When Conflicts Polarize Communities: Designing Localized Offices that Intervene Collaboratively
62 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2014 Last revised: 25 Jan 2016
Date Written: January 25, 2015
In polarized conflicts, such as that recently experienced by Ferguson, Missouri, experienced state and local intervenors can help a community develop processes to address its problems more effectively and peacefully. Localized offices of intervenors do not replace the need public officials to make decisions about the problems at the heart the conflict or the need for police to keep order. Still, when experienced and organized effectively, state and local intervenors can give immediate and trusted counsel to local officials, help them understand the value of bringing in the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service (CRS) intervenors, augment CRS intervenors, and take on CRS’s role when it cannot be there. In addition, state and local intervenors stay on to re-build relationships, help the community create structures to solve the problem illuminated by the incident, and sow seeds to prevent future issues from polarizing the community. The article suggests three questions for those designing such a state or local office: (1) Will public officials make the decisions about when and how to intervene and will they do so informed by experts who can assess the feasibility of intervening? (2) Will the office offer a hospitable work climate and culture for the intervenors as well as a workable approach to accountability to funders that does not undermine creation of a hospitable climate and culture? (3) Will the office appropriately balance the sometimes conflicting needs to engender trust and engagement in the midst of an emotional and divided community, protect the administering agency’s other roles, and respond to the changing needs for resources?
Keywords: mediation, dispute resolution, polarization, intervenor, community conflicts, Community Relations Service, dispute system design, intervention, Sanford, conciliation, local government
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