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Mediation Surge Teams

Mitigating violent environmental conflicts in the U.S. by promoting community participation in the decision-making process

Photo of Nathalie Al-Zyoud
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Whether a Native American tribe fighting to protect your water in Standing Rock, North Dakota, or a coal mining community desperate to preserve your jobs in Morgantown, West Virginia, issues around environmental protection and economic security are intricately intertwined and high in intensity, sometimes even escalating into violent clashes.

To help restore constructive dialogue between marginalized communities and decision-makers on environmental issues, Communities in Transition (CIT) is seeking to operationalize the deployment Mediation Surge Teams (MST) in areas of violent conflict in the United States to address the threats posed by violent activists and/or repressive state tactics.

  • Objective 1: To provide multi-stakeholder conflict resolution dialogue processes that resolve environmental conflicts; and
  • Objective 2: To establish conflict resolution mechanisms that promote cooperation and prevent future violence.

In addition to bridging local divides, this project seeks to link multi-stakeholder community dialogues to the policy-making process at the Congressional-level.



During rapid deployment periods lasting between 3-4 months and triggered by incidents of violence (by state and/or non-state actors) around environmental issues, MST composed of 4 senior mediators each will be sent to the conflict area with the following mandate: 

  • Assess: in collaboration with affected stakeholders, MST will conduct rapid conflict assessments and stakeholder mapping to identify game-changing interventions that will leverage the networks of relationships of local peacemakers to help lower tensions and protect civilians;
  • Train: informed by our assessments, MST will train local peacemakers on conflict analysis, complex conflict dialogue facilitation and other conflict transformation approaches as required by the context;
  • Coach: MST will provide short-term technical support to local peacemakers as they seek to engage conflict parties, design peacemaking activities, facilitate problem-solving dialogues, document and follow-up on post-agreement activities as they move parties towards collaborative action;
  • Integrate (exit strategy): MST will integrate conflict resolution mechanisms horizontally within the appropriate local peace infrastructure and vertically within national networks of effective action who are addressing the conflict issues on Capitol Hill to ensure the sustainability of all peacemaking activities. 



CIT will conduct the following activities to build, train and deploy Mediation Surge Teams (MST):

  • Create a referral process: CIT HQ will develop guidelines for selecting the types of conflicts MST are apt to mitigate and develop partnerships with local mediation centers in 4 pilot areas prone to violence;
  • Build MST’ mediation surge capacity: CIT HQ will train a cohort of mediators and reinforce their conflict resolution capacity in complex multi-stakeholder facilitation as well as provide additional training in risk management and crisis negotiation in preparation for their deployment;
  • Deploy and support the MST’ conflict resolution activities: CIT HQ will conduct pre-deployment briefings on the conflict dynamics in the target area, connect with local counterparts and create a preliminary engagement strategy with team members and partners. CIT HQ will provide leadership and strategic guidance during all phases of the MST mission while in the field;
  • Identify lessons learned and best practices for crisis mediation work: CIT HQ will provide ongoing support and post-mission briefs to identify lessons learned and make recommendations for future deployments.


  • Year 1:  CIT will build the capacity of our surge teams by training community mediators to facilitate increasingly complex conflicts. Mediators primarily based in D.C. will initiate community dialogues in high-crime areas around issues that have policy implications. CIT will provide coaching and support to them as they test and fine tune our methodology in the U.S. At the same time, CIT will consolidate its partnerships with US-based mediation networks such as the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) and the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) and begin to nurture relationships with local mediation centers in areas of the U.S. where CIT’s own network does not reach. This partnership building process is already underway. CIT will develop deployment criteria and, in collaboration with our local partners, begin to elaborate a referral process.
  • Year 2-3: CIT’ MST will deploy in 2 areas of conflict per year. CIT will generate lessons learned after each deployment


Overseas, CIT worked with the Salaam Institute, Mercy Corps and the U.S. Institute of Peace just to name a few of our partners. We are currently part of a consortium who’s applying for a $24Million grant to deploy our MST in LRA-controlled areas over the course of 5-year. We’ve mediated between various ethnic and religious groups with a variety of social structures and cultural backgrounds, such as Muslims and Christians and herders and farmers and people from different economic backgrounds such as peacekeeping forces and displaced communities and diverse economic actors. Our mediation framework has proven extremely adaptable to each one of these communities.

