Reflections after Week 3 of an open AVP Basic workshop

Posters on flip chart with the agenda and feedback

We’ve completed 3 sessions of our experiment with an open Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Basic workshop. Unfortunately, a COVID outbreak in Newcastle meant we had to cancel tomorrow’s session so we won’t be back until 11 January 2022.

The third session went very well and it was a great session. Even though only one person has been to every session, it still felt like we had built quite a lot of community. At the first session we had 8 participants, at the second there were 10 people (5 of whom were new) and at the third we had 7 people (3 of whom were new). The variation in attendance suggests that, with the people we hoping to attract, having it as an open group (where people can attend when they feel up to it) is important.

We aren’t sure of all the reasons people have missed sessions, but some of them have had other important things on or there were crises in their lives. We expect quite a few people will start the workshop and not be able to finish it, but that is OK. While it would be better if participants could attend every session, the sporadic attendance suggests that for, at least some people, it is important to provide participants with the flexibility they need.

While there is no doubt that some of the group could do well in the normal structure of our workshops, others of them could not. People who attend regularly will help provide stability and create the foundation for a sense of community, which will make it easier for new people to integrate into the workshop.

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Two million views!

Graph showing number of daily views (between 500 and 1500) and total views of 200,469

Today is quite a big milestone for my blog: I passed 2,000,000 views! That is quite a lot (although it has taken over 10 years to get there). Thanks to everyone who has read my blog or commented on it.

I sometimes think the world really doesn’t need to hear from another middle-aged (I wonder when I stop being middle aged?), straight, white, middle-class, male. But I think the blog has some use and I hope people find it useful.

Most of the visitors to the site (over two thirds) come via search engines rather than followers. The top ten posts are:

  1. What is the Strengths Perspective? (198,029 views, published in 2012)
  2. It’s simple maths, not a once in a 1000 year phenomenon (146,014 views, published in 2017)
  3. What is asset-based community development (ABCD)? (122,704 views, published in 2013)
  4. Types of community engagement (111,240 views, published in 2012)
  5. What are social models of health? (84,774 views, published in 2015)
  6. 4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power within? (78,920 views, published in 2019)
  7. What is community capacity building? (70,853 views, published in 2014)
  8. What is the Spectrum of Public Participation? (70,095 views, published in 2017)
  9. Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups (60,241 views, published in 2016)
  10. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement (38,666 views, published in 2013)

Now with my changes at work, I will be writing more about Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) but I will also be doing some other posts.

Thanks again and I always welcome feedback or comments (particularly when there are mistakes or ways to improve it).

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. My last day at the Family Action Centre
  2. Blogging as an academic
  3. 7 principles guiding my work
  4. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  5. Don’t call me doctor!
  6. Name.Narrate.Navigate: a program for young people who use violence in their families

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

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Offering Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops as an open group

The facilitators: Annette, Zoe, Jacob and Graeme

We have started a series of weekly, 2-hour Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops in partnership with the Samaritans’ Recovery Point. Recovery Point provides support to people who are leaving prison and/or alcohol & drug rehabilitation centres and they have been offering AVP for a while.

Normally AVP workshops are closed groups (i.e., once the workshop has started, new people are not able to join the group) and are normally held over 2 or 3 days to make up the required 18 hours. In the past we have offered weekly sessions over 4 to 7 days to make the workshops more accessible to people who can’t devote a full day to the workshop (e.g., parents of young children).

While the sessions we have started at the Recovery Point are shorter than we have tried before, the main difference is that the group is an open group, which means that participants can start any week and don’t need to come every week. We think this approach will work better for some of the people who are part of Recovery Point. Transitioning from prison or rehabilitation can be a very a challenging process and life often gets in the way of plans. We hope that giving participants flexibility in how regularly they attend AVP will make it easier for them and give them greater control over their experience.

We will keep a record of attendance and, once participants have completed 18 hours and covered all the key topics in an AVP workshop, they will be given a certificate for a Basic workshop. They will then be welcome to attend a normal Advanced and Training for Facilitators workshop if they are interested.

We believe that this approach is consistent with some of the foundations of AVP including the voluntary nature of the workshops and participants right to pass. We are essentially extending the right to pass from an exercise to a session.

Another foundation of AVP is community building, and the community building in an open group is different to that of a closed group. We are sure that we will be able to build a strong sense of community still, and that the sense of community might even become stronger. Rather than the community dissolving after an 18-hour workshop, these groups could keep going for years and, like most communities, people will come and go.

