“Good RJ facilitation is shaped by three main factors: (i) a set of core beliefs that form a particular worldview, (ii) specific knowledge and skills that develop with experience, and (iii) ‘synthesis’ which merges art with science so that facilitators can intuitively, consistently and knowingly shape the alchemy of RJ in real-time to successfully meet the needs of participants. Restorative justice programs are proliferating, yet it may be that few people have the requisite combination of traits and skills. Acknowledging that facilitation is work that may be complex and difficult bring credibility to this profession which is deserving of more status. But if ability to do this work resides on a spectrum that develops with learning and experience, then working within teams to enable progression from beginner to intermediate to advanced facilitator, peer mentoring and support, and commensurate resources for training and development are all necessary components of best practice.”
Jane Bolitho & Jasmine Bruce (2017) Science, Art and Alchemy: Best Practice in Facilitating Restorative Justice, Contemporary Justice Review, 20:3, 337.
At the recent Relate Resolve Restore Conflict Resolution Conference in Wellington, New Zealand, I saw Dr. Jane Bolitho speak about her study of best practice in restorative justice facilitation. Dr. Bolitho put forth the idea that great facilitators possess three main attributes: a personal belief, worldview and disposition that is in alignment with restorative practices, a set of core skills for working effectively with people in the restorative justice process, and the ability to respond intuitively in the moment to effectively use their attributes and skills to fulfill the needs of participants.
As a restorative justice facilitator myself and having been involved for several years now in training, coaching and mentoring new facilitators (both in a community program and in the university context), this description of a combination of three core attributes resonated with my experience. When we bring new people into the work of restorative justice, the first thing we look for is do they “get it?” Do they believe that people are innately good and capable of change? Do they understand the importance of belonging, community and communication? Do they see people as connected to each other? Are they willing to listen, to seek to understand the needs behind behavior and to create a safe space for healing? Simply put, do they have a belief in and a desire to create peace? Restorative justice has a wonderful way of drawing in people with these core convictions and a strong belief in restorative practices.
After that, we do our best to teach skills, while always continuing to learn ourselves. We run role plays and play skills games. We study and practice, we reflect on our facilitation roles, we offer feedback, we make lists of great questions. This process is ongoing for all facilitators. We continue to ask, how can we be better communicators? How can we cultivate empathy in ourselves and others? How can we create a safe space and ask questions that help participants get what they need out of a process?
The last piece of the puzzle is the most difficult to teach. I like Dr. Bolitho’s word of “alchemy” or “the art,” because in great facilitation, the way it all comes together can seem almost magical. It is the sensation of being in the flow. Reflecting on my own facilitation, there are moments when I ask a certain question, or leave space for a certain amount of silence, or turn to a person at just the right moment, that opens up the experience for participants in just the right way so that the the transformation occurs, understanding is achieved, peace is made. When you look back at it, you can’t remember a specific thought process that led to the decision, it is far better explained as an intuition (a well-prepared and practiced intuition).
Dr. Bolitho’s work offers a more concrete way to talk about this alchemy of restorative justice facilitation and I am very grateful to her for this important contribution to the field.