What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?

AVP mandala The Alternatives Violence Project (AVP) provides experiential workshops, facilitated by volunteers, on nonviolent personal relationships on transforming conflict and nonviolent relationships. As the USA AVP website says, “conflict is part of daily life… but violence doesn’t have to be.”

I’m very excited that AVP is final returning to Newcastle. Leesa recently moved to Newcastle after having done AVP a number of years ago and has put a lot of energy into re-establishing it here. We had an active group in the 90s but it went into hibernation when my eldest daughter was born and I decided to concentrate on being a father.

AVP workshops are built on a number of building blocks that give some indication of their approach:

  1. Affirmation
  2. Assertive Speaking
  3. Communication
  4. Community
  5. Conflict Resolution
  6. Conflict Transformation
  7. Consensus
  8. Cooperation
  9. Empathy
  10. Listening
  11. Reflection
  12. Transforming Power
  13. Trust

At the heart of AVP is the notion of Transforming Power. While some people have a more spiritual or mystical understanding of Transforming Power (e.g., they see it as being some form of a higher power) I understand it to be the power we all have to transform ourselves and situations. When we face conflict or a challenging situation, we can choose to focus on a power based on coercion, might and violence, or a power based on cooperation, transformation and nonviolence. When we rely on the first type of power (power-over) options are closed off. When we rely on Transforming Power (or power-with) possibilities open up. By no means is it a guarantee, we can be faced with resistance, mistrust or even violence, but Transforming Power allows us to respond based on cooperation and a problems solving approach to conflict resolution.

One of the things I love about AVP is its simplicity. The key features of the approach can be summarised through the AVP mandala (above).

At the Centre is Transforming Power. We start by being committed to nonviolence and using power based on transformation, not violence and coercion.

We need to start with Respect for Self. We need to believe that we deserve to be treated with respect and care; that we deserve to have our needs met; that we can make a difference. For some people this can be a major challenge. When I used to facilitate AVP workshop regularly, a women’s refuge often recommended the workshops to survivors of domestic violence. It was important for them to recognise that a commitment to nonviolence meant that they did not deserve violence and that they were not responsible for violence by others. They needed to respect themselves and to really believe that they deserved a life without violence.

Respect for self has to be balanced with Care for Others. We need to not only believe we deserve respect and care, but also show respect and care to others. In conflict we need to focus not only on our own interests, but also those of other people. We need to show other people the same respect we deserve.

I like the idea that Respect for Self and Care for Others need to be balanced – in the mandala they are both the same size. Unfortunately there is no easy recipe for how to do this, and I suspect for most people it can be a daily challenge to balance our own needs and want with those of the people around us. This is why skill such as I messages (expressing my needs and wants) and active listening (hearing the needs and wants of other people) can be helpful.

It helps if we Think Before Reacting. Violence, in all its forms, can be an immediate, unconsidered response. Nonviolence requires a much more considered, thoughtful approach. (It also takes practice.) If we react in the heat of the moment, it can be much harder to respond in a constructive manner. While emotions are an important part of relationships and conflict, it helps if we can adopt a problem-solving approach to conflict resolution. If our relations are built on respect and care, it is much easier to adopt nonviolence than if they are built on fear or control. Part of thinking before reacting can involve building relationship and processes, over the long-term, that make violence less likely.

New possibilities can emerge if we Ask for a Nonviolent Path. We can ask ourselves for a nonviolent path and sometimes we can ask the other person for one – e.g., “I don’t want to fight – I want to work this out with you.” Some people also believe they can ask a higher power for a nonviolent path.

Finally it helps if we Expect the Best. If we don’t believe a conflict can be resolved positively then we are less likely to try. If we don’t believe that people can change we are less likely to give them a chance. If we look for the worst in people we are likely to find it and we are more likely to respond to that part of them, which closes off possibilities. If we look for the best in people we are likely to find it and, if we respond to that part of them, new possibilities might emerge.

Whilst at one level these ideas are so simple, in practice they can be quite complex and challenging. It can take lifelong practice to avoid the lure of violence, and the more we practice the better we get which means that we can make them work in increasingly complex situations.

When I first came in contact with AVP I thought it would focus mainly on physical violence but quickly discovered it also addressed violence in many forms. Violence can be physical, verbal, emotional, financial, and psychological (to name a few), and all of them can be destructive. I learnt a great deal that helped me as a community worker and in personal relationships. Its simplicity but complexity means that participants can take the skills and ideas and try them in a way that works for them.

In exploring principles of nonviolence, principles of conflict resolution and the relevance of a philosophy of nonviolence to youth work (as part of further study), I realised how strongly AVP was based on the theory of nonviolence and conflict resolution.

You can find out more about AVP in Australia by emailing sydneyworkshops@avp.org.au and for the rest of the world by visiting https://avp.international/.  The latest Newcastle flyer is here (updated April 2016) or you can visit our Facebook public group.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Principles of nonviolence
  2. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution
  3. Facilitating workshops – creating a container
  4. Nonviolence as a Framework for Youth Work Practice
  5. Social change and strengths-based approaches
  6. What can you do when someone you know is experiencing domestic violence?

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Families & parenting, Working with communities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would like to join the next available AVP program in the Newcastle area.

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  2. Maurissa Crosby says:

    What is the cost of workshop/s please?

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  3. Hi Brittany
    AVP workshops started in prisons but have been used in many other contexts since them. When I started facilitating AVP workshops I was a youth worker and had quite a focus on youth workers and young people, but there were also a wide range of community members who attended including people who had experience violence and people who used violence. I’m now working at the Family Action Centre and we are thinking about supporting AVP as another option for parents who want to improve their parenting skills. We think there is particular value for non-custodial parents as many traditional parenting programs assume the parents are living with their children. While AVP is not specifically a parenting program, the skills are quite relevant and have a broader application as well.

    In Sydney the workshop are run in partnership with STARTTS (Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivor) and in many other parts of the world they are run in communities experiencing significant levels of conflict.

    There is lots of anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of AVP (see for example http://www.avpny.org/?q=node/14 and a video https://vimeo.com/37108812). I certainly believe it is worth doing!

    Research evidence is harder to come by, partly because its flexibility and the wide variation in aims and outcomes makes it hard to do rigorous research. There is a list of some of the available research at http://avp.international/research/. In particular there is a summary of research from 2007 (http://avpwiki.wikispaces.com/file/view/Tomlinson%2C%20Britain%20Lit%20Review%202007.pdf/39397220/Tomlinson%2C%20Britain%20Lit%20Review%202007.pdf).

    I hope that helps – don’t hesitate to contact me for more details.
    Good luck with it!

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  4. Thanks Graham! I’m a State MP looking at proactive ways to combat violence in our community and AVP workshops sound like they may be able to help community members develop conflict resolution skills without violence. I have sent an email to AVP Australia and asked for some more information about how we can roll these programs out in Central Queensland. Do you know how successful they have been with participants? Also who are the target audiences for participation? Cheers, Brittany

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