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Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) flyer

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in Newcastle has just developed a flyer with information about AVP. (Click here for a PDF Version.) We hope to increase the number of workshops we offer locally next and are hoping to partner with some family and community services in offering the workshops. Next week we start offering weekly sessions with the Samaritans’ Recovery Point (which supports people recently out of prison or rehabilitation). Hopefully the flyer will help us promote it a bit more.

AVP has come so far since I started facilitating in the 1990s. In particular I have learnt a great deal from having contact with international groups. In the flyer, the graphic for AVP Foundations and Outcomes was based on a leaflet from AVP in Namibia. It is inspiring being part of such an international organisation.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  2. The Alternatives to Violence Project: Reflections on a strengths-based approach to nonviolent relationships and conflict resolution
  3. An interactive exercise exploring parenting styles
  4. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution
  5. Moving Experiential Peace Workshops Online
  6. 20 tips for an online workshop

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

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Moving Experiential Peace Workshops Online

By Graeme Stuart and Selene Moonbeams

For an organisation proud of its interactive, experiential workshops exploring nonviolence and conflict transformation, the pandemic created a crisis of identity. With the introduction of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) was no longer able to offer in-person workshops and started exploring the potential to offer workshops online. In this essay, we discuss how we transformed an 18-hour workshop to create the world’s first fully online AVP Basic workshop, identify lessons relevant to other online workshops, and discuss how we addressed group safety and helped create a deep sense of community.

Since its humble beginnings in New York’s Greenhaven Prison in 1975, AVP has grown—to the best of our knowledge— into the largest volunteer peace education organisation in the world. Working in prisons, educational institutions, refugee communities and many other community settings in almost 60 countries, AVP has been effective in developing nonviolent conflict resolution skills and supporting trauma recovery, healing and broader peacebuilding in diverse settings. There are thousands of AVP facilitators worldwide within local organisational structures, with regional, country and international coordination.

About AVP

AVP is built on three levels of workshops: the Basic workshop (focusing on affirmation, community building, cooperation, basic conflict management skills and transforming power), the Advanced workshop (exploring consensus and one or two other issues such as power or anger in greater depth), and the Training for Facilitators workshop. AVP workshops around the world have a common structure, although the content can vary greatly. Each level usually involves 18–22 hours, completed over two or three days. The workshops are divided into eight or more 90–120 minute sessions each of which includes a gathering (where there is a question that everybody answers going around the circle); an overview of the session’s agenda; at least one or two experiential exercises that explore the session’s focus; some games that help build community, release tensions and energise the group; feedback about the session; and a closing activity.

Through a series of small group activities and discussion, participants are invited on a journey of self-reflection and discovery. Facilitators position themselves as co-learners who are also on a journey of self-discovery rather than experts with the answers. “We are all teachers and learners” underpins this approach. Instead of a rigid curriculum, AVP has a learner-centred pedagogy that allows for flexibility in adapting to local contexts and offers participants the opportunity to shape the focus of workshops.

In 2019, in Australia alone, volunteer facilitators offered over 100 in-person workshops with a wide range of people including prisoners, people from refugee backgrounds, students, people involved in domestic violence, teachers, and family and community workers. With the introduction of social distancing and stay-at-home rules in March 2020, plans for workshops came to a grinding halt. At the same time, there were widely reported concerns about the potential for increased violence in the home.

The need to go online

In some ways, AVP was in a poor position to quickly respond to the changed circumstances. For almost 30 years, AVP in Australia (as elsewhere) had only offered in-person workshops. As facilitators, this is what we knew and what we valued. Most of the very experienced facilitators who underpin workshops are older—most of us are baby boomers—and are not digital natives. But AVP also has a history of innovation and flexibility that has allowed us to adapt to a wide range of contexts and, due to the tyranny of distance, AVP in Australia and internationally had been using Zoom and Google Docs in meetings for several years.

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My last day at the Family Action Centre

Family Action Centre logo

After 18.5 years, today is my last day as a staff member at the Family Action Centre (FAC). In reality, I haven’t really been an active part of the FAC since the end of last year when I discovered that, with the end of the Master of Family Studies and the discipline of family studies, there was no longer any funding for my position. Since then I have continued at the University, but I have been working from home on two projects—Name.Narrate.Navigate (NNN)and some research on assertive outreach with women—neither of which involved anybody else from the FAC.

