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ConTatto Intermediary Body in Como
Organisation : Azienda Sociale Comasca e Lariana , Italy

ConTatto Intermediary Body aims to promote and implement a new approach to managing social conflicts in Como, in particular in the neighbourhood of Rebbio, i.e. restorative justice, defined as an ‘approach of addressing harm or the risk of harm through engaging all those affected in coming to a common understanding and agreement on how the harm or wrongdoing can be repaired and justice achieved. (…) Restorative processes restore safety, security through bringing people together to undo injustice, repair harm and alleviate suffering.’ (EFRJ, 2018, p. 3 and p. 7). The body is made of volunteer citizens living in Rebbio neighbourhood.

Agendas addressed
Public spaceSocial inclusion and integration
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
Context
The Gentle Kindergarten (promoted by a member of the Intermediary Body)

With 85,543 inhabitants Como is the capital town of Como province and a well-known touristic destination. Once with the economic and COVID-19 crises, Como has been facing a labour crisis (-1.9% of employees in 2020 compared to 2019) with deep social consequences, such as increase in addictions and in social isolation (ASCOMLAR, 2019). These result often in reduced social relations, psychological distress and social conflicts, in particular in the domestic and neighbourhood context (https://periferieecoinformazioni.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/PDZ-2018-2020.pdf). Such phenomena are more accentuated in the periphery (e.g. Rebbio neighbourhood). Rebbio is an ‘Area at risk of juvenile deviance’ (MIUR,1999) due to high juvenile delinquency, high presence of cultural and economic poor families in need for support, and a high level of immigration, exacerbating social conflicts and requiring social inclusion actions (https://www.ciaocomo.it/2020/11/10/como-la-polizia-sgominata-unaltra-baby-gang-del-terrore-tre-minorenni-al-beccaria/204122/). It faces a relevant mafia presence (https://www.laregione.ch/cantone/ticino/1415334/avere-la-ndrangheta-come-vicina-di-casa). It is characterised by a social fracture between the social houses area and the neighbourhood centre. 

In Action

The Territorial Social Plan of Como area underlines the urgency to deal with social conflicts in neighbourhoods, schools and public spaces, which are often subject to social conflicts, to work with juvenile offenders to make to make them aware and responsible of the social consequences of their behaviours, to support victims of conflicts/crimes to overcome their loneliness and suffering and to promote a way of living together based on participation and shared values in order to ensure the individual and social well-being. The Plan identifies restorative justice as an innovative way to deal with social conflicts and their parties (offenders, victims and the community). It underlines that in Como this approach is promoted by ConTatto project that ASCOMLAR sustains.  

The ConTatto Intermediary Body was developed within the ConTatto project, in the Rebbio neighbourhood, with the aim of creating a space of meeting and dialogue between citizens on social conflicts in their neighbourhood, where the community learns to use its resources, competences and capacities to recompose social fractures, to empower victims and to ensure responsibility and inclusion of offenders, and a group of citizens who acts as «antennas», i.e. people that intercept social tensions/conflict, work for their management and prevention in the future and spread the restorative approach in the community. The development of the Intermediary Body relies on Christie’s assumption that ‘conflicts, when handled safely and respectfully, have the potential of strengthening communities, empowering victims, clarifying behavioral norms, and reintegrating offenders’ (Tali, 2016, p.291) and on Zehr’s and Mika’s understanding of restorative justice as an opportunity for community building. Accordingly, restorative processes belong to the community, as they ‘draw from community resources and, in turn, contribute to the building and strengthening of the community.’ (P.M. Gerkin, 2012, p.279).

The Intermediary Body is made of volunteer citizens living in the neighbourhood, who are engaged in the definition and delivery of its mission and restorative initiatives. The Intermediary Body is engaged in:

  • Reading the suffering connected to social fractures in their community to understand their reasons, question their own positioning and debate on and deliver solutions for recomposing them together with those that created them and those that endure their consequences;
  • Intercepting social tensions/conflicts and hidden suffering and dealing with them at community level;
  • Looking after social relations and designing community initiatives to reduce social isolation and polarization;
  • Spreading restorative principles and participating in restorative practices (e.g. Community Justice Dialogues - GOR).
Results

The evaluation of ConTatto project, based on focus groups with the members of the Body and social workers, reveals that participants in the Body have acquired:

  • knowledge on restorative justice and on social phenomena (youth deviance) characterising their neighbourhood;
  • new lens to interpret social conflicts, such as, awareness of: conflicts as a relation opportunity; the role of the community in recomposing social fractures; relevance of looking at social conflicts from the point of view of the offender, the victim and the community; relevance of spaces for sharing, recognising, understanding and bridging citizens; need to understand the motivations of all people composing the society and not only of those that ask for support/need to be supported; need to define and implement conflict management solutions together with (and not for) offenders and victims;
  • awareness of their role as Intermediary Body in managing and preventing social conflicts/tensions in their community.

Furthermore, according to the evaluation, the participation in the Intermediary Body has triggered changes in participants’ behaviours in managing conflicts/tensions in the neighbourhood, at work or in families, through the adoption of restorative values and principles as a way of living.

Participants’ voices:

 ‘The Body has allowed me to acquire new lens to manage conflicts in a different way, i.e. looking after the victim, understanding the offenders’ motivations and making him/her accountable of the offence.

 ‘Restorative justice provides you with a wider view of social problems (…) and this wide view allows you to deal with social issues in a more effective way.

‘If I have not been part in the Body, I would have not dealt with conflicts as I do today, i.e. in a restorative way.’

‘(…) one changes and, thus, applies this new way of reading conflicts also in other areas of life; it becomes a way of living.’

Impact

The expected impact of the Intermediary body consists in the creation of a restorative community in Rebbio, i.e. a community based on respect and feelings of care and responsibility for the others and for the living context, active and emphatic listening of all its members and reciprocal understanding and support as well as on dealing with conflicts in a restorative way, with the aim to reduce social tensions and to enhance social cohesion, preventing crimes.  Even though the creation of restorative communities takes time, the ConTatto Intermediary Body has already obtained relevant outcomes in this direction:

  • Continuation of the Body after the end of the ConTatto project through citizens’ active engagement in further promoting restorative justice in the neighbourhood (e.g. preventing youth delinquency through embedding the restorative justice approach in sport; building a restorative angle in a public square; teaching kindergarten children to deal with conflicts).
  • Interception of social conflicts by the Intermediary Body and their activation to deal with them: e.g. ‘before COVID, when parties near the parish bothered some residents, we listened to them and this lowered the level of tension as they felt that their needs had been acknowledged.’ (participant in the Body); dialoguing with youth involved in neighbourhood conflicts to understand their motivations and make them aware and accountable of the damages created to the community.
  • Strong care for the community of participants in the Intermediary Body: e.g. the Intermediary body organised a community ‘flash mob’ to make a mother feel that the entire community was near her in the moment of the loss of her son, which made her feel the need to support the others through volunteering.
  • Reduction in the level of tension in three neighbourhood conflicts dealt with in a restorative way.  
  • Community fundraising of some of the initiatives of the Body.
Challenges and lessons learned

The main challenges are: community’s cultural shift in approaching justice processes, consisting in reducing delegation of social conflicts to institutions and in dealing with them at community level; length of restorative processes at community level; continuous financial resources to implement restorative initiatives.

The lessons learnt regard the following design elements: clear framing of the Body; adoption of a participatory governance approach based on inclusive, open and transparent processes; heterogeneity, good knowledge of the community context and capacity to work in team of the participants in the Body; good reputation of the promoter of the Body; adequate financial and human resources.

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