'Better conversations in communities: exploring restorative thinking. Free workshop.' Logos of Onewa Christian Community & Auckland North and Community Development.

Restorative thinking workshop

On 20 October, a diverse group of 22 people gathered for a four-hour workshop hosted by Greg Morgan (Onewa Christian Community) and kindly supported by ANCAD. Meeting costs were met from a grant Onewa Christian Community received from the Justice-Compassion Trust.

The workshop was a chance to get a discussion going and to test possibilities for a local network for restorative thinking or restorative practice. The main outcomes of the day were people meeting each other and generating a list of potential future topics.

The conversations

Participants had responded to the invitation to talk about ‘restorative thinking’ that helps to build and maintain good community relationships. Examples could be:

  • being able to express and talk about what really matters to us
  • listening to someone else to understand what matters to them
  • identifying causes of conflict as we talk (‘positions’: in an argument, what I say matters)
  • working together to find out our underlying motivations or values (my, your, our ‘interests’)
  • creating conversations that move us from a place of hurt to healing.

Thanks to the session facilitators who got us talking.

Kim Bulluss kicked off the workshop with a session on assumptions and diverse perceptions of truth. Are assumptions always ‘wrong’? What happens when we assess a situation and then hear other people’s responses to it? How do we modify our views based on more inputs?

Rebecca Smith (Neighbourhood Support) explored the question, ‘Do you belong?’ and led a discussion through a series of questions. ‘What does “belonging” have to do with community, neighbours and restorative thinking?’ ‘What would it look like on your street if you had a group where everyone felt like they belonged to, felt like they were supposed to be involved, felt connected? How would that change your world/their world?’

Sarah Thorne from ANCAD facilitated a session on the importance of timely feedback. Pointers included inviting feedback and permission-giving, listening and communicating carefully, employing ‘I’ statements, being specific and describing actions rather than making judgements, avoiding assumptions or exaggeration, making sure we understand, reflecting and evaluating, expressing gratitude and valuing feedback.

Erica Fairbank offered insights on communication secrets: reconnecting through the Language of Every Body. She emphasised our common need to feel safe, to be understood and to be validated. In 30 minutes of communication, said Erica, we give around 800 non-verbal signals. The purpose of understanding the power of non-verbal communication is not to diagnose people but to ask ourselves, ‘How can I support this person?’

Richard Ward, a prison chaplain and chaplain service manager, drew on his experience to discuss making conversations safe and a safe place to be when so many settings are non-restorative by default. Safety includes making space for other people to have the freedom to be vulnerable and for the listener to be hearing behind the words to the deeper context. Whose agenda is dominating?  Richard noted the high incidence of trauma and powerlessness experienced by people in non-restorative settings.

Rev. Daniel Connolly reflected on the long tradition of churches as places people come for help, and the witness of standing to help those who are marginalised. And yet groups turned to for help might be lacking the people, skills and other resources to be as useful as they might be. What is the potential for a common ground that might bridge the gap? Discussions acknowledged the importance of groups besides churches.

Cross-cutting themes emerged across the conversations. Themes included agency and power/powerlessness, timely conversations, the intent to support others and allowing the vulnerability to receive support.

A diverse group of women and men smiling at the camera.
20 October 2023

Suggestions from the group for further sessions

  • case studies in small groups on avoiding/handling conflict
  • assertiveness training
  • sharing experience and skills working with people and issues in culturally diverse settings
  • more on restorative practice: hope for generating change
  • opening the covid situation and enabling people to process what they had experienced (negative and positive experiences); support and resilience
  • restorative justice
  • a sense of belonging and power dynamics
  • what are barriers to belonging? can we explore some without judgement?
  • cultural intelligence
  • awareness of the vulnerability of people who have experienced deep physical and spiritual pain … are the people who have not experienced such pain very frightened when life circumstances change?
  • the impact of child fear and teen fears that have not been dealt with
  • more on body language; cultural influences on body language
  • restorative justice and healing in Pacific contexts
  • from restorative thinking to restorative communities
  • restorative practice; teachings and practice in the family unit specifically; practical focus on family and loved ones
  • more about assumptions and diversity
  • healing conversations
  • interest based problem solving (seeing beyond the positions we disagree over to see the values we have in common)
  • what people need; the positive impact of offering something back
  • building a sense of common ground

Next steps in the restorative thinking project

Greg has contacted participants for feedback on the day and for additional thoughts on possible next steps. If you’d like to ask more about the initiative or share your ideas, please contact Greg Morgan: communityengagement@onewacc.org.nz