Governing Relationships: an international workshop

A presentation on the background & introduction to the International Workshop on Restorative Governance, Monday, July 21, 2014, Lord Nelson Hotel, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Prepared By workshop convenor Professor Jennifer Llewellyn, Viscount Bennett Professor of Law, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This workshop will bring provincial and international leaders in restorative theory and practice together with those in governance or leadership positions interested in considering, developing or supporting a restorative approach.

There is much that we can share and learn from one another regarding particular restorative processes, practices and policies developed and implemented within our various areas, sectors or jurisdictions. Indeed, we hope the connections made through this workshop will support and sustain continued mutual learning into the future. The specific focus of this workshop is on the implications of a restorative approach for governance.

The issue of governance arises in connection with restorative work in a few ways. First, as a restorative approach has developed within particular areas of work (for example: justice, education, child welfare and protection, human rights, etc.) it reveals the need for more comprehensive and integrated understandings of and approaches to the work. At the level of implementation it becomes clear, for example, that justice is not the preserve of the justice department and its work requires support from education, health and community services, etc. This requires integrated and collaborative responses and supports that reach across sectors and silos at both government and community levels. The challenge is to envision structures and ways of working at a governance level that can meet these needs. Our more traditional approaches to governance are fairly siloed and oriented to coordination more than deep collaboration. This is often insufficient to meet the integration and interconnections required to support a restorative approach.

The other way in which the issue of restorative governance is emerging is in the context of jurisdictions exploring what it means to be restorative in a cross-cutting and comprehensive ways. This is familiar in recent efforts of some places to become “restorative cities” or “restorative states” or even “restorative countries”. One way to understand the ambition underlying these efforts is as an intention to govern restoratively. To be a restorative community or city is to be oriented restoratively as core to what the place is about. This requires careful consideration of how to achieve this end. At its depth this is about more than mere coordination of multiple sites of restorative practice but means the development of an understanding and commitment to common principles to mark and guide the community. The question of how to govern restoratively is central to these efforts.

Finally, more integrative, comprehensive, holistic or collaborative approaches to governance are increasingly demanded with the rise of more complex problems that reach across specialized systems and sectors and belong to both government and community. Traditional approaches to governance influenced by the logic of individualism have not easily adapted in response.

All of these contexts raise the question of what a restorative approach to governance might entail and how might it be implemented?

A Restorative Approach

A restorative approach is grounded in relational theory. It takes as its starting point, the centrality of relationships not as a goal or an end point but as a fact of the world that warrants careful and constant attention. A restorative approach is defined by its attention to connections (relationships) at interpersonal, group, system or institutional levels that are affecting, or may be affected by, a situation.

From this relational theory framework we can derive and articulate principles for practice that provide further definition to a restorative approach and its practices and processes without reducing or limiting our understanding to particular models or forms of practice. These principles frame what a relational approach entails without prescribing the practices themselves. As a useful analogy, one might think of them not as a recipe for restorative justice practice but rather as an articulation of the principles of cooking upon which good recipes, and their execution, depend. The principles are not simply relevant for the procedural elements of a restorative approach but for its substantive goals and achievements. These principles, while not an exhaustive list, serve as a helpful guide for a restorative approach.

  1. Relationship Focused. A relational approach is focused on relationships and does not focus only at the individual level. A relational approach directs the focus to the relationships between and among the parties involved. This focus on relationships draws attention to the nature or character of the various relationships involved in or affected by a situation. Restorative justice then takes as its aim the establishment of “just” relationships – those reflecting the core commitments of equal respect, care/concern and dignity.
  2. Comprehensive/Holistic. Just as a restorative processes are relationship focused in their orientation to parties, a restorative approach is similarly relational in its understanding of issues and harms. A restorative approach is comprehensive and holistic in its understanding and response. It is insufficient then, on a restorative approach to focus narrowly on an incident or issue without attention to causes, contexts and implications.
  3. Contextual /Flexible. A focus on relationships requires processes and practices that are flexible and responsive to context. It defies cookie cutter or “add-water and stir” models of practice because they cannot take account of the nature of the particular relationships at stake and the parties involved. For example, there may be different needs in terms of cultural practices or related to the safety and security concerns or the complexity or breadth of the issues or parties involved. All would need to be considered in crafting a restorative process or practice or policy.
  4. Subsidiarity, Inclusion and Participation. The European Commission explains the subsidiarity principle “is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen...” In its application this principle limits the European Union’s action “...unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.” It is also a grounding principle of Canadian federalism. This principle also reflects a commitment to contextuality. Framed relationally, it is important that we involve those with direct knowledge of the contexts and relationships at stake if we are to have the knowledge and capacities needed to address the harms and build a foundation for a different future.

    The principle of subsidiarity explains the commitment within a restorative approach to inclusion and participation. Subsidiarity demands attention to who should be included within processes so that the process maybe well informed and the outcome legitimate for those affected or involved with it. As a relational framework invites a different lens on harms and their effects through the webs of relationships in which people lives, it prompts a different way of thinking about how different parties should be connected and involved in a restorative process. Rather than requiring parties and non-parties (for example by-standers or supporters) or outsiders vs. insiders, a relational approach invites more complexity than such binary and adversarial choices.

    It is not enough, however, to simply include all those affected or with a stake in a situation. Their inclusion must be meaningful to the process and its outcome. In other words, it must make a difference that they are included – mere presence is insufficient: participation is what is required within a restorative approach. One of the ways in which this is sometimes captured is in the commitment to transcend the often binary choice of doing things for people or to people but instead striving for processes that endeavour to create space in which people can do accomplish things with each other in genuinely collaborative ways.
  5. Dialogical or Communicative. The meaningful inclusion contemplated above through collaborative process requires communication. This is often is expressed within restorative literature as a commitment to dialogical processes. Indeed, dialogue is a common mechanism for communication and a powerful one that assures encounter and participation with one another.
  6. Democratic/Deliberative. The commitment to inclusion and participation through dialogue/communication in a restorative approach is connected to the principles of democracy and deliberation that orient a restorative approach. Restorative processes connect the legitimacy of decision making to inclusive processes through which deliberation can take place.
  7. Forward-focused, Solution-focused/Problem-solving. A restorative approach oriented towards the future – to understanding what has happened in order to understand what needs to happen next with a view to creating better conditions for relationship in the future.