Recently thumbing through my back editions of The Economist, I chanced upon an article in the Christmas 2017 edition uses the term “Punk Science”. This article has a lot to do with science although I think the term “punk” does it a disservice.
Essentially the article relates the activities of a Canadian scientist who was commissioned to undertake some environmental study work. Because of funding shortages she was not given the money to acquire sophisticated equipment that she might ordinarily expect to use and she had to look at other options. This necessitated her considering whether everyday objects could be utilised and whatever one’s view about her mission and her work, it is fair to say that her inventiveness has proven to be very successful.

This scientist has been able to collect and collate significant amounts of data and produce outcomes and findings that have been accepted that are accepted by the scientific community and any notion of a folksy, Heath Robinson type character struggling against the odds should be disregarded. Her work is serious and in my view very far removed from what may be termed the punk ethos.

I could not help thinking that for those using traditional forms of dispute resolution such as court proceedings and mediators there is something to be learnt from this scientist’s success. Although she used everyday objects, she steadfastly applied scientific principles and in reality, the only difference between her and another scientist who might have access to a lot of costly scientific equipment is that she was able to achieve equally good results at considerably lower cost.

And so it is with mediation. Picture the business person who unfortunately becomes embroiled in a protracted financial dispute. If he decides to go to court or if he is taken to court by an opponent, although ultimately justice may prevail, he will become embroiled in a protracted and costly scenario. It is most likely that he will be properly advised by lawyers and experts and if the matter is not settled out of court, a judge will ultimately scrutinise matters in detail.

However all of this will come at considerable cost, not just legal and court fees. Additionally there what many commentators term the “hidden costs”, namely the financial and time related costs incurred by our business person and conceivably by his employees and associates. Even if successful and if awarded the bulk of his legally incurred costs he may well find that he has devoted time to the case that could have been better spent looking for new sources of revenue, working with existing customers or clients or simply ensuring that routine, day-to-day processes and procedures are properly maintained. In short, time devoted to the dispute means time not devoted to running the business and in many respects, even a “spectacular” court success may in time be seen as a pyrrhic victory.

Civil mediation is the equivalent of our scientist arriving at successful outcomes. The mediation equivalent of her paraphernalia would be some specially hired comfortable but not necessarily lavish rooms, a laptop, a mobile telephone, some paper, a supply of coffee and an Internet connection.

The fact that there is so little material input will not in any way diminish the skill of the mediator. Notwithstanding this modest and inexpensive array of what many would see as everyday items he/she will help effect a just and fair outcome in a 10th of the time and at a fraction of the cost that is involved in taking a dispute to court.

In the same way that our scientist has arguably done the scientific community a huge service  by demonstrating how it can do good work without spending huge amounts of money, the mediator demonstrates to the business person that he/she can do good work, not least in cutting both his legal and his  hidden costs and by effectively helping him to maintain the smooth and efficient running of his business.

The court model is the equivalent of the costly scientific equipment that the scientist might otherwise have used. The mediation model is the portal for achieving high quality, timely outcomes at very modest cost.