- Target Audience
- General public
- key themes association
- Restorative justiceSocial cohesion and polarisation
The practice was developed with L’Innominato (an informal intermediary body). During the COVID-19 crisis, it intercepted the suffering of its community (in phase 1) and increasing polarisation among its community members (phase 2) and started asking itself what it could do with that suffering/polarising community. In this context, RestoCovidCircles were created.
Circles were preceded by a careful engagement and preliminary active and empathic listening to the interested people by facilitators. They used a facilitation style based on restorative justice values and principles.
Type of Organisation: Other
COVID-19 had a relevant impact on society, economy and politics of European societies, including in Italy. The European Council of Foreign Relations report (2021) revealed that European society was profoundly divided by the COVID-19 crisis, identifying three main divisions: an intergenerational division; a division between those experiencing the COVID-19 crisis as a health crisis and those experiencing it as an economic crisis; and a “freedom divide”. Europeans were also divided when it came to those to be held responsible for the impact of the COVID crisis: 34 % of the surveyed citizens considered that disobedient individuals were responsible compared to 16 % who considered their national governments to be responsible.
The divisions between citizens increased even more with the introduction of mandatory vaccines and the Digital Covid Certificate resulting often in conflicts interrupting work, social or family relations. Citizens’ polarised views resulted in conflicts, producing strong social fractures in interpersonal relations within families and in society (at the workplace, schools, hospitals, etc.). When it comes to the specific context of the province of Lecco, citizens’ polarised views, especially in the case of unvaccinated people, were grounded in critical views on science, communication sources and freedom of speech as well as in the lack of trust in institutions.
Unvaccinated people’s critical views regarded, in particular, the limited freedom of speech of all parties, the limited transparency and completeness of official communication sources, and the consideration of scientific findings as absolute truth, while science has always been based on constructive debates between various perspectives. In a context of increased mistrust, resentment and ‘blame hunting’, Lecco restorative city used a community restorative justice approach and the RestoCovidCircles practice to restore damaged relations and address polarisation following the COVID-19 crisis.
The practice is based on the circle method commonly used in restorative justice. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, 2020, p. 30), circles can be used in various community settings: “… within local neighbourhoods to address residents’ concerns over crime or anti-social behaviour, or to resolve complaints against members of law enforcement or correctional agencies. … They have been implemented in schools to deal with minor offences and resolve conflicts.
They can be implemented in cases of inter-communal conflict and hate crime. They can also be used to build better relationships and reduce violence within prisons and other detention facilities. They can even support the reintegration of prisoners returning to the community or young people returning to school after a period of detention.” Circles are communal dialogues based on inclusiveness and the lack of hierarchy. As pointed out by the UNODC (2020, p. 37), “circles have proven to be a flexible and effective means of building relationships, maintaining peace, dealing with trauma (particularly healing circles) and problem solving.”
The dialogue practice was facilitated by facilitators with good knowledge of restorative justice values, principles and methods. The practice was implemented in two phases, each with a different aim:
- Phase 1 (2020) aimed to allow citizens of Lecco who have been impacted by COVID-19 to share the COVID-19 trauma, to listen to each other’s truth and to be listened to, giving voice to their memories of a recent traumatic past in order to construct a shared truth of the traumatic period they went through;
Phase 2 (2021-2022) aimed to open a dialogue between parties in order to deconstruct polarisation around the topic of anti-COVID-19 vaccines and in particular the Green certificate and to restore interrupted interpersonal relations.
Several subtitled videos on this topic are available at the following links:
RestoCovidCircles - Lecco Restorative City (2021, video 9 min)
A Restorative City in Times of a Pandemic (2021, webinar recordings 1 hr 36 min)
Lecco was also invited to present the RestoCovidCircles by the European Forum for Restorative Justice (EFRJ) in May 2021