The Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) at Harvard Law School is making news for work it has done to promote civil discourse in town government and to help police mediate civilian complaints.

A tense political climate in the Town of Sudbury, Mass., led the Sudbury Clergy Association to contract with the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program to assist with increasingly hostile exchanges between and among stakeholders in a variety of settings and to make recommendations for a kinder, gentler protocol for doing business at town meetings, in town government, and in the schools.

Jiayun Ho LL.M. ’15 and Seanan Fong HDS ’16, spent two months conducting The Sudbury Listening Project —which included interviews, focus groups, and a town survey — to evaluate sources of tension and make recommendations on ways the town might move forwards in reconciliation and collaboration.

Read more about this project here and here, and see excerpt below.

Through the Harvard Mediation Program, HNMCP is also working with the Boston Police Department to set up a better system for resolving many of the civilian complaints lodged against officers.

Under the system, mediators from the Harvard Mediation Program would handle referrals of more moderate complaints lodged with the department’s Internal Affairs Division. Mediators provided by HMP will be drawn from a combination of Harvard Law School students and community members who have completed a 32-hour mediation training and will be provided by the program at no charge.

HMP is currently working with the Boston Police Department to finalize details of the program. “We’re very excited about this program,” said HNMCP Assistant Director Rachel Viscomi. “Mediation offers each party an opportunity to share their perspective and to learn how the other person experienced their behavior. These conversations can promote greater connection and understanding between police officers and the communities they serve.”

Read more here and here, and see excerpt below.


Excerpted from the Boston Globe, “Sudbury seeks lesson on civility in meetings,” by Jennifer Fenn Lefferts, Globe Correspondent, May 03, 2015

What should have been a routine meeting last spring to choose the next chairman of the Sudbury Board of Selectmen devolved into a heated debate of personal attacks that left many residents shaking their heads in disgust.

Ten days after that May 2014 meeting, the hostile political climate in town continued its downward spiral when Selectman Len Simon, one of three members to vote in Charles Woodard as chairman, found three toilets in his front yard. Simon is convinced the prank — one toilet for each vote — was done in retaliation for his role in the dispute. …Recently, a group of local clergy members stepped in, enlisting the help of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program at Harvard Law School to propose ways to move toward more civil discourse. …

Harvard law students Seanan Fong and Jiayun Ho spent two months interviewing members of the community, holding focus groups, and conducting an online survey that was completed by 191 people.

“The whole purpose was to listen, not to come in and say, ‘This is what’s wrong with your town,’ but to understand what people are seeing and hearing and feeling,” said Rachel Viscomi, assistant director of the program, which connects students from the law school with organizations that would benefit from strategic negotiation and conflict management advice.

The program takes on about a dozen projects a year, and this is the first time students have tackled an issue facing an entire town. But Viscomi said Sudbury isn’t alone in this day of technology and social media.

“While these kinds of challenges are ones that many communities and organizations deal with, what made Sudbury unique is that many residents had the courage and willingness to dig in and find out if there is a better path forward,” Viscomi said.   Read full article here.


Excerpted from the Boston Globe, Police, Harvard near deal to mediate civilian complaints, By Edward Mason and Tom Mashberg, Globe Correspondents, May 04, 2015

After years of false starts, the Boston Police Department is nearing a deal with its three unions and Harvard Law School to set up a simpler, speedier system for resolving many of the civilian complaints lodged against officers, police and Harvard officials say.

Under the system, mediators from the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program at Harvard Law School would handle dozens of the more moderate disputes that clog up the department’s Internal Affairs Division, to the frustration of plaintiffs. Those grievances generally involve rudeness, unprofessional conduct, and abusive language. More severe cases would continue to be adjudicated by Internal Affairs. …

Rachel A. Viscomi, the Harvard program’s assistant director, said she expected to complete an agreement once police unions approve the policy. She said mediators would be drawn from a pool of Harvard Law School students and local residents trained in dispute resolution and provided by the program at no charge.

“It doesn’t always mean they’ll agree or want to resolve it right there,” she said, “but the opportunity for greater connection is very important.”

Civilians filed about 300 complaints against Boston officers in each of the past two years, according to department records. While many were severe enough to warrant formal investigations, including allegations of unnecessary use of force or being untruthful on arrest reports or in trial testimony, a review of hundreds of complaints against officers shows that many boil down to allegations that an officer behaved unprofessionally during traffic stops, arrests, and other interactions with citizens.