What is Community Mediation?

Mary McMahon

Community mediation is a community-based form of conflict resolution which is available to people who are experiencing disputes in many regions of the world. In areas where community mediation services are offered, people can attempt to resolve disputes with the assistance of a mediator, rather than taking disputes to law. One of the goals of mediation is to help people address a problem before it escalates and turns into a legal matter and to provide a route of alternative dispute resolution which people meet to resolve differences.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Volunteers from the community are typically members of a community mediation organization. These organizations are classically run as nonprofits and provide training to volunteers in exchange for a set period of service. Because many communities are very diverse, one aspect of community mediation involves recruiting volunteers from many different backgrounds to ensure that the needs of everyone in the community can be met.

In mediation, the parties to a dispute all agree to work together with a neutral facilitator. In the mediation session, which is usually relatively short, the parties put forward their concerns and their stories, and the facilitator helps everyone work through a discussion. The goal of the session is to reach a resolution which will satisfy all parties, in which case a written contract will be developed for everyone to sign. People can opt to terminate mediation if they feel that it is not working.

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Community mediation can be used for things like landlord-tenant disputes, arguments between parents and teens, employee-employer conflict, and any other type of conflict. Usually all parties involved must indicate that they consent to mediation and agree to participate in order for a community mediator to be willing to facilitate. Mediation is often provided for free or at very low cost so that the cost does not need to be a barrier, and arrangements can be made for interpreters and disability accommodations if needed.

Mediation is not always effective, but it can be a valuable first step in conflict resolution. Many courts actively encourage people to consider community mediation for small disputes because a mediator can sometimes resolve an issue and keep it out of the court, which in turn reduces the load on packed courts. Mediation may also prevent the need for outside intervention. For example, a parent and teen who have a contentious relationship may be able to work things out with a mediator so that child services do not have to become involved.

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