Community Dispute Resolution (CDR)

Community Dispute Resolution (CDR)

Paul Wahrhaftig*

Updated July 2012 by Heidi Burgess



Community Dispute Resolution (CDR) Programs are centers, available in most major American cities, to help resolve conflicts that arise in neighborhoods-- everything from barking dogs to criminal assaults. They are known by various names: i.e. Community Mediation Programs, Community Conflict Resolution Programs, and Neighborhood Justice Centers. All of them apply informal processes, usually mediation, to help the parties solve their problem out of court.


Citizens of communities that have these centers who need help dealing with interpersonal or community disputes.


According to the National Association for Community Mediation, CDR programs share the following characteristics and values:

  1. A private nonprofit or public agency or program thereof, with mediators, staff, and a governing/advisory board representative of the diversity of the community served;
  2. The use of trained community volunteers as providers of mediation services, with the practice of mediation open to all persons;
  3. Providing direct access to the public through self-referral and striving to reduce cultural, economic, linguistic, physical, and programmatic barriers to service; 
  4. Providing service to clients regardless their ability to pay;
  5. Providing service and hiring without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, color, religion, gender, age, disabilities, national origin, marital status, personal appearance, gender and/or sexual orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or other important local measures of communal diversity;
  6. Providing a forum for dispute resolution and engagement at the earliest stages of conflict;
  7. Providing an alternative to the judicial system at any stage of a conflict;
  8. Advocating, initiating, facilitating, and serving as a resource for collaborative community relationships to effect positive systemic change; and
  9. Engaging in public awareness and educational activities about the values and practices of mediation. (2011 The State of Community Mediation, Report of the National Association for Community Mediation)

CDR programs enable the parties to uncover and resolve the underlying problem that drives the conflict, making a good resolution possible. CDR programs may be structured differently, but most use mediation, and may utilized professional or volunteer mediators. Many hold their mediation sessions in a neighborhood facility, such as a church or recreation center, or mediations may take place in their own offices, in a courthouse, or on the street.

Many CDR programs have active training components as well. Frequently these trainings are open to the public. They are an excellent source of inexpensive, high quality mediation training. Often trainees are then asked to serve as volunteer mediators for the CDR program--usually apprenticing at first, and then co- or even solo-mediating once they become more skilled.  This is an excellent way to get experience, which may otherwise be hard to come by.


A trained mediator, living in public housing, heard a ruckus outside. Two women were arguing - one accusing her neighbors' children of repeatedly strewing the yard with trash. The mediator initiated an informal process by inviting the two women in for a cup of tea and a chance to talk about their conflict. In this dialogue, it turned out the real problem was that the housing authority did not provide enough trash bins, nor did it collect them frequently enough. With their misunderstandings clarified, the two women went together to the housing manager and negotiated improved trash collection.


CDR programs are a benefit both to their clients and to the cities that house them. They provide a free (to the client) or low-cost way of resolving disputes so that they do not escalate and cause more serious problems., They also keep most disputes from going to court, further clogging often-overloaded court systems. They also often provide high-quality mediation training for people who are interested. Because their benefits are so high and their costs so low, CDR programs are becoming increasingly common.

According to the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM), as of 2011, there were:

  • 400 community mediation programs in the United States,
  • 20,000 active volunteer community mediators,
  • 76,000 citizens trained by community mediation programs
  • 400,000 disputes (cases) referred on an annual basis, and
  • 900,000 service recipients on an annual basis in the United States.

* Article updated in July 2012 by Heidi Burgess to include most recent NAFCM statistics and documentation.

Links to Related Articles:

Restorative Justice
Landlord-Tenant Disputes