Has the conflict really been resolved? Has justice been delivered? In other words, have the parties achieved the outcomes they needed? Conflicts often need to be resolved iteratively. This means revisiting and improving upon resolutions that no longer work for the parties involved due to changing circumstances or an improved understanding of what the parties need. The purpose of improving is to learn how to better resolve the current conflict and prevent related conflicts from arising in the future.
Improving is fundamental because it helps ensure that both the parties to the conflict and the individuals or institutions involved in its resolution learn from the process and are accountable for the quality and sustainability of its outcomes. As circumstances change, new needs may arise, or solutions that made sense and worked at one time may fall apart. Next door neighbours may need to revisit and renegotiate the terms of a previous agreement when they realise they are not able to uphold them in practice. A married couple who at first sought legal and financial support to initiate a separation may discover later that there is room for reconciliation.
In these situations, having a people-centred outcomes monitoring system or other follow-up mechanism in place can help make these changing circumstances apparent and ensure that they are addressed. It can also inform improvements to the relevant resolution processes and mechanisms that make them more likely to meet people’s needs in the future.
In addition to shining a light on what is working to meet people’s justice needs and resolve their conflicts, people-centred outcomes monitoring reveals what is not working. The introduction of people-centred outcomes monitoring can be a difficult adjustment for service providers who are accustomed to being evaluated or funded on the basis of different criteria. It also requires them to adjust their services to deliver resolutions that will remain stable over time, or else can be revisited. This means committing to parties and the challenges they are facing in the long-term, rather than delivering a short-term solution and expecting never to see the individuals involved again.
Not everyone will be motivated to transition to this new way of working and learning. Those who do will gain new insight into the tangible differences they make in the lives of the people they serve – and may find renewed purpose and gratification in their work.