• BLOG
5d6866da677c2a2ecdf006c2 logo p 500


RJ Center Staff, October 1 2018

What is Good Facilitation for Restorative Justice?

By RJ Center Staff

What is good facilitation in Restorative Justice? In New Zealand, where modern RJ is practiced in conjunction with the criminal justice system for most kinds of cases of crime and harm, a team of researchers set out to discover what RJ practitioners themselves see as best practices for facilitators. The report is important, the researchers note, because “best practice in facilitation” is taken for granted, and there is “little research on the requisite skills, competencies and characteristics of facilitators." In sum good facilitators must have:

  1. A set of core beliefs that form a particular worldview
  2. Specific knowledge and skills that develop with experience
  3. ‘Synthesis’ which merges art and science so that facilitators can intuitively, consistently, and knowingly shape the alchemy of RJ in real time to successfully meet the needs of participants.

In facilitators’ experience, the “alchemy” plays a huge role, that is, the point where knowledge, practice, and presence of mind that brings about the “magic” of people coming together in mutual understanding.

But, it’s not magic that brings people to that place. Deconstructing further, the researchers identify the “art,” the “science” and the “person” in RJ facilitation.

The “art” of good mediation boils down to “knowing when,” responding to situational demands, remaining present and in the moment, to meet the needs of the people you’re working with, “regardless of complexity.” In other words, to be able to sort through the complexity, assess the situation, while remaining present and responsive.

The “science” of good mediation involves “knowing how to” do many things. While they call it “science,” the many things to know can only be learned through experience and practice. A good facilitator understands how “emotion, shame, sadness, intense anger” manifest and shape people’s experiences, the way they talk about them and respond to them.

Good facilitators have developed solid skills in verbal communication, knowing how to ask questions, pose prompts, summarize and reframe, as well as how to be silent and let silence sit within a space. In my experience, doing this well means exercising the brain in such a way as to be able to listen actively and with full attention while also demonstrating compassion and/or deep understanding, while also analyzing and assessing and thinking of what comes next. This takes us back to “art,” being in the moment and present while engaging all of these thought processes. It also means taking time before speaking to collect thoughts, look at notes, not rushing forward, but thinking before talking.

In response to this excellent study, which has provoked so much conversation and reflection, we’ve come up with our own ideas on what good facilitation looks like at UC Berkeley. We’ve drawn on the categories and many of the ideas presented in the research, and woven in our own. Please let us know what you think!

First, basic principles of our work:

do no harm, and practice harm reduction as needed or when possible.

Next: Personal characteristics for good facilitation:

Which characteristics to choose, and how to articulate them in shorthand? We agreed with the folks in New Zealand who noted that a person has to be willing to go toward conflict, rather than avoid it, and also, not to be overwhelmed by complexity, as so many cases of conflict and harm are deeply complex. Looking at this list, it’s clear that this points to a life-long process of striving and reflecting.


Onward to: Communication Skills for good facilitation

Thinking through these skills, I recall experiencing many RJ trainings and workshops that suggested these would be learned through osmosis, and just by virtue of being a good person. It feels like a crime against authenticity and organic process to make such a list. Then again, once laid out for all to see, the list shows that a lot of these skills are connected to mediation as well as everyday effective communication, with honesty, respect and integrity thrown in.

Practices cultural humility and openness to all cultures, identities, intersections

is aware of assumptions and biases, and able to seek information and ask questions respectfully

Asks the right questions at the right times

knows when to step in, follow up, probe further, or let things flow

Is able to summarize, reframe, reflect back

taking care to respect and be true to people’s words and emotions

Demonstrates and expresses compassion and care

—through tone, pitch, language and body language

Maintains awareness of messages sent through body language,

—one’s own and others’ posture, facial expressions, eye contact

Understands, and is patient with different communication styles, silence

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 1.17.24 PM

What about: Knowledge of and Skills in RJ Processes?

Again, it’s going to take years for anyone to become fully versed in the different kinds of RJ processes out there, and to be able to call upon different elements like a true “artist” of RJ. There are also endless variations in the world to learn from. Here, we’re referring to a set of processes that people learn, restorative conversations, circles, conferences, along with mediation, that might be appropriate for the kinds of conflicts and harms that we see in US schools and workplaces.

Has knowledge of and practice with multiple RJ processes

can discern which process best fits the needs of all involved in the circumstances

Understands how to manage the process throughout

has a sense of the arc or map of the whole process; can be present and also think 2-3 steps ahead

Exercises multipartiality and is trauma-informed

is aware of biases and triggers, is fair and caring toward all participants

Evaluates who should be present in a process

how will individuals show up? who else is needed for support, guidance?

Prepares each person appropriately for the process

guides each person in what to expect, how to prepare

Discerns when people are ready to meet, or not, recognizes alternatives,

can creatively draw on multiple options for accountability and repair

Is attentive to root causes of conflicts and harm

thinks through and beyond interpersonal harm and conflict to address root causes when possible

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 1.34.51 PM

And finally, are there core beliefs or worldviews that all RJ facilitators share?

This category appears to pose a challenge to inclusivity. At the same time, some might ask: could people be restorative who don’t share these beliefs? So, this is an attempt to recognize core beliefs and values that form a foundation for a restorative approach.

On the potential of restorative justice for individuals and communities:

On difference and social justice: “no one is free when others are oppressed”

Written by

RJ Center Staff

Previous We Thank You for Engaging. Now Let's Take Our Support for Restorative Justice a Step Further
Next Michelle Alexander Takes The Long View