Having recently turned 60, I am going into semi-retirement (which takes a bit of getting used to). I will continue having a connection with the University as an honorary lecturer and supporting the expansion of NNN through the Name.Narrate.Navigate Practice Pathways program (that will offer training and mentoring to practitioners to help them develop skills in working with young people who are victims and perpetrators of violence, abuse and trauma, in ways that are creative and trauma informed). I will also be continuing my voluntary work with the Alternatives to Violence Project (facilitating workshops, co-convening the AVP  international research team and writing a couple of books about AVP), supporting Upcycle Newcastle/Transition Newcastle and blogging.

It is sad leaving the FAC after such a long time, and it isn’t surprising that I’ve been reflecting on my time there. I started at the FAC as a community worker with the Caravan Project in 2003, before moving into a more academic role five years later. There are many things that I appreciated about my time there, especially when I started, and it seems appropriate to mention a few.

I learnt a great deal about strengths-based practice, which was an important foundation for all our work. For example, in the Caravan Project, we didn’t pretend that there were no problems on the caravan parks we worked on (e.g., high rates of mental health issues, drug and alcohol use, domestic violence) but our focus was on the strengths of the park communities (e.g., the sense of community and the informal social networks) and how these strengths could address some of the challenges. So when we created a project addressing domestic violence on caravan parks (and with local Aboriginal communities the FAC was working on), we focused on how neighbours, friends and family could support somebody experiencing domestic violence.

When we created a program for Aboriginal men in prison, Brothers Inside, our focus was on their roles as fathers. In prison, many of the workshops offered to the men were about not doing something: don’t do violence, don’t do crime, don’t take drugs. Our workshops, on the other hand, were saying: “You are fathers, that is incredibly important. You play a significant role in your children’s lives so be the best dads you can be.” This set a very different tone for the workshops, and it was a topic that interested them. In this context we could still to have conversations about violence, crime and alcohol and other drugs, but in terms of how these behaviours impacted on their relationship with their children. It created a very different environment for the conversations.

But a strengths-based approach also permeated the FAC’s organisational culture. Judi Geggie, the FAC director at the time, placed a large emphasis on creating a supportive, inclusive culture at the FAC. I found it a very supportive, positive place to work. For quite a while, I said the FAC was like an oasis within the University. We seemed to be protected from many of the problems I would see in other parts of the Uni (e.g., fractured teams, poor supervision, unrealistic workloads, lack of administrative support). Judi made sure that we came together regularly as a team to both discuss the FAC and to build relationships (e.g., we regularly had shared lunches). We received regular, supportive supervision that helped as develop as practitioners and team members. The workload of many academics in the Uni meant they had to work many unpaid hours but at the FAC, I remember being asked about the number of hours I was working and, if I was working too many hours, we should look at how we could reduce my workload. I was not expected to put in lots unpaid hours.  

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Assertive outreach with women experiencing homelessness: A rapid review of literature

The following is the executive summary of a rapid review on assertive outreach with women experiencing homelessness by Tamara Blakemore, Joel McGregor and me. The review was done as part of a research project we are doing in partnership with Nova for Women and Children. The full report is available from here.

The aim of this rapid review was to identify key themes in the existing literature that could help develop a specialist assertive outreach program for women experiencing homelessness in the Hunter region of NSW.  Rapid reviews are a relatively quick, but structured, approach to finding and synthesising evidence from research and other literature and are particularly suited to policy and practice contexts (Featherstone et al., 2015).  This review identified 30 key sources that discussed assertive outreach approaches for working with homelessness that were culturally relevant and did not exclude women. These sources were then analysed for key narratives and themes. 

Assertive outreach practice is distinguished by the situations and settings in which workers come into contact with, and continue their work with, clients. In practice, assertive outreach often means taking our work to people, working with them where they are at and prioritising client preference and pace in our work. It is worthwhile noting here that assertive outreach approaches are often used with people for whom homelessness has become a chronic or cyclic process – rather than a situational crisis where different responses to homelessness may be more appropriate. In Australia, there has been a revival of interest in outreach with homeless people, with a particular emphasis on assertive outreach, since 2008 and the release of the White Paper, The Road Home: A national approach to reducing homelessness (Homelessness Taskforce, 2008).

