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Collaborative governance and restorative justice each reflect increasingly prominent and progressive frameworks in academic discussion and policy implementation. Each concept stems from separate fields of study. For instance, scholars of collaborative governance engage in democracy studies, political science, and public administration. Proponents of restorative justice stem from social work, philosophy, and conflict resolution. Despite the fact that scholars discuss each concept in semi-independent academic circles, the concepts share core principles. In order to propose discussion between these inherently connected topics, I investigate the advantages and disadvantages of conceptualizing restorative justice as a form of collaborative governance.

Collaborative governance refers to a framework of policy strategy that seeks to engage multiple "stakeholders" in governance and decision-making processes.[1] Put differently, collaborative governance promotes increased inclusion of actors in political and public administration processes. Collaboration manifests at both micro- and macro-level politics; therefore, the strategy carries implications for local, state, and global governance. Advocates of collaboration often promote specific practices applicable to varying socio-political arenas; however, many of these practices often constitute independent fields or concepts not commonly connected to collaborative governance. For the scope of this essay, I focus on three concepts: civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy. Whereas civil society reflects the sphere or space in which collaborative governance transpires, associational and deliberative democracy represent examples of modes of collaboration. While not exhaustive of the principles of collaborative governance, these frameworks illustrate a preliminary connection to restorative justice.

Restorative justice re-conceptualizes the contemporary criminal justice system and proposes an alternative understanding for how society ought to respond in the aftermath of crime. While a series of ethical arguments and understandings serve as a strong basis for the promotion of restorative justice, the practice also argues for re-conceptualizing the processes that respond to conflict and crime. In order to place both of these concepts in discourse with one another, I ask the following: can restorative justice serve as a practice of collaborative governance and, if so, under what circumstances?

First, I review the foundations of restorative justice. I categorize process based and value based conceptions of restorative justice. The foundations of restorative justice illustrate the potential for the process to respond to micro- and macro-level instances of conflict. Second, I review the frameworks of civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy. Given "collaborative governance" serves as an umbrella term for a variety of discussions, I choose three concepts that reflect both the sphere and mode of collaborative governance. Third, I place restorative justice within the frameworks of civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy. As representative of some of the main tenants of collaborative governance, I highlight the ways in which restorative justice, as a form of governance, depends upon the collaboration of varying socio-political actors. Restorative justice argues for a more comprehensive understanding of interpersonal relationships, reflecting collaborative governance's inclusion of actors in political decision-making. Therefore, I propose restorative justice can be understood as a practice of collaborative governance. Specifically, restorative justice depends upon the various actors of civil society and shares common values with deliberative and associational democracy.

Foundations of Restorative Justice

Restorative justice refers to a breadth of ethical and process-based arguments for conceptualizing the criminal justice system. Theorists define restorative justice differently, and each definition carries varying implications. Restorative justice denotes a comprehensive understanding of individual relationships within society. Daniel Ness and Karen Strong state, "[restorative justice] views criminal acts more comprehensively: rather than limiting crime to law-breaking, it recognizes that offenders harm victims, communities, and even themselves."[2] Advocates of restorative justice argue for a more comprehensive understanding of the parties impacted by crime, as opposed to the often-exclusive victim-offender relationship proposed by retributive justice systems. For instance, Ubuntu is a South African concept that reflects the idea "a person is a person through other persons." Ubuntu stood as a basis and understanding of inter-personal relationships for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), one of the most cited instances of restorative justice.[3]

Howard Zehr highlights several common principles of restorative justice. Zehr further illustrates the founding principle of restorative justice that crime harms other parties in addition to the victim. For instance, Zehr states, "Crime is a violation of people and interpersonal relationships. Violations create obligations. The central obligation is to right the wrongs. [Furthermore], underlying this understanding of wrongdoing is an assumption about society: we are all connected."[4] The understanding of the complexity of interpersonal relationships within society informs the second major foundation of restorative justice, the inclusion of multiple actors in the response to a criminal incident. Ness and Strong note that while dominant forms of criminal justice include "only the government and the offender in key roles, [restorative justice] invites victims and communities as well."[5]

