“In control but not the judge.” This is how one facilitator described his role in a restorative justice meeting (Borton, 2013). This description is a classic statement about the role of a facilitator.
In Borton’s study, facilitators agreed on the mechanics of meeting management, including the importance of making the meeting happen, preparing the parties, and establishing meeting guidelines. “Making meetings happen required working out schedules and other logistical details. It also sometimes meant persuading parties to participate by being persistent and talking (with the parties) who were on the fence” (Page 201). Preparing the parties involved asking questions, hearing the stories of the parties, and explaining how the meeting would work. Facilitators used their pre-meeting interactions with the parties to gauge the kind of meeting that would be effective and work out–with the parties–the “little nitty gritty” issues that could make the meeting go more smoothly.
In moderating the meetings themselves, facilitators had to balance two factors: First was the need to develop relationships–through being self-aware, open, and empathetic–so that they could direct communication among the parties without determining the outcomes. Second was the the importance of understanding the needs of each party and making sure the parties were prepared to discuss those needs. Both of these factors are important in helping the parties reach agreements and establishing relationships for future interactions.
Facilitators help the parties reach agreement, but lets reflect on the word “control” that was used by one of the respondents in Borton’s study. Of course, a facilitator cannot control the behaviors of the parties. What the facilitator can do is ensure that the process guidelines and norms are understood and followed by the parties. The facilitator can also help the parties keep on track, especially if a good understanding of the parties’ needs has been developed. The parties make the decisions but the facilitator manages the process.