What is dispute resolution?
Dispute Resolution (DR) is a term used to describe a variety of
options for dealing with disputes; this includes the option of
litigation. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) typically refers to a
method of resolving disputes by means not associated with formal
litigation (court), such as mediation, arbitration, facilitation,
conciliation, early neutral evaluation, and mini trials.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a communication between two or more people or groups
which is conducted with the assistance of a neutral third party, called a
mediator. The process can be made binding (by contract), or it can be
non-binding and used simply in order to help people communicate and
understand one another. There are several variations possible on this
basic definition; sometimes, there can be more than one mediator
involved. Similarly, mediators have different styles of communication,
just as people do; some mediators are more "evaluative" of the parties
and their relative positions, other mediators simply try to help the
parties understand one another's viewpoints.
The focus of a mediation is determined by what the participants
themselves are seeking. For example, some parties to a mediation may be
looking for a contract, other parties may seek understanding or a
modification of behavior. Whatever that goal is, the job of the mediator
is to help parties reach an outcome that satisfies them rather than one
aimed at proving right and wrong.
Through mediation, parties are able to work together to reach a
solution which can be more creative than that which a court would
The objective of the Office of Human Relations, founded in 1972, is
to advocate for and take affirmative action to eliminate prejudice and
discrimination in Santa Clara County based on race, religion, cultural
background, sex, age, sexual orientation or disability. The Dispute
Resolution Program, a subsidiary of the Office of Human Relations, works
specifically to further those goals by providing no cost dispute
resolution and mediation services to the inhabitants of the County of
Santa Clara and beyond. The Office works in conjunction with the Human
Relations Commission, which serves as an advisory body to the County
Board of Supervisors.
The Dispute Resolution Program Services (DRPS), conceived in 1977,
effectively advances the resolution of disputes on both the individual
and community level by demonstrating, teaching, and advocating dispute
resolution as a process whereby conflict may be resolved through
effective communication, fostered understanding, and mutual respect.
DRPS has within its core, three sub-committees. These three
sub-committees include the Victim Offender Mediation & Restorative
Justice Program, the Small Claims Court Mediation Program, and the
Community Transformative approach to dispute resolution. Within these
three sub-committees, there is no single type of dispute which can not
conceivably be assisted with and/or resolved.
Strategic future plans for the Dispute Resolution Program include:
broadening the nature and extent of services so as to reach an even more
diverse segment of the population and educating the population of the
bay area as to the principles and practice of dispute resolution so as
to foster a stronger, better equipped community of dispute resolution
practitioners within homes, community based groups, religious
structures, and social organizations.
There are essentially two avenues by which cases arrive at the
Dispute Resolution Program; those which are self referred, and those
which come to the Program from a referring agency or formal
organization. The Program continually strives to increase the efficacy
and extent of the services offered. As such, DRPS has partnered with a
number of sources both within the County of Santa Clara and beyond. The
nature of these partnerships provides abundant opportunity to provide
dispute resolution services. There are no costs associated with the
services provided by the Dispute Resolution Program.
Examples of referring agencies include: the County of Santa Clara's
Juvenile Probation Division, the District Attorney's Office, the Los
Gatos Small Claims Court Facility, the Sheriff's Department, the San
Jose City Police Department, and the City of San Jose Code Enforcement.
As every case for dispute resolution is an example for individuals,
businesses, law firms, corporations, and community members as to the
inherent participant power in the dispute resolution process, parties to
a dispute will often initiate a call to the Dispute Resolution Program
because of past experience, word of mouth, or on the initiative and
urging of an agency or individual who has either been through the
process in the Office, or by someone who has received training from
The Office of Human Relations and its staff is committed to providing
the highest quality in dispute resolution services to the community. As
such, a number of philosophical policies affect the procedure for "case
development" and mediation. A case coming to DRPS is screened for its
logistical compliance with program needs-are there at least 2 willing
parties to a dispute, are there mental or physical handicaps which would
preclude any sort of effective Office involvement in the case, is
assistance or resolution precluded by any outside factors (such as court
influence) which would mitigate against Program involvement?
Once these procedural issues are ascertained, the dispute resolution
process has begun. Philosophically, a mediation begins at this time.
This policy and procedure is one example of a distinguishing
characteristic which sets apart this Program. The unique sensitivity of
the Supervising Program Mediators ensures that parties to a dispute are
provided an attentive, thoughtful ear from the inception of the dispute
resolution process. This is often not the case in other programs, as
parties are not generally provided a forum until a formal face-to-face
meeting has taken place. Depending then, upon the type of the dispute
resolution process employed, the average length of an ADR session may
take from 2 hours to 6 weeks.