Local Mediation – Empowering Communities to Solve Their Own Disputes

Local mediation empowers communities to solve their own disputes with the assistance of trained mediators. It’s a cost-effective way to resolve conflict that can prevent violence, save time and money, and protect the public from harm.

Local mediators have deep contextual knowledge and strong local networks. This makes them well positioned to identify and address early warning signs of escalation.

Identifying the Issues

Local mediation helps individuals, families, businesses and community groups resolve disputes and challenges through managed communication. Mediators do not make judgments or take sides, and participants voluntarily participate in the process. Agreements are negotiated and accepted by the participants themselves.

Identifying the issues that need to be resolved is an important first step in any mediation. The mediator can help parties determine what is at the heart of their dispute by asking questions, ensuring that everyone has had a chance to express themselves and clarifying the points at issue.

In areas of conflict, local mediators (sometimes referred to as insider mediators) work with actors from within the local context who are often in contact with non-state armed actors and can help prevent conflicts from escalating into violence. Local mediation may also help address underlying power imbalances in communities, reducing the need for a formal peace process.

Communicating in a Respectful Way

A breakdown in communication is at the heart of many community disputes. Even well-intentioned people can cause misunderstandings and hurt feelings. And when that happens, productivity and morale suffer, good people leave, and conflict escalates.

Local mediators (also known as “insider mediators”) help actors from within their own context develop mutually acceptable agreements to defuse tensions. They are often influenced to varying degrees by a particular cultural norms that may shape their methods of relationship building and their perceptions of what constitutes fair process.

For example, in some parts of the world, it is considered rude to ask someone about private information such as their health status or sexuality unless they initiate the conversation first. Having an open mind and identifying how much privacy people want to share helps them communicate respectfully during the mediation process. This may include setting ground rules for discussion such as active listening, not attacking other people or monopolizing the conversation.

Getting to the Mediation on Time

It is common for neighbours to experience conflict, whether due to noise nuisance, anti-social behaviour, boundary disputes or parking problems. Local mediation enables people to resolve such issues through managed communication in a neutral environment and can pave the way for improved future communication.

Similarly, parents who want to change their child custody arrangements may be able to reach agreement in mediation, even if one parent has serious concerns about the other’s substance abuse or criminal background. However, it’s important to enter mediation with realistic expectations about what you can achieve – perhaps keeping the marital home is a higher priority than spending time with the children at Christmas.

Mediation can take several hours, and it can be physically and emotionally draining to sit in the same room with someone you dislike. Ensure you are well rested and have eaten before attending. Also, be sure to bring all the documents the mediator asks for, including any child-related documentation, which may include copies of medical or school records.

Understanding the Dispute

The mediator helps disputants understand each other’s perspectives and identify areas where they can agree. They also encourage the participants to listen to each other, keep confidential statements, suspend their preconceived judgments, be empathetic and focus on the issues at hand.

Local mediators – sometimes called “insider” mediators – work at the village, sub-regional and even country level in conflict situations. They often have credibility in their context and strong relationships with the people they work for, including traditional elders, religious leaders, women’s groups and state officials.

Dispute resolution processes can end in one of several ways: the parties reach an agreement on some or all of the issues; the mediation is terminated due to an impasse; or they go back to court to have a judge or jury decide their case. Regardless of how the mediation ends, all parties are encouraged to reflect on their experience and learn from it. They should take the lessons learned from their mediation and apply them to future disputes.

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