from the UN, EU, OSCE, national governments and NGOs such as swisspeace, Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, and Crisis Management Initiative.

The seminar responded to the growing frustration within the mediation support community towards the varied impact of their efforts. Although the reasons for this are plentiful, it originates from a disconnect between what the mediation support community is offering on the one hand and the requirements of senior practitioners and ongoing processes on the other. Having categorised this challenge into three topics, the EIP divided the seminar into the three interlinked sessions: balancing the supply and demand for mediation support; the gap between policy and practice; and how to achieve behavioural change in senior professionals.

It became clear during the seminar that building a trusting relationship between the mediator and the support provider is an essential yet tricky task as mediators are often reluctant to bring in outsiders. Yet trust building was found essential in order to ensure access to the process and allow for advice to be taken into account. Key to building trust and acceptance was to tailor advice in a way that fits the mediator’s modus operandi, his or her needs as well as the context on the ground. This could, for example, be facilitated by adapting the manner in which policy recommendations are presented and disseminated. In operational settings, proper tailoring could get rid of the perception of support being a ‘threat’ to the mediators’ decision-making autonomy. Finally, in order to impact mediators, support actors needed to recognise the various factors that influence behaviour and be mindful that everyone acts with multiple biases. Thus, although the three sessions each pointed to their own set of challenges, the issues of trust, ‘threats’, and tailoring featured in all of them.

In order for mediation support experts to continue adapting, learning and innovating, it is crucial to view the field’s challenges from the vantage point of mediators as well. The EIP will therefore take the discussion forward by encouraging some self-reflection on the part of the mediators. By looking at both sides of the coin it should help paint a clearer picture on where mediation support stands, where it should be going, and how it can be better linked to mediators and – hopefully – help improve the practice of mediation in the field.