Phillips et al. (2011) and Homelessness NSW (2017b) suggest there are several differences between ‘traditional’ outreach with homeless people and ‘contemporary’ assertive outreach which has been the focus in Australia since the White Paper. For both approaches, ‘service delivery takes place within the service user’s environment rather than requiring service users to attend a designated service centre’ (Phillips et al., 2011, p. 15). ‘Traditional’ outreach approaches often provide a street-based continuum of care to those sleeping rough including providing clothing, food, and emergency relief; facilitating access to counselling, alcohol, and other drug services; and assisting with referrals to shelters or accommodation. By comparison, Phillips et al. (2011, see also Homelessness NSW, 2017b), highlight ‘contemporary’ assertive outreach methods as much more explicitly focused on securing housing for those sleeping rough. Three distinctive features of contemporary models include: the aim to end homelessness rather than simply supporting people who sleep rough; services adopting an integrated, multidisciplinary approach, to attend to the needs and potential root causes of homelessness, as well as a more ‘persistent’ approach providing sustained resources to people who are homeless and to support them to move into, and sustain, stable housing often with wrap-around support.

It is important to note that efforts to end homelessness are always dependent on housing options being available. If assertive outreach teams, particularly those working from a contemporary model of work, cannot access emergency and longer-term housing, then the goal of ending homelessness is extremely difficult, if not impossible (Coleman et al., 2013; Homeless NSW, 2017; Mackie et al 2019; Phillips et al., 2011). Mackie et al. (2019) go as far as suggesting that assertive outreach is ‘potentially unethical if it is not accompanied by a meaningful and suitable accommodation offer’ (pp. 88-89). 

Key Themes

Narrative synthesis of the literature noted key themes that largely coalesce around the intersecting concepts of people and practice in place. Key themes that relate to people include: the attributes of assertive outreach workers, safety, and the unsettling silence of the voices of those experiencing homelessness in the existing evidence base for practice. Key themes that relate to practice, including engagement, models of assertive outreach, principles of practice, and interagency collaboration, are all relevant to working with women.

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Post-Separation Counselling and Mediation Services (Part 6): References

The final post in a series on a report Tamara Blakemore and I did in partnerships with Uniting counselling and mediation services about best practice in post-separation counselling and mediation contains the references.

I have divided the report into 6 posts:

  1. The introduction and findings from the literature review
  2. Staff interview, client survey and document review
  3. Synthesis of findings
  4. Synthesis of findings (continued)
  5. Summary and conclusion
  6. References

The references don’t make an interesting post, but they are important!

Addington, J., Francey, S. M., & Morrison, A. P. (2006). Working with people at high risk of developing psychosis: A treatment handbook. John Wiley and Sons.

Addis, M., & Mahalik, J. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. American Psychologist, 58(1), 5–14. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.5

Alexander, N. (2008). The mediation metamodel: Understanding practice. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 26(1), 97–123. https://doi.org/10.1002/crq.225

Allen Consulting Group. (2013). Research on Family Support Program family law services: final report. https://www.ag.gov.au/Publications/Pages/ResearchOnFamilySupportProgramFamilyLawServices.aspx

Armstrong, S. (2011a). Accommodating culture in family dispute resolution: What, why and how? Journal of Judicial Administration, 20, 167–177.

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Post-Separation Counselling and Mediation Services (Part 5): summary and conclusion

This is the 5th part of a report Tamara Blakemore and I did in partnerships with Uniting counselling and mediation services about best practice in post-separation counselling and mediation

I have divided the report into 6 posts:

  1. The introduction and findings from the literature review
  2. Staff interview, client survey and document review
  3. Synthesis of findings
  4. Synthesis of findings (continued)
  5. Summary and conclusion
  6. References

You can download the formatted report from here and you can read the executive summary here. Details of the research team and reference group, and how to reference the report are at the end of the post.

Summary and Conclusion

The extensive program of collaborative research that was undertaken explored post-separation counselling and mediation services offered by Uniting. It focused on three broad research questions:

  1. What does the existing evidence base identify as principles for best practice in terms of post-separation counselling and mediation services?
  2. How do Uniting’s counselling and mediation services achieve positive outcomes for its clients?
  3. How can counselling and mediation services measure the impact/outcomes of their services?

