The key ideas supporting community relations practice include (Morrow 2012): inclusion and dialogue, alternatives to violence, reconciliation, anti-sectarianism, integration and shared space. The programmes and practices reviewed in this paper have much in common with restorative justice. They emphasise building and healing relationships particularly between young people and communities. They use dialogue and communication to raise awareness of and empathy for the „other‟. Storytelling is also an important method.
The core of many of the programmes is often educational. Skilled facilitators use experiential learning methods to teach the value of good relations and the techniques of conflict resolution and mediation. Other programmes use activities and residential programmes to divert young people from trouble.
….A restorative approach begins wherever there is harm committed by and suffered by individuals, groups or communities. It engages and facilitates those who are closest to and most affected by the harm in its reparation. In doing so restorative justice strives to strengthen relationships and to enable people to learn to live together in peace. Rather than addressing the underlying structures of conflicts and harm with the intention of preventing specific incidents, a restorative approach addresses specific incidents with the intention of developing a culture, social relationships and practices which reduce the risk of harm in the future.
It is this focus on specific harmful events and the engagement of people thrown together in relation to these events that distinguishes a restorative approach from more general peace building or community relations practices. It is this distinction that the ALTERNATIVE research programme in Northern Ireland seeks to explore and evaluate. The research programme will examine how effectively restorative justice can be implemented in civil society with the support of the state.