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Collecting basic information

In the first meeting with the clients the facilitator should collect all relevant basic information about both parties.

What challenges does it focus on?

Gathering the most important information in the first meeting you have with either party.

Short summary

Facilitators say that collecting the right information in the first meeting helps a facilitation go well. To gather the information you need, these steps can help:

  • When a person comes to visit you with a problem, you should first explain your role and how you think you can help him or her.
  • When asking questions about the dispute, speak openly and warmly. This generates a good atmosphere and supporting environment.

If the party would like you to facilitate, you need to gather some basic information. The basic information can include:

  • The names and contact details of the parties concerned including address.
  • When and where the dispute took place
  • What does the party identify as the problem
  • The relationship between the parties
  • What the parties have already done to try and solve the conflict

view full explanation

But also:

  •  What the party expects from the facilitator
  • What solution the party hopes to achieve
  • If and how the case is going to be followed up. For example through paralegals making more of less random home visits or phone calls.
  • You can also ask some questions to check that the party is ready to take part in the process. Questions about readiness to start the process gives some questions you might want to ask.
  • Finally, check the availability of clients for future meetings.

Research evidence

Evidence from practice

  • Intake forms: Used in a variety of countries, including Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Azerbaijan
  • Key Questions: Many countries report of a set of key questions that can be used to ascertain what the key issues are during the intake process
  • Problem Map: In Indonesia, a map of the problem is drawn which pictorially shows the parties to the conflict, the relationships and problems between them, actions that have been taken and third parties who have influence.

Evidence from handbooks

Example formats can be found in:

The Community based paralegals, practitioner’s guide Open society institute 2010
The paralegal practice manual, The legal aid forum Rwanda 2009

Evidence from literature

Mapping the problem is a key first step in mediation. A good example of a sequence of questions to be asked at intake:

  • What do you hope to accomplish and what problem(s) would you like to address in this mediation? How can the process, the mediator, or both help you accomplish these goals?
  • If the mediation focuses on the legal strengths and weaknesses of your case and the likely cost of continuing in litigation, will this be sufficient to help you reach a complete resolution of your dispute with the other party? If not, what other non-litigation issues need to be addressed? How could they be addressed?
  • As you imagine settling this dispute, what are your most important needs or goals? (For example, are you most concerned about compensation for expenses? The availability of future medical coverage for you or your dependents? Training? Assistance in finding a job? An apology? Maintaining your reputation? A change in the other party’s behavior or business practice? A change in your relationship with the other party?)
  • What do you think are the most important needs or goals of the other side?
  • If not already described, is there anything besides the payment of money that would help to resolve this matter?
  • If not already described, do the parties need to change any behaviors to resolve this conflict? If yes, what behavioral changes are required?
  • If not already described, are emotions a significant part of this conflict? If yes, what outcome or procedure could help you (or the other party) to feel at peace about this dispute and its resolution?
  • How would you describe the communications or negotiations you have had with each other up until now? Why haven’t you been able to reach a resolution?
  • Do you have any questions about how the mediation process works? Do you have any questions or concerns about your role during the presentations or discussions? Do you have any questions or concerns about our role in making a decision about whether to settle your case?

Riskin, L. L. and N. A. Welsh (2008). "Is that all there is? "The Problem" in Court-Oriented Mediation." George Mason Law Review 15(4): 863-932.

Best practices