The research was implemented in three phases (Parts A–C), with data sourced from the existing literature, interviews with Uniting staff, an online survey of past Uniting clients and a review of Uniting policy and practice documents. Findings from the data analysis are discussed in greater detail in four separate reports:

  1. Contemporary evidence for best practice in post-separation counselling and mediation: A rapid review
  2. What describes and characterises Uniting services? Analysis of interviews with Uniting staff
  3. Uniting client experience and outcome: Statistical analysis of survey results
  4. Uniting’s policies and practice documents: Review of Uniting documentation

The research suggests that, while there is always room for improvement, Uniting is generally working to best practice, particularly in relation to practice that is flexible, facilitative and fit for purpose. Further, Uniting maintains and supports skilled workers and has a clear focus on the wellbeing of children. (

Below is a summary of the key findings for each of the research questions.

1. What does the existing evidence base identify as principles for best practice in terms of post-separation counselling and mediation services?

  • Best practice is flexible, facilitative and fit for purpose.
  • Practitioners are critical for best practice outcomes.
  • Best practice is responsive to context and complexity and requires a nuanced appreciation of the factors that frame clients’ experiences and likely outcomes.
  • Best practice needs to be able to meet multiple and often conflicting aims and objectives of diverse populations of clients.

a. How are these principles for best practice implemented within Uniting’s counselling and mediation services?

  • Uniting appears to be generally demonstrating best practice.
  • There are good policies and practice guides in place, combined with strong supervision.
  • There is a clear focus on the wellbeing of children.
  • There are good staff who are supported well.
  • Hybrid models of mediation allow more complex issues to be addressed.
  • Uniting has specialist expertise in the context of post-separation and offers a range of child- and family-focused services that are responsive to context.
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Post-Separation Counselling and Mediation Services (Part 4): Synthesis of findings (continued)

This is the 4th part of a report Tamara Blakemore and I did in partnerships with Uniting counselling and mediation services about best practice in post-separation counselling and mediation

I have divided the report into 6 posts:

  1. The introduction and findings from the literature review
  2. Staff interview, client survey and document review
  3. Synthesis of findings
  4. Synthesis of findings (continued)
  5. Summary and conclusion
  6. References

You can download the formatted report from here and you can read the executive summary here. Details of the research team and reference group, and how to reference the report are at the end of the post.

Practice Approach and Model

Flexibility and Fit

Practice that is facilitative (i.e., focuses on process and problem, promotes self-determination, and is attentive to emotional needs) and flexible (i.e., not prescriptive or “one-size-fits-all”) were highlighted as being important in both the reviewed literature and the interviews with Uniting staff. Interviews with staff highlighted that flexibility is central to Uniting’s practice approach because, as one staff member suggested, “different things work for different clients” (01C). Although there are clear policies and procedures, practitioners generally felt that they can exercise flexibility in their approach, which allows them to adapt to the particular circumstances of the families they work with:

So we have quite flexible models and I think that’s one of the really unique aspects of working for Uniting is because we have clear policies and procedures each step, and we have had those developed to be really practical for practitioners to draw from. But we also know that families come in all shapes and sizes. (27M)

Flexibility underpinned many of the approaches used or recommended by the staff who were interviewed. Examples of flexibility include being able to use a variety of models or approaches to mediation; staff being given the time to build relationships with particular communities; the use of technology; the client-centred approach, whereby families are treated as being individual and unique; the number of sessions; and the fee structure. As one staff member suggested, it is important to “fit programs around the needs of people and tailor them to the needs of families rather than having a one-size-fits-all kind of approach” (07M):

The fact that it’s such flexible work to be determining what we need for each child, and for each child to have a different approach around what we do with them in that counselling room is one of the strengths, I think. Being able to have that freedom around to decide whether we see kids individually, which is what we usually do, or whether we bring the family in and do some family work or relationship work. To have that flexibility, to have those conversations with parents on the phone. (29A)

Flexibility was also discussed by practitioners in relation to the roles that staff undertake in their practice. Flexibility within practitioners’ roles was seen as important in promoting collaborative and cooperative practice. For example, in one office, staff spoke about being able to bring in a counsellor to a mediation session if something came up and the mediator thought it would be helpful to have some immediate input from one of the counselling or Anchor teams:

They’re better at explaining it [what would be helpful for the children], so we’ll go and grab [a counsellor] and say, “Have you got five minutes? Would you like to come in and introduce yourself to Sally and Fred Bloggs? They’re sort of wondering about, say Anchor, or they’re sort of wondering about CIP [child inclusive practice]”. So we’ve now started to do that routinely. (11M)

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