Now I do work with a “scripted” form of conferencing, but what I’ve learned is that no two pre-conferences or conferences are alike. I cannot predict outcome or how the participants will interact. The few times I’ve tried I was really wrong. In one case, my overconfidence in predicting outcome led to a not so positive experience for the participants.

Yet, I’ve also seen some amazing interactions between victims, offenders and community members. We follow the process and go where the parties need to go. This might mean helping a young man save face after he refused to answer a question by creatively finding another way of asking it. It might also mean being available for meetings at odd times to allow parties the opportunity to come together. It might also call for creativity in finding ways to help a victim communicate with his or her offender when that victim has reservations about meeting face-to-face.

“The art of improvisation” comment reminded me of conversations I’ve had with facilitators that I’ve mentored. Often, facilitators in training who observe while I facilitate a conference will ask why I made certain decisions about what to ask. For example, “Why didn’t you ask about the previous offending behaviour?” or “Why did you ask them about their drug use?” I have to think for a moment. Usually I have asked the questions because they feel natural in the conversation. The questions are respectful, meant to illicit information while showing genuine interest and care. So, I can’t lay out clear ground rules like, “If a then b.” Because restorative justice is a journey without a script, it’s about creating opportunities for people to think about behaviours and their impact, talk with others about this, and together imagine the possibility of change.

I understand the reasons behind the questions. Facilitators do have a responsibility for ensuring physical and emotional safety of those participating in a restorative process. I know things can go wrong if I am not well prepared. This is why the principles and values of restorative justice must permeate the programme and all our interactions with both colleagues and clients.

I’m interested in hearing from others on their experiences in this area. How do you respond to questions like the ones I discuss?