Despite sharing common understandings of relationships within society and the subsequent need of inclusion of additional actors in response to criminal acts, Strang and Braithwaite first categorize the field of restorative justice by differentiating two camps: as either a conception of process or value.[6] The process conception of restorative justice emphasizes the inclusion of all stakeholders affected by a crime or event "to discuss how they have been affected by the harm and come to some agreement as to what should be done to right any wrongs suffered."[7] The process conception focuses on restorative justice as a strategy that allows for increased participation by community and societal actors. Alternatively, the value conception focuses on restorative justice as a mechanism for healing and restoration. Put differently, the value conception responds to crimes in order to mitigate further hurt and retribution and, hopefully, provide healing for the individuals and communities who have suffered.[8]

Process and value conceptions can conflict. For instance, the process conception may not view a private mediation between victim and offender as restorative justice. Given the emphasis on process (or mode of action), not inviting all potential stakeholders to the circle violates the core principle of process-based restorative justice. Alternatively, the value conception may not view an open forum that votes to take punitive action against an individual as restorative or healing.[9] Despite the fact that an open forum includes multiple stakeholders in the decision-making process, the outcome of punitive action violates a core principle of value-based restorative justice. Therefore, Strang & Braithwaite commit to both conceptualizations, arguing that "[even] the most radical restorativists will not want to be at the extreme end of the restorative justice continuum all of the time."[10]

From a theoretical perspective, the process conceptualization presents itself as a framework that allows for a more coherent analysis of restorative justice as an institution of collaborative governance. Whereas the value conception stems from ethical and therapeutic strategies for responding to conflict, the process conception focuses on the methods and actors involved in the response. The process of restorative justice, i.e. the collaboration of multiple actors, independent of ethical implication and basis, stands as an institution of collaborative governance. However, we are left with the question: who collaborates in instances of restorative justice?

In response, Zehr states the following:

In practice, restorative justice has tended to focus on "communities of care" or micro-communities. There are communities of place, where people live near and interact with each other, but there are also networks of relationships that are not geographically defined. For restorative justice, the key questions are: 1) who in the community cares about these people or about this offense, and 2) how can we involve them in the process?[11] ... However, there are larger concerns and obligations that belong to society beyond those who have a direct stake in a particular event. These include a society's concern for the safety, human rights, and the general well-being of its members.[12]

Zehr's excerpt highlights a second categorization of restorative justice – scale. Proponents of restorative justice argue for its implementation as a response to both micro- and macro-level harms. For example, Shapland et al. (2011) highlight the increasing prominence of restorative justice for instances of harm involving young offenders.[13] Such processes of restorative justice aimed at mediating and resolving distinct grievances and harms represent micro-level restorative justice. Alternatively, processes of restorative justice aimed at mediating and responding to systemic or societal harms represent macro-level restorative justice. For example, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission responded to violence spurred by apartheid, of which no sphere of society was spared.[14] As explored later, the discussion of which actors restorative justices seeks to include carries varying implications and limitations for collaborative governance. Next, to show why the process conception of restorative justice serves as the strongest instance of collaborative governance, I elaborate on civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy.

The Space and Mode of Collaborative Governance

Collaborative governance serves as an umbrella term for numerous academic theories, fields, and political agendas. Researchers, theorists, and advocates of collaboration further obfuscate the strategy through varying definitions and proposed applications. For instance, Chris Ansell and Alison Gash highlight the "wide-ranging use of the term has ... been a barrier to theory building."[15] In order to provide a narrow definition of collaborative governance, Ansell and Gash define the practice as:

A governing arrangement where one or more public agencies directly engage non-state stakeholders in a collective decision-making process that is formal, consensus-oriented, and deliberative and that aims to make or implement public policy or manage public programs or assets. (Ansell & Gash, 544)

Furthermore, Ansell and Gash elaborate on a set of six criteria that characterize the strategy. In order to not engage in an ineffectively wide or abstract discussion of the practice, I focus on three specific concepts that encapsulate the space (or sphere) and mode of collaborative governance. Specifically, I review civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy. As representative of collaborative governance, I highlight the ways in which these concepts are pivotal to restorative justice.

