We need to recognise the multiple roles we have in our daily lives and how the roles change over time. Who “I” or “you” are depends on the roles we see ourselves in, and what norms or expectations come with these roles- which will be negotiated and defined in relation to how other people frame these roles.
With each role there are defined actions/ responsibilities/frameworks that limit or enhance our responses and also frame our triggers. For example, a person can be at different stages in one day: a parent, a spouse, a colleague, a manager, a representative of the community, a sister, a friend, a member of a voluntary board of management….
We accept that being a parent is a different role than the role we play a worker. And we recognise that within our work role, we can have multiple roles (see organisational roles below).
One thing that we commonly do is to message when we are about to shift from one role to another, in order to let other people know that our lens or approach will change with the role. Frequently people will say “I am going to talk to you as a friend, not a colleague” and this messages to the listener that there will be a change of focus on an issue brought about by this.
For example if a worker and manager have a very close, friendly relationship and are discussing general work in a relaxed manner, we can imagine that if the manager suddenly shifts roles from colleague/friend to manager by saying “I just wanted to flag that you your report last week wasn’t up to your usual standard” that it could cause a very real trigger. The worker will be thinking “were we not just having a chat? Why bring that report up now? In front of everyone else?”
This rapid change of roles without warning can jar for most of us and is worth reminding that changes in roles need to be notified, and in order to reduce the emotional impact, we need to message when we intend to step into or out of roles. In that hypothetical instance, if the manager prefaced the change in role with “Now, I am going to talk to you as your line manager, and not as a friend” it would give the worker time to mentally prepare (the conversation is going to shift) and change their own role accordingly “actually, if it is about work, can it wait until my next support and supervision session”
Fortunately, this is something we can all work at and look at the impacts and how to try and lessen them.
Organisations can have several roles, all of which can be complimentary to the long-term aims of the group. For example, within a Traveller organisation, a local group can be:
- a service provider (youth groups/crèche/primary health care),
- a training provider (including capacity development),
- a creator of safe spaces for discussing issues facing the community,
- a support for people looking to access services,
- a space for policy development,
- an advocate for individuals or families
- Representing the entire local community at relevant forums
- Developing innovative projects to respond to community need
- Working with state agencies to improve living situation for Travellers, inc access to services
- Challenging State agencies in failure to deliver culturally appropriate services
- Challenging racism and discrimination
Each one of these roles work complimentary to achieving equality for Travellers. Some staff or volunteers may play one or many (or all!!) of these roles in different spaces. However, we can see that some of the roles may be contradictory
Traveller organisations have played many roles in trying to challenge institutional racism and bring about equality. It can be challenging when a Traveller group aims to work in partnership with State agencies on local or national structures (regardless of the success, or otherwise, of these structures) and in doing so, tries to build up relationships based on trust and understanding with officials and politicians. If the multiplicity of roles that a Traveller group can take is not explained, when we change our roles (from say, representation to advocacy, or from representation to direct action) without an understanding that we are ready to use different roles and tactics to achieve change, can cause huge difficulties with agencies- and we can see why. If we don’t message our different roles in advance and then (as agencies see it) quickly move from partnership to creating conflict through direct action (say, a protest to highlight appalling accommodation conditions), relationships will suffer.
This is not to suggest we need to ask permission to engage in protest, direct action or using our power in whatever ways we can. We don’t need permission to do this- what we need to be is clear in the multiple roles we will play (and recognising the multiple roles State agencies similarly play) and message what they are and when we are about to shift roles. We need agencies to recognise and respect those different roles; and that a shift from one role to another need not mean that a relationship has to end or deteriorate.
Conflict work as a new role
If we look at engaging with the community in work in relation to conflict, one of the things we need to message well in advance of playing a new role is to message this role and get approval from the community for this role for it be relevant to their needs. However, it is vital that any communication with the community defines what that role will be and also how it differs from existing roles the organisation plays.
One challenge for the community, particularly when people have suffered pain (physical, emotional and psychological) during conflict is the concept of “no blame” which comes from our conflict values
Third side role for a Traveller organisation means that the group is not looking to ascribe a value-based judgement on who is right or who is wrong. However, if members of the community have an expectation that the Traveller organisation will advocate for them on issues they face, they may find it a challenge to find that the conflict role is not, nor can it be, an advocacy role for one family over another.
If this shift in an analysis in relation to the project’s conflict role is not messaged, people’s belief in the project will be damaged- and as these bonds and links tend to be strong emotional ones, we can expect that this could be a trigger for some people.
Some responses that can be expected are:
- “You are taking their side”
- “We are the victims here, and you won’t support us?”
