Strategy: Public Dialogue and Community Mediation
Strategy Community-based public dialogues help identify neighborhood issues and resolve disputes among groups. Crime Problem Addressed The strategy addresses . . .
Community-based public dialogues help identify neighborhood issues and resolve disputes among groups.
Crime Problem Addressed
The strategy addresses a wide array of neighborhood issues, including intergroup relations, nuisance abatement, landlord-tenant complaints, threats, vandalism, and other disputes that could escalate into violence.
Systems through which to refer cases from community groups, the courts, police, and other city agencies help community-based mediators identify neighborhood issues requiring resolution. Volunteer mediators and discussion leaders help disputants recognize issues of concern, accept responsibility without threats, and identify strategies to resolve the conflict. Formal hearings serve as the setting for discussion of complaints, lending structure and credibility to the grassroots process. Some local groups use a more informal system of discussion leaders, working through community organizers and other informally established community leaders.
Schools, police, probation agencies, and area courts advance the program by referring cases for resolution. Such referrals relieve schools and the law enforcement system from the burden of dealing with disputes that neighborhood leaders could resolve. Youth serve as vital partners in mediating school-related disputes. Community newspapers and grassroots word-of-mouth networks help publicize the community dialogue and mediation services.
Community-wide education that informs residents of this method of conflict resolution can be difficult to finance. Community newspapers and other local communications networks help increase the program's visibility and spread word of success. Courts and other institutions help reinforce the program's value by referring cases.
Signs of Success
The Community Board Program in San Francisco uses community activism to resolve conflict among groups. Schools, courts, public housing councils, juvenile corrections facilities, and other local government agencies refer cases for mediation by staff or volunteers. Hearings run by trained volunteer youth or adult mediators serve as the forum for airing and resolving disputes. The cadre of three hundred mediators work out of more than eighty donated sites, mostly in neighborhood settings. Requests for mediation and other services reached 1,200 in 1991 and have grown steadily since. Services expanded to include peer mediation in juvenile correction facilities. Staff members of social service agencies and the community board also mediate between child protection workers and families.
Applying the Strategy
The Study Circles Resource Center of the Connecticut-based Topsfield Foundation advocates formation of community-level study circles or discussion groups as a means of discussing issues and resolving problems among neighbors. The center publishes The Study Circle Handbook: A Manual for Study Circle Discussion Leaders, Organizers, and Participants, a guide to forming local study circles. A discussion guide shows communities how local groups are using discussion circles to resolve neighborhood disputes. The Common Enterprise group of San Antonio, Texas, emphasizes building the community, resolving conflict, and achieving consensus "across broadly diverse and contentious communities."