First, (in a manner similar to collaborative governance) scholars continue to provide "wide" definitions of civil society. Furthermore, theorists discuss the implications of understanding civil society on state and global levels. Strang and Braithwaite argue both civil society and restorative justice are equally "inchoate topics in the social sciences."[16] However, Strang and Braithwaite simply define civil society as "all those institutions that are intermediate between the individual and the state."[17] The intentionally broad definition of civil society allows for the inclusion of institutions ranging from families, schools, workplaces and social movements.[18] Alternatively, Chandhoke critiques the tendency of "flat" definitions of civil society and provides an alternative understanding. Chandhoke states, "Civil society is not an institution it is rather a process whereby the inhabitants of the sphere constantly monitor both the state and the monopoly of power in civil society."[19] Civil society constitutes not only non-state and non-market affiliated institutions, but also reflects a "precondition" for democracy by serving as a site and value-system of democracy.[20] In a separate article Chandhoke provides a clearer definition: "The concept of civil society signifies both a space and set of values. As a space it is metaphorically located somewhere between the state, the market, and the family."[21] Global civil society sets its sights (or sites) on a broader stage. For instance, Hans-Martin Jaeger defines global civil society as "a counterweight to states, markets, and international organizations."[22]

Second, Lucio Baccaro discusses civil society and associational democracy. Broadly speaking, Baccaro argues for the associational democratic framework "between state and civil society organizations, which recommends devolution of as many regulatory functions as possible to local groups and associations with detailed knowledge of problems and possible solutions..."[23] More specifically, Baccaro's associational democracy constitutes a three step argument for addressing public policy initiative. (A) Associational democracy promotes the transference of public policy initiative to local institutions. Civil society frames the local institutions as unique from the state or market, i.e. the institutions are a part of civil society as defined above. (B) Associational democracy argues for deliberative processes to inform policy initiative. (C) Associational democracy argues a reconceptualization of the state's role in society.[24]

Third, Baccaro's argument for deliberative processes highlights the third important concept I attribute as fundamental to collaborative governance (and subsequently fundamental for understanding the process conception of restorative justice as an institution of collaborative governance), deliberative democracy. Gollagher and Hartz-Karp provide a strong definition of deliberative democracy. The authors state, "Deliberative democracy emphasizes the indispensable role of 'ordinary citizens' in identifying and weighing policy options, establishing priorities, and articulating a direction for action on the part of both government and the community."[25] While not positioning itself as a competing or alternative framework to representative democracy, deliberative democracy seeks to bolster the role of public and citizen participation in political decision-making.[26] Next, by drawing upon these understandings of civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy, I argue the process conception of restorative justice serves as a practice of collaborative governance.

Restorative Justice as CollaborativeGovernance

The previous two sections allow for an illustration as to how restorative justice constitutes an institution of collaborative governance. Restorative justice depends on shared values and processes inherent to civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy.

I return to the question, who are the collaborating actors in instances of restorative justice? Zehr responds that restorative justice asks two questions, "1) who in the community cares about these people or about this offense, and 2) how can we involve them in the process?"[27] These two questions allow for investigating the actors collaborating in restorative justice. Zehr argues that while restorative justice often applies to local communities, society concerns itself with certain local harms and grievances. Therefore, the scale of harm does not theoretically limit the application of restorative justice systems. Restorative justice occurs at both micro- and macro-levels. Micro instances of restorative justice reflect local processes; for instance, where all actors involved in mediation stem from the same community and share direct person-to-person connections. Alternatively, macro instances of restorative justice reflect larger societal or global processes; for instance, the South African TRC invited all victims of apartheid, a nationwide systemic harm, to share their experiences. The victims were indirectly connected to one another, not necessarily because of previous person-to-person relationships, but due to the larger systemic harm that affected all of them. I do not argue that the categorization is all-inclusive or exhaustive; however, focusing on micro- and macro-level applicability of restorative justice allows for analyzing it as an instance of collaborative governance.

