Since the 1960s, local communities have set up neighborhood justice centers, community mediation centers, and restorative justice programs to provide constructive, non-adversarial processes more accessible to local community members (1). How do we know the kinds of impacts community mediation centers actually have on their communities?
Community mediation centers in Colorado felt it was important to ask this question. They also felt that, should they wish to make some future case to the state legislature about their value for the State, they should have some hard evidence demonstrating contribution, both in terms of cost savings but also more intangible contributions like improving community climate and citizens' sense of access to justice.
In 2003, the Colorado Community Mediation Coalition (CCMC), an ad hoc coalition of Denver/Boulder area community mediation programs (CMPs), approached CRI faculty member Tamra Pearson d'Estrée to explore possibilities for a joint effort. The Community Mediation Evaluation Project was born. It was determined that in order to meet the twin goals of (a) increasing the understanding of the value of community mediation for Colorado communities, and (b) improving the coalition's ability to demonstrate the value of community mediation for potential supporters and users, it would be useful to have a common evaluation framework. By having a common evaluation framework, the CMPs could standardize and even pool their assessment data.
This ambitious project was kicked off by a conference in 2003 that brought CMPs together to share what they currently did in evaluation, and to learn from each other and from their stakeholders what information was needed to make their case for impact. The 2003 conference was co-hosted and sponsored by DU's CRI, CCMC, Colorado Judicial Institute, Jefferson County Mediation Services, Office of Dispute Resolution, and the Colorado Judicial Branch. It convened panels of stakeholders such as a district attorney, a judge, a county commissioner, a city councilman, a sheriff, and a foundation representative. Linda Baron, the Director of the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) in Washington, DC, gave the opening keynote address on the value of CMP evaluation, and the Honorable Mary Mullarkey, Chief Justice of Colorado's Supreme Court, gave a luncheon keynote address on justice system-CMP collaboration. Kumasi Adoma (MA '04) and Andy Owziak (MA '05), assisted in coordinating.
A second achievement of the 2003 conference was the initial drafting of the components of a common evaluation framework. On the second day of the 2003 conference, attendees broke into working groups and spent the day identifying and negotiating what should be investigated at each step of the program evaluation process: input variables, process variables, output variables, and impact variables.
A hardworking subcommittee of CMP directors—Mark Loye from Jefferson County, Kon Damas from Boulder, and Peggy Evans from Face-to-Face in south and east Denver—volunteered to pilot the common framework. Over the next year, they met repeatedly with Prof. d'Estrée and Cynthia Savage from the Office of Dispute Resolution in the State Court's office to reduce the above lists of variables to a manageable number, to achieve common definition for terms (such as "case"), to agree on categories ("values") for each variable, and to develop a consensus on how these would be measured.2 Then, a universal template was created for Access-based data entry. This template is currently being implemented and tested by the pilot CMPs. Quarterly transfer of data from these centers to CRI will allow for the beginnings of the aggregation of state-level data for analysis, as well as for further improvement of the framework. Eventually, the template will be available both for Colorado CMPs that wish to modify their current monitoring and evaluation procedures and for those wishing to start from scratch. All can then join the state-level effort. CRI graduate students Brian Beck and Adam Christopher are providing technical assistance on this project.
CRI's annual conference this year was a joint venture with NAFCM and CCMC. In addition to experiencing rich training provided by community mediation's national organization, CRI students and faculty were able to join in on the ground floor discussions creating a new state organization exclusively focused on enhancing community mediation. Meetings were held at the Table Mountain Inn in the picturesque foothills town of Golden, Colorado's original capitol.
On May 5-6, NAFCM provided a Regional Training Institute (RTI), covering timely topics such as Evaluation, Fund Development, Center Administration, Case Management, and Government Relations. Then on Saturday, May 7, a Summit was held to gather together all those interested in community mediation in Colorado to move forward on the proposal to launch a statewide organization with community mediation as its focus. NAFCM Executive Director Linda Baron and Frank Woods, from New York's Unified Court System, added insight from other states' experiences in organizing.
The new organization, christened the Colorado Community Conflict Resolution Association (CCCRA), identified several tasks, including networking, sharing information, increasing inter-program communication and coordination, increasing the visibility and awareness of mediation, increasing service availability statewide particularly in rural and mountain counties, and developing a statewide unified voice to promote mediation and restorative services in Colorado. A committee was convened to draft bylaws, pursue obtaining 501(c)3 status, CRI's master's degree students attend the Community Mediation Summit. and explore funding options.
(1) For more on this history, see Laue, James. (1987). "The emergence and institutionalization of third-party roles in conflict," in Dennis J.D. Sandole & Ingrid Sandole-Staroste, (eds.), Conflict Management and Problem Solving – Interpersonal to International Applications. p. 23; and Christopher W. Moore. (2003). The Mediation Process (3rd ed), p.24 ff.2