Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Community Mediation Center Legislative Study

Community mediation, a conflict resolution strategy that emerged in the 1960s, embeds mediation into the community by involving community members as mediators and as mediation users. Massachusetts has been a pioneer in the community mediation movement since 1975. In the heyday of Massachusetts community mediation during the 1980s, conflict resolution services were offered by 28 community mediation centers.  Mediation services were also available in 37 district courts across the Commonwealth and resolution was reached in approximately 85% of the cases that went to mediation.  Historically, funding support for mediation was provided through the Trial Court, the Department of Social Services, the Office of the Attorney General, educational institutions, state agencies and municipalities, as well as through grants from private foundations, trusts, corporations, and the United Way.

Over the last 30 years, community mediation centers have effectively managed a wide variety of disputes referred by courts, schools, businesses, local governments and private citizens. Some of these referrals included consumer disputes, neighborhood conflicts, landlord-tenant disputes, small claims cases, criminal and juvenile matters, divorce cases and family conflicts. Since 2008, though, Massachusetts community mediation, like the rest of the nation, has fallen on hard times.  As a result of the state’s fiscal crisis, state-funded contracts through the Trial Court were canceled for 2009 and not renewed in subsequent years as mediation funds were diverted to meet other fiscal needs. The economic recession only served to increase the demand for community mediation center services even as it diminished the centers’ capacity to deliver services due to the lack of state operating funds. The very survival of community mediation centers and their ability to respond to the need for conflict resolution in communities across the state is in jeopardy.

In response to this looming crisis, the centers banded together in an informal alliance known as the Community Mediation Coalition of Massachusetts (CMCM), and reached out to the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) – the state office of dispute resolution – in February 2011 to explore the possibility of obtaining a state appropriation for operational funding through MOPC/UMass Boston. 

In MOPC, the centers acquired a partner with experience in building community capacity for resolving conflict. Over the years, MOPC has served as a technical advisor to community mediation centers and employed community mediation on a number of court and agency-sponsored projects to increase access to mediation resources state-wide and at the local level.  In 2011, MOPC, with the support of the University, assisted the centers in reaching out to legislative leaders and key stakeholders to garner support for strengthening community mediation across the state.  As a result of these conversations, in Outside Section 180 of the FY 2012 State Budget, the Legislature commissioned MOPC to conduct a study of community mediation’s effectiveness for the purpose of increasing access to dispute resolution for MA citizens.  The commission also directed MOPC to develop a state-of-the-art performance-based funding framework for MA to enable state and other investment in community mediation.

MOPC conducted extensive research on the value of community mediation, successful models of state-funded community mediation systems in other states and the experiences and best practices of conflict resolution practitioners and stakeholders in Massachusetts. MOPC solicited the best thinking of knowledgeable individuals from a variety of backgrounds. The findings from MOPC’s investigation into the value and potential of community mediation in Massachusetts were supplemented by contributions from centers and other stakeholders and were reviewed by a study committee of renowned academics and practitioners from all over the country and Massachusetts, including the University of Massachusetts Boston.  The resulting report published in November 2011, Legislative Study: A framework to strengthen Massachusetts community mediation as a cost-effective public service, articulated a vision for strengthening the mission and deployment of community mediation throughout Massachusetts. It presented recommendations for a performance-based funding framework for state investment in a criteria-based model of community mediation grounded in best practices and responsive to Massachusetts interests and needs.

MOPC, CMCM and legislative champions of community mediation worked together in 2012 to implement the framework recommended by the study.  As a result, the Legislature passed G. L. Ch. 75, Section 47 as Outside Section 91 to the FY 2013 State Budget establishing the MA Community Mediation Center Grant Program to be administered by MOPC and setting state policy that recognizes the value of community mediation and directs public agencies to use community mediation for their public missions. In addition, the Legislature appropriated $650,000 to fund the grant program which provides state operating grants to centers that meet state performance-based standards for community mediation.  For more information on this program, click the following link:


Jeghelian, S., Palihapitiya, M., & Eisenkraft, K. (October 2011). Legislative Study: A framework to strengthen Massachusetts community mediation as a cost-effective public service. MOPC, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Massachusetts Office of Dispute Resolution & Public Collaboration: Overview. April 8, 2009.

FY 2012 Massachusetts State Budget: Outside Section 180

FY 2013 Massachusetts State Budget: Outside Section 91 and Line Item 7100-0700