Organised Dialogue sessions have been running in North East Lincolnshire now for over four years (we are currently in the fourth series of sessions).
The sessions are organised by Marcus Czarnecki, the Restorative Justice Champion for the borough, and have been an ongoing success in connecting the public and community with issues that are at the heart of communities.
Around 10 sessions are held each year, with 25-40 people commonly attending. The subjects covered are those at the heart of our society, and the approach – that of dialogue – allows everyone to participate fully.
Feedback from the ongoing sessions is always positive and the sessions are expected to continue for some time.
The sessions started by discussing the mechanics of justice, and have now continued through over 35 dialogue sessions. The journey has taken us through the ethics of justice, the social contract, the politicisation of justice and justice as a concept central of loyalty, obedience, control and power.
However, far more important than the topic or the subject matter is the way of working – Dialogue essentially stops two sides arguing from different world views and re establishes a coherence – where people start problem solving from the centre.
Instead of solving a problem – the Organised Dialogue sessions engage in challenging a paradox.
Establishing a resonance from the centre builds community and in this way, the early work of enabling justice agencies and people to interface each other is genuinely started – no law that foists a cosmetic togetherness, but a genuine way of working that is invigorating.
The dialogues have seen strategic leads, international politicians, leading UK academics in the fields of justice and Law, lay magistrates, offenders, housewives, students, justice agency professionals, community forum chairs and interested individuals sat at the same table as absolute equals.
“I have been conducting organised community dialogues on Justice for three years in order to initiate and cultivate deep changes.
This way of generating wisdom is far more mature than the debate or discussion which requires an ‘other’ or a ‘them’ which to ridicule in order to win an argument. “
What is Organised Dialogue?
Organised Dialogue sessions are a unique and refreshing way of discovering and sharing views about a subject – such as the Criminal Justice System – that is at the very heart of civil society.
Everyone in a dialogue session, be they housewives, justice professionals, students, young people, MPs or volunteers are given identical status and all views are embraced.
Each session is facilitated rather than chaired, but it is the open discussion and dialogue that is key.
Dia means ‘through’ and logos means ‘the meaning of words’. So it is through the very human practice of listening, opening our understanding and exchanging our thinking that we learn and grow.
Attendees come from all walks of life. Members of the community itself are encouraged to engage, as are service professionals (magistrates, police, probation and so on) and agencies. The sessions get people involved, allow them to have a say and for all parties to have an open discussion that lets everyone learn from each other (and from each others perspectives).
Ground rules are set for the sessions. These include:
1) Set the container
2) Suspend Judgement
4) Listen with empathy
5) Find your authentic voice
6) Tell the truth as you see it
7) Express opinion based on Observations and Experience
8) Allow for diversity
9) Listen without resistance
12) indicate clearly when you wish to contribute
Setting ground rules from the outset help the sessions run more openly.
Guidance for the sessions has been given as:
Really listen to other people.
Respect the rights of others to hold different opinions.
There are no losers.
The I’m right, you’re wrong attitude is not acceptable.
Delegates can ask any question by raising their hand & the dialogue leader will select people in the order of their request to speak.
Through these rules, the Organised Dialogue sessions held over the past few years have been a great success.
What has been covered so far?
The first series of dialogues centered on the mechanics of the criminal justice system – the partnership between agencies and their perceived flaws and benefits.
The second series expanded to encompass the moral and ethical values of justice from every angle, and this approach has continued into the third and fourth series.
Previous dialogues include
I. 19.07.09 Police and the CDRP
II. 02.09.09 Sentencing, Lawyers and the CPS
III. 21.10.09 Prisons and Probation – Justice’s revolving door
IV. 10.11.09 The Responsibility of the Media on Confidence (Inside Justice Week)
V. 08.12.09 Restorative Justice
VI. 17.03.10 Question Time – Justice Agencies in the dock
I. 09.09.10 Who Owns Justice? Does it work for or against people?
II. 14.10.10 Sentencing and support for victims of crime
III. 17.11.10 Custodial and Non Custodial sentencing
IV. 13.01.11 Parenting’s impact on justice. The sins of the fathers……
V. 17.02.11 The Big Society – Community Engagement and Justice Panels
VI. 30.03.11 Human Rights and the Justice System
VII. 28.04.11 Victims and Hate Crime
VIII. 18.05.11 Is Justice a tool for the state to keep power? What is the purpose
IX. 21.06.11 To what extent is Justice Politicised? In whose name is this done
X. 19.07.11 Restorative Justice – Real Justice
XI. 27.09.11 Reducing Reoffending
XII. 25.10.11 The Role of Education and Mentoring in Justice
XIII. 23.11.11 Citizenship and Responsibility – (NEL Inside Justice Week)
I. 21.02.12 Mental Health, Victims and Justice
II. 20.03.12 Justice – Drugs and Alcohol – The true cost to lives
III. 17.04.12 Is Justice impacted by Childhood abuse and neglect
IV. 15.05.12 Examining Freedom – Is Justice altered by anti Terror laws
V. 21.06.12 Police and Crime Commissioners – The impact on Justice
VI. 19.07.12 The Empathy Recession – Is justice altered by austerity?
VII. 12.09.12 Bearing Witness. Without the witness Justice has no sight.
I. 13.02.13 Ruinous role models – the impact of bad leaders on justice
II. 21.03.13 Privatising Justice Capitalising on Crime – Will shareholders want the revolving door of justice closed?
Sub group Dialogues
I. 15.10.09 Prisons and Probation – Sub Group Visit to Hull Prison – Dialogue with Probation
(A write up of this visit can be found in a VANEL newsletter here: http://bit.ly/Xh3zgK)
II. 06.05.11 Victims and Hate Crime – Sub Group to Increase use VIS Impact
How do the sessions take place?
Our sessions take place in Grimsby – previously at the Town Hall and now at Grimsby Institute of Higher Education.
Sessions run in the early evening for around 2 hours and are an open invitation, although many attendees are regulars.
What lessons have been learned?
Marcus Czarnecki wrote a dissertation to look at the effects and impact of the Organised Dialogue sessions.
In essence this clearly shows that Org Dialogies 2009-2012 have made a difference.
The entire dissertation (view or download it here) essentially answers this questions as to the impact of the sessions over the past few years.
In simple terms, the sessions have had a transformative effect both on the individual people attending the sessions and on the justice system itself (agencies feel involved rather than challenged). There is no doubt that some change has been effected that would not have occurred had the sessions not been held. The success of the the series has been very positive.
What next for the sessions?
We are currently in the fourth series of sessions and planning is underway for a fifth series in the future.
To find out more about the Organised Dialogue sessions or about Restorative Justice in general, please get in touch with:
Marcus Czarnecki, Restorative Practices Champion for North East Lincolnshire