A History of ADRNC

By Ron Nelson

The Association for Disputes Resolution of Northern California (ADRNC), a Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR), is actually the fourth incarnation of an organization dedicated to mediation as a means of conflict resolution in all aspects of human experience. It was created to start engagement between practitioners from many disciplines – family, labor, community, and commercial – with the hope and expectation that each perspective would add to the tools that practitioners had at his or her command.

The genealogy of ADRNC started with the Northern California Council of Mediators (NCCM). That organization was formed in 1983 on a rainy day in November at Mills College in Oakland. The moving force behind the organization was the efforts of five mediators – Joan Kelly, Tim Birnie, Harriet Whitman Lee, Henry Elson, and Mary Duryee. The organizing meeting drew about 60 attendees.

However, the focus of the organization was not just on networking and education for its members. Another major objective was to “establish an ongoing educational program for the general public through publications, resource libraries, speakers bureaus and public forums.” Accordingly, after a year of operation, the organization entered its second incarnation by changing “Mediators” in its title to “Mediation.” Membership was not limited to fee for service practitioners and volunteers; it included “users and just plain supporters” of mediation.

One of the organization’s initiatives was “Speaking for Mediation” (SFM) – mediators gave presentations on mediation and trained other mediators to speak in public. Many area mediators today credit SFM with giving them speaking skills and confidence.

In the mid 1990s, after an internal conflict caused many members to leave and made the rest of the members despair for any peace in an organization of peacemakers, the Board voted to disband NCCM. Happily, that was not the end of the story. A group of “true believers” — Ron Kelly, Harriet Whitman Lee, John Helie, and Victor Herbert — established the third incarnation of the organization, the Northern California Mediation Association (NCMA), rededicating themselves to the same objectives they had been pursuing with NCCM.

There are many organizations that are focused on the fee-for-service mediator, providing not only training in mediation skills but in business skills as well. However, like NCCM, NCMA wanted to promote a broader view of mediation and embrace volunteer and non-profit mediation as well. This focus resulted in some key strategic decisions:

  • Keeping training programs low or no cost.
  • Promoting mediation as a force for social change in addition to private disputes resolution.
  • Making diversity a core value.

The fourth and current incarnation resulted from a union between the Northern California chapter of the Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR) and NCMA. SPIDR was a group for fee for service mediators, but many of its local chapter members were either members of NCMA or very involved in programs that NCMA was sponsoring. In the early 2000s, there were negotiations between NCMA and local SPIDR to effect a merger. However, formal terms could never be agreed upon.

John Helie, then-president of the local SPIDR chapter and a supporter of NCMA, advised the national SPIDR organization that he was disbanding the local chapter. He believed that the two organizations should merge, and he knew that if the local SPIDR chapter were dissolved, NCMA would become the de facto chapter of SPIDR.

When the national SPIDR merged with the Academy of Family Mediators (AFM), the Conflict Resolution Education Network (CREnet) to form the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR), the timing was right for NCMA to become the Association for Disputes Resolution of Northern California (ADRNC), a chapter of ACR.