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Numerous schools of thought exist on identifying the "competence" of a mediator. Where parties retain mediators to provide an evaluation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the parties' positions, subject-matter expertise of the issues in dispute becomes a primary aspect in determining competence.

Some would argue, however, that an individual who gives an opinion about the merits or value of a case does not practise "true" mediation, and that to do so fatally compromises the alleged mediator's neutrality.

Where parties expect mediators to be process experts only (i.e., employed to use their skills to work through the mediation process without offering evaluations as to the parties' claims) competence is usually demonstrated by the ability to remain neutral and to move parties though various impasse-points in a dispute. International professional organizations continue to debate what competency means.

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