Institutional and System Change

Innovating for the Future

Much of our work at the Restorative Lab is about supporting institutions and systems to shift from an approach that centres system needs to one that is human centred and addresses institutional climate and culture. Imaging and creating healthier relational ecosystems in professions, schools, healthcare and social services is critical to tackling the structural and systemic root causes of violence and inequality. A restorative approach is about responding to harms and injustice, and about securing the conditions necessary to ensure a better future.

Justice Transformation

A restorative approach is aimed at transformation. Restorative principles require a relational analysis to understand issues in terms of their contexts and causes and is responsive to what is learned in order to prevent harm and create conditions for better ways forward. Adversarial and punitive justice responses that do not consider community and wellbeing will not move us toward more just outcomes. We believe a restorative approach that is inclusive, collaborative and responsive is key to reimagining and realizing new ways of justice and community wellbeing.

Gender Justice

From family violence to rape culture, gendered violence involves complex issues of interpersonal violence rooted in fundamental and systemic issues of inequality. It is not surprising that individual-focused carceral/punitive strategies pursued through adversarial processes are fundamentally failing to meet the needs of those most affected and to prevent future harms. 

Early efforts to take a restorative approach to these issues have largely focused on victim/offender processes within or as alternatives to the current justice system. We are building upon and studying the applications of a restorative approach aimed at a more fundamental shift in thinking and response that have shown promise. This requires significant engagement across current disciplinary, system and service divides including: justice, social work, child welfare, health, education and labour.

Resource Highlight:

Feminist Justice – Addressing Harm & Changing Culture | Leigh Goodmark

Leigh Goodmark, a Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Frances King Carey School of Law, speaks at the International Restorative Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on June 27, 2016.

Gender and Family Violence

Gender and family Violence are a complex and multi-layered systemic issues which intersect with structural inequalities like poverty, racism, mental health, colonialism, addiction, and more. The harms to women, children and families are immense and often intergenerational. Despite recent system reforms, more is needed to address the root causes of gender and family violence and meet the needs of women and children and others impacted in order to stop the cycle of violence and keep families safe.

The Restorative Lab is engaged across the province and internationally, as communities and governments have come together to imagine the difference a restorative approach could make for those experiencing gender and family violence and the conditions needed to ensure safety. The lab is leading the Multiple Proceedings Innovation Incubator  focused on connecting system and community partners to develop a restorative approach to multi-jurisdictional cases with particular attention to the context of gender and family violence.

Learn more in Reports & Resources »

Racial Justice

The Lab is connected to and supporting current efforts across North America to respond to systemic racism in policing and justice systems, in systems of care, in cases of institutional abuse and in our communities more broadly.  Prof. Llewellyn (Director of the Lab) supported the Restorative Inquiry into the Home for Colored Children as a commissioner and the Lab continues to support implementation of the Inquiry’s plans for action. The Lab will also build on her previous work with the South African and Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission to support restorative responses to racism and reconciliation in Canada, the United States and internationally.

Resource Highlight:

Beyond Harm to Healing A Conversation on a Restorative Approach to Racial Justice | Margaret Burnham

Prof. Margaret Burnham, Northeastern University School of Law faculty speaks at an event supporting the work of the Restorative Inquiry into the Home for Colored Children in Halifax Nova Scotia.

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Developing and Accelerating Restorative Justice

A major aspect of our work at the Lab involves collaborating with partners to mobilize knowledge and accelerate the use of principle-based restorative justice across Canada and internationally. We currently work closely with a broad range of partners who share our vision for a more just society and understand that a restorative approach is transformational. The Lab is a home for the work of the Smart Justice Network of Canada, and the Restorative International Learning Community to build capacity for more integrative and holistic justice responses. 

Our work in this area includes several past and current initiatives; 

  • National Restorative Collaborative Learning initiative funded through Justice Canada’s Justice Partnership Innovation Program to support the acceleration of restorative justice in Canada. 
  • The creation of an International RJ Encyclopedia co-edited by Ivo Aertsen and Jennifer Llewellyn. This six volume encyclopedia involves regional teams of editors and authors from Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands)
  • Previous related work included; design and facilitation of innovative responses to death and harm in correctional settings (including  2018 Death in Custody) and a Alberta Restorative Justice review, and the review and renewal of the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program 

Learn more in Reports & Resources »

Reimagining Justice, Safety and Community Wellbeing

The Lab supports work in Nova Scotia and internationally to reimagine and transform systems of safety and justice. For example, in collaboration with Nova Scotia’s Office of Citizen Centered Approaches and Restorative Initiatives Unit we are supporting a transformative process aimed at building safe and healthy communities across Nova Scotia. These efforts are connected and aligned with our work in the United States supporting those who are seeking racial justice, responding to systemic racism in policing and justice. They are also aligned with the work of the International Learning Community to support the development of restorative communities. 

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Restorative Approach in Education

Nova Scotia is a leader in taking a restorative approach in schools and universities. For us, a restorative approach in education is about pedagogy and practice, it is an approach to learning that is relational. Ultimately a restorative approach in schools is about wellbeing, and creating safe, healthy and inclusive school communities.

