What is a restorative approach and a restorative city?
A restorative approach starts from a relational understanding of human beings – of who we are and what we need from one another.
Being a restorative city is a vision of what it means to be community, to live in community, and to be part of the Canberra community. It is focused on asking: How can we live and work in ways that foster the connections to one another that we need to be well, to be safe and to flourish? It is as much about how you recognise and strive to address the problems of relationship and inclusion, and of difference, as of the harms of the past and the present. There will always be things to work on and this is the call of a restorative approach: it is about being restorative.
Having as the common goal core to all that we do, the fostering of relationships and connections that are just and healthy, marked by equality of respect, care and dignity.
What does a restorative approach look like?
A restorative approach is a relational approach but what does this mean in practice and in action? No one size fits all models. It will look different in Canberra than in Vermont or Leeds, New Zealand or Nova Scotia - and it will look different in justice, education, child protection to workplace safety. It is just not a matter of having a set of practices. There are practices, processes, policies and strategies that we can learn from, but it is important not just to know what others do but why they do what they do and what makes what they do restorative.
However, just because there is no one model or set of practices, doesn’t mean that anything goes - or that everything that is called restorative is equally restorative. We need to have some way to assess whether or not - and what extent - that something is restorative.
We need principles for practice - and these principles are drawn from what is required if we are to take relationships seriously. These principles provide a guide for our efforts: for what it means to strive to be restorative.
A restorative approach:
- is relationship-focused (focused not only on individuals and/or individual issues, but with them in connection and context). The approach is holistic and integrative - comprehensively resisting silos and isolation.
- demands inclusive and participatory processes and strategies, so that we can learn from those involved and affected and empower them to participate in decision-making.
- is democratic, not just in process but in substance. True democracy is more than majority rule but ensures equal access and voice in deliberative processes so that marginal views can be heard and understood before decisions are made. It ensures participation for legitimacy.
A restorative process:
- is focused on the future and the possible, and not backward-looking for blame or accountability for its own sake.
- is not risk-averse. It seeks to understand and avoid harm, but understands that relationships are dynamic and changing, so requires a flexible approach that can respond to changing circumstances. This uncertainty generates risk, but it is risk well worth taking because certainty in the face of a changing and dynamic world assures that we will fail.
We know the difference that this approach and these principles have made in justice. This is the difference of restorative justice.
A restorative approach is not just about a way of working when things go wrong
The approach is not limited only to when things go wrong. Relationships do not only matter when we are solving problems or responding to harm. Relationships are structured by the way in which rules, regulations and policies shape our interactions in a range of ways on the everyday. Building positive and just relationships is everyday work and it is about ensuring things go right not just for when things go wrong.
A restorative approach builds and supports relationships of equal respect, care and concern and dignity
What is also clear from all of the experiences of this international group is that a restorative approach does not just work for only one issue and one area, but reveals the connectedness of different areas to each other. For example, that the work of justice cannot be achieved by justice systems alone, and that the work of education or child protection are connected one to the other. Their connectedness is revealed by the relational lens that a restorative approach brings. They have a common cause that we see when we think about what we need for a restorative community. This common cause requires a shared vision, and a shared understanding of what we seek and how we will achieve it together. We seek a just community: one in which people are connected to one another in healthy ways. We seek restorative communities that can only be attained if we work together to build and support relationships of equal respect, care and concern, and dignity.
What will it take to build a restorative community?
Relationships matter to this goal in another way: it will take strong collaborations and genuine commitments to work in partnership with one another across government and community, across private and public sectors, within government, across the silos created by lines of responsibility and budget, across the political spheres and public administration, across academia and community, and across theory and practice.
It will also take support from others who are travelling this path – those who share your ambition to build stronger and healthier communities, and who see a restorative approach as central.
You have that support as we all together are not only watching what you do today, but have committed to work together to learn from and along with you to offer support and insights from our common experiences, because connection does matter. This international community is committed to supporting one another in this renewed vision for collective life, to imagine a way forward restoratively.
From a keynote speech by Professor Jennifer Llewellyn (Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada), Canberra Restorative Community, 20 July 2015.