How can a Restorative Justice organisation become, well, more restorative?

Published: Friday, February 5th, 2021

A blog Tehmina Kazi – Development Officer at Why me?


This was a question that the trainers from The Restorative Lab sought to explore when they delivered a five-phase training session to Why me?, from November 2020 onwards. Tom Mellor, Anna Gregory and Terence Bevington – three restorative practitioners with 30 years’ combined experience – certainly got me thinking about the differences between restorative justice, restorative practice and restorative approaches.


According to the Restorative Justice Council’s definition, Restorative Justice is the broad philosophy which argues that those most affected by harm and conflict should be involved in communicating the causes and consequences, and empowered to make decisions about how to respond. This can take place in any setting, in and out of the criminal justice system.  Restorative Practice (or Restorative Approaches) describe all of the activities which engage the parties to communicate effectively, and can occur in a range of formats from restorative dialogue to restorative leadership techniques. 


Fundamentally, the training taught us that crime is a violation not only of individuals but of interpersonal relationships, that violations create obligations, and that the central obligation is to right the wrongs.  For me, one thing that stood out about this training was the re-introduction to Howard Zehr’s principles: “Restorative Justice: Beyond Crime”, some of which potentially contradict each other.  For instance, I pointed out that “Be cautious about imposing your truths on others” could potentially conflict with “Sensitively confront everyday injustices.”  But the principles are nonetheless extremely useful: listening to others deeply and compassionately is a much-needed skill in a polarised and complex world.  Few people would view conflicts in their lives as opportunities – in fact, many would actively go out of their way to avoid conflict – but this is exactly the approach that Zehr’s principles foster.  As Howe (2011) stated: “If relationships are where things go wrong, then relationships are where they are going to be put right.”


We finished off Stage One of the training by practicing some restorative questions on each other, in response to conflicts or difficult situations.  To start with, we were asked about what happened, our thoughts and feelings about the situation, the impact of the situation, what our needs were and how to move forward.  I spoke about a family member’s illness with a member of the team, and how this had affected everyone involved.  I really felt listened to as a result.


Stage Two of the training featured machine and rain-forest metaphors for workplace teams.  What were the trees holding up the forest?  Who were the different species in the rain-forest, and how did they interact with each other?  This got us thinking more deeply about what elements are needed for a truly restorative organisation.  For instance, do the roots of the trees represent trustees that form the foundation of the organisation?


Restorative circles were also a big part of this training.  These enable everyone to tell their stories, without interruption, and to be listened to in a deeper and more heartfelt way.


I would definitely recommend this training to organisations seeking to strengthen their restorative practices and approaches.  My thanks, once again, to the trainers at The Restorative Lab.

For The Restorative Lab, a restorative training and development organisation, to work with a restorative justice organisation to develop their restorative practices in the workplace is a dream. We’ve been impressed by Why Me’s? commitment to explore their relationships, systems and communication processes so that the principles that inform their outward facing restorative justice work are reflected in how they work internally. It’s been inspiring to see the team at Why Me? thoughtfully apply restorative principles to how they work with one another. – Anna Gregory, The Restorative Lab.

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