Restorative Approach in Schools

We understand that helping children and youth relate to each other and the world around them in holistic and healthy ways supports their development and wellbeing for their whole lives. Whether in early childhood education, secondary or post-secondary environments a restorative approach has helped buildconnection, community, and safety in educational environments. 

A profound example of this is the Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation (DOHR) project connected to the Restorative Public Inquiry into the Home for Colored Children in Nova Scotia. This project led by VOICES (an organization representing former residents) and based at the University of Waterloo is supported by the Lab.  It centres the voices and experiences of former residents in a virtual reality oral history curriculum designed relationally. 

Learn more in Reports & Resources »

Restorative Approach on Campus

Universities are uniquely positioned to work restoratively as communities in which people learn, work and live together. The Restorative Lab supports the design and facilitation of complex restorative processes on university campuses addressing climate and culture as well as modelling a restorative approach. Our work has encompassed critical issues such as campus safety, misogyny, sexualized violence, residence communities, inclusion and equity, alcohol harms, conflict, student governance and community relations. 

A key example is the Restorative Process at Dalhousie Dentistry in 2015. The Lab continues to support multiple campuses in taking a restorative approach on campus to create safer living and learning environments for students, faculty, and staff. 

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Systems of Care and Human Services

Taking a restorative approach responding to institutional abuse and failures of care offers an opportunity to learn and understand what went wrong, so that we can better understand what needs to go right for the future. Work in this area focuses on keeping people safe and healthy and involves a shift to human centred and responsive approaches to care and systems of care.  This critical shift is detailed in Chapter 6 of the Restorative Inquiry into the Home for Colored Children. 

Resource Highlight:

Book: Restorative and Responsive Human Services

In Restorative and Responsive Human Services, Gale Burford, John Braithwaite, and Valerie Braithwaite bring together a distinguished collection providing rich lessons on how regulation in human services can proceed in empowering ways that heal and are respectful of human relationships and legal obligations.



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Healthcare systems and institutions like hospitals and long-term care homes are vital structures in our communities. Our work at the Lab involves considers how we respond to harms like unexpected death, or medical error and imagine  how we can proactively make healthcare environments safer for patients and staff

Work in this area includes: 

  • Institutional responses to COVID-19 in healthcare systems and long-term care homes as we work with jurisdictions and commissions across the country such as the Ontario Long-Term Care Commission and others. 
  • Developing a research program on using a restorative approach to address secondary harm to patients, families and clinicians after adverse events in our healthcare system in collaboration with University of British Columbia – Okanagan 
  • Supporting the development of a restorative approach to healthcare and hospitals with a focus on Indigenous health in collaboration with University of Canberra and Canberra’s restorative community network, Australia. 

The Restorative Lab is engaged across the province and internationally, as communities and governments have come together to imagine the difference a restorative approach could make for those experiencing domestic violence and the conditions needed to ensure safety. Our work leading the Multiple Proceedings Innovation Incubator is focused on connecting system and community partners to explore a restorative approach to multi-jurisdictional cases with an initial focus on those intersecting with domestic violence.

Learn more in Reports & Resources »

Child Welfare

The failures of child protection systems are now well known and widespread internationally. The outcomes for children connected to state-based care systems are not good, studies have shown their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, in homeless populations, in school exclusions and drop-outs, in mental health and addictions services and of their children in the child protection system. 

Silos and fragmentation have carved off care as the preserve of the child protection system thus narrowing understanding of the actual care needs of young people, families, and communities. The approach has obscured the social determinants of the harms children and families experience and of what is needed to secure wellbeing

The Lab is supporting the development and implementation of a restorative approach to child welfare in Nova Scotia. Working across our international partners the Lab will draw together lessons learned from models of Family Led Decision Making with a deeply relational focus to understand what is needed to support families in Nova Scotia and beyond.

Learn more in Reports & Resources »

Senior Safety

From Long-term care to Elder abuse we are involved in developing a restorative approach to senior safety. Seniors are valued and cherished members of our community, but senior care and an understanding of senior’s needs can be fraught with challenges. Our work in support of the Restorative Approach to Senior Safety project in collaboration with Nova Scotia Department of Seniors and the restorative justice agencies in the Valley, Tri-County and Cape Breton regions responds to harms when they occur and proactively builds the conditions necessary to create safety for seniors.

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Responding to Institutional Abuse and Failures of Care

Spanning the context of child welfare, prisons, aged care facilities or hospitals, the problem of institutional abuse is a long-standing and global one. 

The challenge of responding to institutional abuse and failure of care systems is urgent. We have provided analysis, advice and journeyed alongside those looking to right historical wrongs and continuing harms in Canada and beyond. This has included responses to the residential school system, Nova Scotia’s Home for Colored Children and Ontario’s Motherrisk Commission, the Restorative Engagement Program responding to sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, the 2018 process responding to the death of Jason LeBlanc in custody in Nova Scotia.

Learn more in Reports & Resources »