The Commonwealth of Massachusetts (MA) continued its investment in affordable, cost-effective community mediation by appropriating $2,713,465 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 for the Community Mediation Center Grant Program (CMC Grant Program or Program), the Program’s eleventh year. This appropriation funded the continued operations of qualified Community Mediation Centers (Centers) that deliver free or low-cost dispute resolution services to the public. The Centers serve as the backbone of mediation across the state and are the publicly funded infrastructure on which statewide dispute resolution programs are built.
The FY2023 state funding in the CMC Grant Program budget appropriation amounted to $2,713,465, which, with the prior appropriation continued from FY2022 of $268,074, totaling $2,981,539. In FY2023, 76% of this state funding, or $2,272,500 was awarded in operational, programmatic and technical assistance grants to 12 Centers across the state. CMC Grant Program funds constituted half of Centers’ collective cash income in FY2023 and were critical to the sustainability of Centers and, as a result, to the preservation of statewide access to community mediation.
The 12 MA Centers used the state operational investment to leverage an additional $1,857,218 from other private, state, local and/or federal government sponsors/funders, including private foundations. Centers used these funds to address critical public needs and to further expand their community mediation missions under the Grant Program’s Twelve-Point Model of community mediation.
The Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC), the statutory state dispute resolution office at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston) and the CMC Grant Program administrator, brought operational support through both grant management and the management of statewide programming under CMC Grant Program auspices to attract additional funding and address community needs regarding homelessness, recidivism, youth violence, and systemic injustice.
Accordingly, 50% of the grants awarded to Centers consisted of grants to support Centers’ participation in statewide programs consisting of the MA Housing Mediation Program (HMP), MA Re-entry Mediation Program (ReMAp), MA Youth Conflict Resolution and Restorative Practices Program (Youth Program), and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) organizational capacity building initiatives. The award of these grants was an investment in staffing infrastructure to reinforce Center participation in these Grant Program programs.
The FY2023 funded Centers were community-based grassroots organizations. They delivered their dispute resolution services through a workforce composed of both paid and volunteer workers. Centers operated with an average of two full-time and three part-time staff per Center. Mediations were mostly conducted by 207 active volunteer mediators from a pool of 501 total mediators across 12 Centers. Centers depended on trainings to recruit additional mediators. A total of 708 trainings, including trainings/workshops in conflict resolution for community members, were offered across the 12 Centers. An estimated 7,491 people participated in the trainings and workshops and a total of 814,772 people overall were reached through public education and outreach conducted by the Centers in FY2023. Initiatives were undertaken to strengthen the quality of mediation services and training across all Centers. A committee convened to examine the impact of Center volunteering practices on DEI crafted recommendations to address structural barriers to community involvement in Centers.
Data regarding 280 mediators revealed that, like the state’s population, females, males, Asians, African Americans/Blacks, Hispanics/Latinos, Whites, and multi-racial individuals were represented among the totality of Center mediators. Although the FY2023 data indicated that most Center mediators continued to be White (103 of 280) and the majority female and White, the number of mediators identifying as non-White has increased (69 out of 280) since FY2022. Regarding parties served, based on 2,025 parties identifying race in demographic surveys, 843 (compared to 755 in FY2022) identified as White while 1,182 (compared to 892 in FY2022) identified as non-White, revealing an increase in party diversity.
In FY2023 MOPC completed a one-of-a-kind study on DEI in community mediation based on community listening sessions that involved literature reviews and creating a new analytical tool to understand the complexity of the structural barriers to engagement of underserved communities. The study will be instrumental in eliminating institutional racism in the delivery of dispute resolution services through grantmaking, scholarships, and other practices in the years to come, and will kick off a community engagement process to re-envision community mediation through a DEI lens in the coming year. In addition to publishing the report, MOPC published an article on this research and presented research findings at several conferences in FY2023.
The services offered by the funded Centers during FY2023 were both in-person and virtual. Pandemic-related limitations on in-person interactions, whether involving individuals or organizations, eased in FY2023 as courts and community-based locations reopened. Centers continued to rely on remote technology to increase the use of their services. The option of virtual services continued to broaden access to parties by providing flexibility in scheduling and ease of attendance at mediation sessions.
In FY2023, CMC Grant Program funding helped Centers to provide mediation services to 5,759 parties. The 72% agreement rate achieved through MA community mediation exceeded the typical agreement rate of 66% for community mediation nationally. Among the parties surveyed, a large majority, 92%, were satisfied with their mediation, while 90% were willing to recommend mediation to others, and 84% preferred mediation to alternative services. A majority of responding parties indicated that the impact of mediation on their relationship was positive. Not only did parties benefit from the CMC Grant Program but the Commonwealth also benefited by the estimated $28 million in cost-savings and leveraged resources calculated as the return on the state’s FY2023 investment of $2.7 million in the CMC Grant Program. This is a return-on-investment ratio of ten dollars leveraged for each dollar invested in community mediation in MA.
Increasing state investment would produce an even greater return by maximizing the CMC Grant Program’s support of Center operations and the statewide accessibility of dispute resolution services in response to community feedback and research findings about achieving DEI.
Part of the UMass Boston Community-Engaged Teaching, Research, and Service Series. //scholarworks.umb.edu/engage
Palihapitiya, Madhawa and Zeferino, Karina, "Massachusetts Community Mediation Center Grant Program (CMC-GP) Fiscal Year 2023 Report and Evaluation" (2023). Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration Publications. 36.