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Creating a safe place

Facilitators in many organisations say that in a safe environment, the parties will share more information. Safety and security are important. Worrying about it takes energy away.

What challenges does it focus on?

Make parties feel safe and secure

Short summary

Facilitators in many organisations say that in a safe environment, the parties will share more information. Some things to bare in mind before you pick a location:

  • Choose a neutral ground where all parties feel equally comfortable (local chiefs' houses, pagodas, schools, buildings of religions all parties have, NGO offices, etc.)
  • Special "houses of conversation" meant for resolving disputes are very useful
  • The selected place should allow for quiet talking (no loud noises, people walking in and out, etc.)
  • People need to be, and feel, physically safe in the location selected
  • People need to be free to leave
  • Place does not have any objects that can be violently used
  • In case of land disputes, the land disputed can be a good location
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It is also important for the parties to feel comfortable and the environment needs to support and reflect the equality of the parties. The following are useful tips:

  • Explain the process that will follow at the beginning. Use simple and clear language
  • No guns, daggers or other weapons are allowed inside
  • Each party should bring the same number of friends/relatives to the facilitation (if any)
  • Everybody should be welcomed in a warm friendly manner
  • Pay attention to the arrangement of the room: Arrange people in neutral way (no one, regardless of social standing or importance, should be placed at the head of the table)
  • Use a round table if possible
  • Do not arrange parties opposite of each other. If possible, let them sit in a 90º angle from each other
  • Explain people why this is important
  • Make the role of the other people (support, representation, advice, etc)
  • Follow traditions and rituals if important

Research evidence

 Evidence from practice

Houses of Conversation: In Mali at an NGO the importance for a safe in private place to talk has resulted in the assignment of a special place as a 'house of conversation' that provides privacy and a friendly environment.

A good seating arrangement: In the Netherlands attention is paid to the way the people sit around the table. Parties need to be able to look at each-other and any kind of hierarchy between the people and facilitator needs to be avoided.

Emphasizing neutrality: To make a party feel safe a facilitator in Egypt, Cambodia and Rwanda will emphasize that he is there not just for one party but for the whole family to find a solution

Involvement of third parties: In Cambodia CRDC facilitators don’t allow third parties to be present at the mediation. In contrast, lawyers from Praxis in Azerbaijan use the involvement of family members to help the parties feel supported.

Anonymity/confidentiality: Lawyers for Praxis emphasise the anonymity of the outcome and confidentiality of the details of the disagreement, which helps parties to speak freely during the process.

Evidence from handbooks:

Find a specific suitable place to have the meeting
The paralegal practice manual, a guide to paralegal roles and techniques. Legal Aid Forum, Rwanda 2009

Evidence from literature:

Recommendations to create a safe environment:

Supervising arrivals and departures, controlling seating arrangements , use visuals to separate the problem from the people
locality, appearances and connotation of building, level of formality, location of parties in relation to walls, exits, clocks and windows
Boulle, L. & Nesic, M., 2001 p. 189, 209

Necessity of a safe place general

Restorative justice for juveniles: conferencing, mediation and circles, Allison Morris, Gabrielle Maxwell, 2001, p 125

Best practices