At a time when conflict has become increasingly polarized and dysfunctional, restorative dialogue provides a safe, respectful and effective process to address conflict. It works with small and large groups, strangers or with people who know each other well, even families.
Restorative dialogue uses a mindfulness-based approach to conflict that is grounded in open hearted, moment-by-moment, non-judgmental awareness with a focus on healing and the transformation of relationships. Instead of avoiding conflict it directly address conflict and creates a safe place in which the people involved can listen deeply to each other, without attempting to persuade the other and with no expectation of agreeing on all issues.
The goal is to humanize the conflict and repair the emotional or physical harm to the greatest extent possible.
It is often used in the criminal justice system or in ADR as victim/offender mediation, community conferencing, or the circle process. In this context, it is known as restorative processes.
Restorative Processes is a collaborative approach to conflict resolution with an emphasis on repairing harm caused by crime. It can be employed in a variety of settings including schools, care homes and the wider community.
Restorative processes bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible, into communication, enabling everyone to participate in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.
Restorative Processes can use several different formats to achieve its goals, including victim-offender dialogue, group conferences, sentencing circles, community panels and so on. A primary restorative value is respect which in turn engenders trust and good faith relationships within and between individuals and community groups.
The process is called restorative because it is concerned primarily with restoring, insofar as is possible, the dignity and well-being of those harmed by an incident. It follows that justice processes may be considered restorative insofar as they give expression to the key restorative values essential to healthy, equitable and just relationships.
The process is not restorative if offenders are not held accountable for what happened and for addressing the consequences of their actions or are forced to assume responsibility involuntarily. The process therefore needs to seek outcomes that meet present needs and focus on the future, not simply on penalties that punish past wrongdoing.
Outcomes should seek to promote the healing of the victim and the reintegration of the offender, so the former condition of both may be transformed into something healthier. The process is not restorative if the outcomes are irrelevant to the victim or aimed solely at punishing the offender.
It is important to note that restorative processes are not a substitute for the criminal justice system, but rather complements it. Accordingly, participants need to know how restorative processes fit into the wider justice system, what expectations are appropriate and how restorative outcomes may or may not be taken into account by the court.
Dr. Barry Bannister
Director, The Peace Institute at Green River
417 Ramsay Way
Kent, WA 98032