Local mediation is a voluntary, structured dispute resolution process where disputants come together to discuss issues that affect their community. They then identify solutions that can be mutually acceptable and work towards them. Mediators help the parties understand each other’s perspectives, facilitate communication and build trust. They are trained to listen actively, keep confidences, be empathetic, suspend preconceived judgments, respect each other’s values and focus on the underlying conflicts.
Local conflict mediation initiatives, often led by community-based actors, can complement track-1 peace processes and help make peace agreements stick. They have helped defuse tensions over electoral violence, agro-pastoralist conflicts and natural resources. In addition, they have engaged proscribed armed groups and helped bridge divisions based on identity and other drivers of conflict in some situations.
Many states and municipalities have mediation programs, which can be sponsored by courts or private nonprofits. Many also offer free or low-cost mediation for civil disputes such as small claims cases. These initiatives are designed to reduce court caseloads, speed up settlements and provide access to informal resolution options. These programs can also serve as a training ground for future mediators and may be used to divert conflict away from the criminal justice system.