First, many of the actors from civil society seemingly constitute potential participants of restorative justice. Strang and Braithwaite's definition of civil society as "all those institutions that are intermediate between the individual and the state" applies to both micro- and macro-level instances of restorative justice.[28] Furthermore, Strang and Braithwaite's definition of civil society seemingly necessitates civil society directly informs both micro- and macro-levels of restorative justice. For example, families represent micro-level actors and social movements represent macro-level actors, and both have participated in processes of restorative justice. Alternatively, Jaeger's definition of global civil society proves difficult to theorize instances of global institutions as relevant to micro-level restorative justice, at least insofar as being actors not facilitators. A global actor or institution that promotes restorative justice at local levels does not play the same role as a local actor impacted by a harm or grievance; although, global actors theoretically could participate in mediating or facilitating capacities.

Second, restorative justice shares common principles with associational democracy. Baccaro's conceptualization of associational democracy argues for the transference of public policy initiative to local civil society actors. Such transference parallels the inclusion of actors in restorative justice. Associational democracy allows for imagining situations where varying actors of a local community gather to decide on how to implement policy that affects all members partaking in the decision-making process. Micro-level restorative justice allows for imagining a mediation of actors deciding on how to provide restoration in the wake of a harm that affected all actors partaking in the process. The commonality between the two examples stems from an argument for including affected actors (either due to shared policy or shared grievance) in a decision making process.

Third, arguments for deliberative democracy share commonalities with restorative justice. Gollagher and Hartz-Karp's conceptualization of deliberative democracy emphasizes the importance of the role of the citizen in decision-making "for action on the part of both government and the community."[29] The concept of deliberative democracy therefore reflects values of restorative justice in two ways: the inclusion of the 'ordinary citizen' and the process of deliberation. First, the inclusion of the citizen parallels the comprehensive understanding of interpersonal relations fundamental to restorative justice. Consider the example of a local mediation within a community. The principles of restorative justice argue for the inclusion of community members outside of the victim-offender relationship, given that an individual's actions harm the community. The rationale for including the citizen parallels deliberative democracy. Both restorative justice and deliberative democracy challenge traditional understandings of interpersonal relationships. Restorative justice argues an offender's actions harm all members of a community, not only the victim. Deliberative democracy argues policy implementation affects all members of society, not only those traditionally involved in decision-making processes.


The process conception of restorative justice allows for an analysis of the practice as an institution of collaborative governance. In order to provide a preliminary understanding of the shared principles between restorative justice and collaborative governance, in hopes of sparking future discussion within debates on collaboration, I focus on three concepts: civil society, associational democracy, and deliberative democracy. Civil society reflects the sphere of collaborative governance, i.e. the actors who partake in decision-making processes. Actors in civil society can participate in institutions of restorative justice. However, the definition of civil society potentially limits participation. A potential weakness or limitation to conceptualizing restorative justice as collaborative governance is that by focusing on the shared concept of civil society creates problem in macro-level instances, i.e. global civil society. Global civil society as the sphere of restorative justice problematizes hypothetical scenarios where global actors have any relevance to micro-level restorative justice, outside of facilitating roles. Alternatively, a potential strength of the conceptualization is that restorative justice depends on micro-level actors in civil society (individuals, families, and communities) to collaborate with one another. Additionally, associational and deliberative democracy's emphasis on local actors and citizens plays into conceptualizations of micro-level restorative justice.

Furthermore, restorative justice challenges the values and processes of many modern retributive criminal justice systems, i.e. mechanisms of governance, through the promotion of values and processes that seek to promote collaboration of socio-political actors. Sullivan and Tifft state, "Restorative justice is a form of insurgency because it 'competes with' the state (and power based social arrangements generally) in how it responds to interpersonal or inter-group conflicts and how it defines what harms the human community should give restorative attention to in the first place."[30] Restorative justice prefers to produce "outcomes that are mutually agreed upon rather than imposed."[31] Retribution depends on imposition, whereas restoration through mutual agreement relies on collaboration.

Collaborative governance and restorative justice both share a skepticism of macro-level responses to micro-level problems. Strang and Braithwaite highlight how several proponents of restorative justice "see large state bureaucracies like police departments as inherently afflicted with imperatives to processing rather than relationships, rules rather than people, control rather than participation, enforced compliance rather than deliberative decision making."[32] Local arguments for collaborative governance share such skepticism and promote the inclusion of actors most directly involved in a decision-making process. Furthermore, macro-level instances of collaborative governance also share skepticism of disconnected decision-making. Global civil society frames the inclusion of NPOs, NGOs, and IGOs as representatives to the individuals potentially affected by global-level decision-making.

