Empirical Studies in Law: ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership – Collaborative Studentship: Digital Restorative Approaches in Wales, Swansea University, Wales, UK. Deadline: 3 Febuary 2023.
Today’s perpetual crisis (BLM, Brexit, Covid19, inflation…) brings injustices and the need for dialogue into focus. Restorative approaches (RA) enable individuals and communities to develop the skills to pre-empt and respond to conflict and harm, while acknowledging trauma (1,2). In Wales, RA are used to build resilience and repair relationships in schools, families and housing contexts. Within the criminal justice system, victims are entitled to Restorative Justice, a type of RA, as an alternative and/or alongside the traditional justice process. It plays a role in rehabilitation, reducing re-offending and is central to youth justice. However, RA necessitate reflection and dialogue which, in a digital society, presents challenges and opportunities. The aims of this research are to explore how digital restorative practices (DRA) are evolving and how co-production and trauma-informed approaches can shape DRA.
The use of digital technology in restorative contexts (referred to as DRA) expanded during the COVID19 pandemic e.g., to facilitate mediation, virtual circles, specialist support and training (3–5). Indeed, technology has the potential to improve the sustainability and accessibility of interventions, help evidence ‘what works’, improve awareness of services and address misconceptions of RA (6–8). Beyond the traditional intervention model, technology could empower restorative communities to self-direct. Nonetheless, there are significant challenges associated with the integration of digital tools, including concerns regarding their misuse, digital exclusion, confidentiality, data security and building trust (9). Additionally, restorative practices should create opportunities for participants to connect and collaboratively re-construct their shared lived experience. Whether and how this can be achieved in a world dominated by instant and digitally mediated interaction, including online harms, needs investigation.
Using a mixed-methods socio-legal approach, this proposal sets out to meet three objectives  explore stakeholder experiences of the use of digital technology for the delivery of RA in England and Wales,  explore how co-production and trauma-informed approaches can shape DRA, plus  identify best practice and propose a model to aid practitioners in determining whether and how technology should be used. A baseline survey of practitioners is suggested, followed by focus groups with practitioners and community participants, to explore how and whether digital technology is used and experienced, vis-à-vis restorative principles and participants rights. Community participants may include adults engaged in Restorative Justice programmes, as well as young people taking part in school-based restorative initiatives. These methods may be complemented by an evaluation of the impact of specific technology use-cases, through a case-study approach.