One such example of success occurred after a violent confrontation between Congolese peacekeepers and local anti-Balaka rebel forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) which led to the death of an anti-Balaka leader. In response, anti-Balaka elements and their supporters went on the rampage attacking the homes and businesses of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The refugees from the DRC had simply been mistaken by the anti-Balaka to be nationals of the neighboring Republic of Congo, whose contingent they were fighting against.

To escape the violence, about 100 of the victims (including, 19 women, and 49 children) fled and took refuge inside a nearby Catholic Church. At the request of regional authorities operating in the area, a team of mediators was deployed to the area, to initiate and support a dialogue process. At the time of the intervention, many of the victims were still traumatized by the violence and wanted an escape route back to the home country. However, the team was able to work with all relevant stakeholders including UN peacekeepers and an understanding was reached, leading to the gradual and safe return of the Congolese refugees back to their homes in CAR, as well as formal apology by anti-Balaka leaders to the Congolese community for their actions.


Modeled after the Department of Justice Community Relations Service (CRS) first responder strike force for civil disorders, this project addresses the need to lower tensions around environmental conflict; provides opportunities for cooperation by helping parties in conflict find common ground; and transforms conflict dynamics by empowering marginalized communities to affect the policy-making process.

Explain your idea

Mediation Surge Teams are deployed in area of violent conflicts where at least 2 parties are willing to mediate. During short term deployments the MST supports local peacemakers as they facilitate multi-stakeholder consultation to help resolve contentious issues. Once the conflict issues resolve, the MST creates a grievance mechanism that enables communities to access a conflict resolution process should tension arise in the future. At Headquarters, staff provide support to the team while deployed and work to create vertical linkages to connect local community dialogues with decision-makers on Capitol Hill. Once the tensions mitigated, the MST returns to HQ and compiles reports and lessons learned to inform future deployments. The external support provided to communities in conflict helps parties jump start a dialogue process facilitated by an impartial third-party with no stake in the outcome. It helps community members avoid further violence and arrests and provides a space for those affected to understand each other and brainstorm solutions they would otherwise not have thought about. Because solutions emanate from the participants themselves, agreements are more durable. Since participation is empowerment, linking community members to decision-makers helps prevent future outbursts of violence.

Who Benefits?

The primary beneficiaries of this project are communities in conflict, corporations, local law enforcement personnel, local government officials and department of justice personnel who will participate in multi-stakeholder dialogues and find resolution to the problems that created the conflict. The secondary beneficiaries of this project are local communities and businesses who suffered damages due to the violent upheavals.

How is your idea unique?

What makes CIT's work different than others conducting community dialogues is the vertical link this project seeks to establish between marginalized communities and Congressional decision-makers on Capitol Hill. In addition, CIT's experience using MST to mediate violent conflicts between armed groups in Africa makes it uniquely prepared to tackle violent crisis in the U.S. across both economic and cultural divides.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

Communities in Transition, LLC (CIT) is a woman-owned consulting firm based outside of Baltimore. We empower communities to address conflict-related challenges in a collaborative and sustainable way. Technical Expertise: • Conflict analysis: conflict and stakeholder assessments, systems and program design, M&E • Conflict transformation: mediation, community dialogue, track-II diplomacy, restorative justice, peace networks, multi-stakeholder engagements, facilitation • Conflict management training and coaching: assessment, process design, mediation, consensus building, community dialogues, collaborative advocacy Thematic Expertise: • High-level public policy debates, violent political conflicts • Civil society and grassroots engagements • Natural resource conflicts, inter-religious conflicts, agro-pastoral conflicts CIT also leads the International Mediators Community of Practice (IMCP) which provides an informal platform for discussion between mediation practitioners, trainers, academics and providers of mediation support services who actively engage in international third-party conflict transformation, to strengthen our skills and increase the use of dialogue processes in complex conflict contexts. Over the past 6 months, IMCP members began looking at ways international mediators can use their skills to help bridge community divides in the U.S. Partners will be drawn heavily from our existing IMCP network of U.S.-based mediators. MST will work in close coordination with our local partners and local peacemakers to implement all phases of their deployment and ensure that project activities enhances the local capacity to prevent violence and mitigate future crisis in their community. Nathalie Al-Zyoud will be the lead for this project. She is the founder of Communities in Transition (CIT) and currently works as CIT's Managing Partner and Senior Mediator. She 20 years of experience in the field of conflict management, both domestically and internationally. Nathalie mediates inter-ethnic, inter-religious and agro-pastoral conflicts as well as workplace, commercial, family, and community disputes. She's mediated between conflict parties around economic, land, displacement and security issues. Nathalie also designs and facilitates restorative justice circles.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.


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