Restorative justice reflects a practice of collaborative governance. Ultimately, systems of restorative justice reflect our attempts to govern instances where society deviates from the ideal. Society's response and attempts to make sense of such deviations stand as the most pivotal moments of governance. By increasing the actors collaborating in the response-mechanism, restorative justice seeks to create scenarios in which more people are able to heal and support those in need of restoration.

Works Cited

Ansell, Chris, and Alison Gash. "Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice." Joural of Public Admistration Research and Theory 18:543-71.

Baccaro, Lucio (2006). "Civil Society Meets the State: Towards Associational Democracy." Socio-Economic Review 4: 185-208.

Calhoun, Craig (1993). "Civil Society and the Public Sphere." Public Culture 5: 267 – 280.

Chandhoke, Neera (2001). "The 'Civil' and the 'Political' in Civil Society." Democratization, 8: 1-24.

Chandhoke, Neera (2002). "The Limits of Global Civil Society." In Global Civil Society, edited by Marlies Glasius, Mary Kaldor and Helmut Anheier, 35-53. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gollagher, Margaret and Janette Hartz-Karp (2013). "The Role of Deliberative Collaborative Governance in Achieving Sustainable Cities." Sustainability 5: 2343-2366.

Ness, Daniel W., and Karen Heetderks Strong. Restoring Justice: An Introduction to Restorative Justice. Third ed. Anderson Publishing, 2006.

Shapland, Joanna, Gwen Robinson, and Angela Sorsby. Restorative Justice in Practice Evaluating What Works for Victims and Offenders. New York, NY: Routledge, 2011.

Strang, Heather, and John Braithwaite. Restorative Justice and Civil Society. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Sullivan, Dennis, and Larry Tifft. Handbook of Restorative Justice: A Global Perspective. London: Routledge, 2006.

"Truth and Reconcialition Commission." TRC: The Road to Reconciliation.

Zehr, Howard. The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2002.

[1] Ansell & Gash, 543

[2] Restoring Justice: An Introduction to Restorative Justice, Ness & Strong 57

[3] I attribute my understanding of "Ubuntu" to Dr. Tod Rossi, Clinical Consultant of the Wediko Children's Services Summer Program, for whom I have worked for three years. Dr. Rossi worked with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As anecdotal evidence of the impact of restorative justice on micro-level conflict, Ubuntu serves as a core value in the Wediko Children's Services Summer Program. The program serves at-risk youth and is one of the longest running therapeutic programs of its kind.

[4] The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr 19

[5] Ness & Strong, 57

[6] Heather Strang & John Braithwaite, Restorative Justice and Civil Society 1

[7] Strang & Braithwaite, 1

[8] Strang & Braithwaite, 1

[9] Strang & Braithwaite, 2

[10] Strang & Braithwaite, 2

[11] Zehr, 28

[12] Zehr, 28

[13] Shapland et al., Restorative Justice in Practice 1

[14] "Truth and Reconciliation Commission"

[15] Ansell and Gash, 544

[16] Strang & Braithwaite, 1

[17] Strang & Braithwaite, 1

[18] Strang & Braithwaite, 1

[19] Chandhoke, "The 'Civil' and 'Political' in Civil Society"

[20] Chandhoke, 20

[21] Chandhoke, "The Limits of Global Civil Society" 45

[22] Jaeger, "'Global Civil Society' and the Political Depoliticization of Global Governance" 257

[23] Lucio Baccaro, "Civil society meets the state: towards associational democracy?" 185

[24] Baccaro, 187

[25] Gollagher & Hartz-Karp, "The Role of Deliberative Collaborative Governance in Achieving Sustainable Cities" 2348

[26] Gollagher & Hartz-Karp, 2348

[27] Zehr, 28

[28] Strang & Braithwaite, 1

[29] Gollagher & Hartz-Karp, 2348

[30] Dennis Sullivan & Larry Tifft, Handbook of Restorative Justice, 5

[31] Zehr, 25

[32] Strang & Braithwaite citing Ritchie & O'Connell, 8