- “You are supposed to be about human rights, we have been attacked and you don’t see that as our rights being destroyed”
- “What is the role of the local group? What are you paid to do if you won’t help us now”
- “Why are you going to talk to them, they are the ones who started it/reacted with violence”
- “You came to us to get involved, and now when it is getting tough you are abandoning us”
- “Either you are with us or against us”
For example, if a Traveller has been linked in with their local project, they will have received complete support from workers and management if they have an equality issue with a pub or an accommodation issue with the local authority. As we can see in the community charter, a Traveller project is a safe space where Travellers can expect and get support on a range of issues where staff will advocate unequivocally on their behalf.
We can imagine that after years of a trusting relationship that the same Traveller comes to the project for support in conflict and is told, “our approach to conflict means we cannot advocate solely for you, we need to take a different role how”, he or she would feel. The lack of role communication will seem that in an hour of need that they have been abandoned. We know from more trivial earlier examples (and can look at other examples in practices [link]) how this impacts on all of us emotionally.
However, a prior agreement about roles and how they differ for different pieces of work can avoid that trigger as it has been communicated on what the project will work on in relation to conflict and how.
Possible roles that could be played by members of Traveller projects in relation to conflict
Assuming that the project has developed its analysis, has communicated to the community that it will be working on conflict, it is important to clarify what roles can be played and who will be able to take on these roles. Depending on the situation, a confident practitioner may be able to play many roles, and move between them, with different individuals or families.
Central to the Traveller project taking on a role is a shared understanding between the project and the community on what this role is. These roles relate to individuals or families in conflict being part of a voluntary basis of the Project’s Alternative Dispute Resolution strategy. People want the project to play a role in managing an emerging conflict. This is part of the project’s response to de-escalate conflict where early intervention is aiming to prevent the involvement of more involuntary adversarial forms of interventions (such as peace enforcement)
All these roles relate to ADR and are governed by its key principles:
- Participation is voluntary (no one is being forced to be part of this process, they are involved as they want to work towards a resolution and see that the project has a third party role to play)
- No Blame, No shame
It is essential that you are clear as a project which roles you are taking at a given time and that you negotiate roles and mutual expectations with parties concerned and that this is communicated as part of the organisations’ conflict strategy with the community.
Conflict Specific Roles for the Traveller Project
Coordinator of project response – the project will normally take this leadership role except in the event where it is a party to the conflict. The role will include facilitating the monitoring and reviewing of the intervention and its impact with a view to learning from practice and refining procedures for the future.
Initial investigator – this is part of the broader inquirer/learner role which is often a missing role in conflict, and is focused on non-judgemental listening and data gathering with a view to deciding the best strategy for addressing the conflict. It is important to make clear the boundaries
Advocate/ supporter – accompanies one party to the conflict and supports them in communicating their story Helps them clarify and negotiate what they need as well is the messages they wish to convey. Care needs to be taken in this role to ensure that support does not polarise and escalate the conflict further.
Conflict coach – helps one or more parties to explore how they wish to manage the conflict and relate to the other parties. It is a neutral rather than an advocacy role and helps the party view the conflict from the perspective of the different parties and explore options and how to implement effectively.
Provider – helping people to meet basic human needs e.g. food, accommodation, safety, respect, identity and freedom. Conflict is often about inability to meet needs and assistance to parties in this regard can help avert or reduce destructive conflict. This may also include providing a safe space for dialogue.
Teacher/ trainer/ mentor – educates people about communication, relationships and conflict; helps people learn new perspectives, values , attitudes and skills and better ways of dealing with differences and achieving their goals in a way which respects those of other parties.
Bridge-builder – builds and maintains positive relationships with all sides and keeps lines of communication open during difficult periods. Good relationships are key to resolving conflict and help contain, repair and restore relationships. Elders in the community often play this role and it is based on mutual understanding and respect though not necessarily agreement with offending behaviour.
Mediator/ shuttle mediator – helps reconcile conflicting interests between disputing parties, explores possibilities for meeting needs in ways acceptable to all parties, the potential impact of not reaching agreement and assists parties negotiate agreement. Pre-mediation processes help prepare parties for mediation before face to face dialogue takes place where this has been agreed.
Restorative justice facilitator – this role is similar to the role of healer. It is primarily focused on repairing the harm done to the victim and reconciling or repairing the relationships between victim, offender and community.
Witness – the observer role is to bring awareness to the conflict and its impact. The witness can assist with early recognition, slow escalation/destructive behaviour and draw the conflict to the attention of others should there be a need for external intervention.
Roles projects should not take on:
Peace/law enforcer – this role often means use of or threat to use overwhelming force to protect and contain a conflict, especially where a conflict is accompanied by violence or intimidation. It is usually best referred to those with the training, skill and authority to intervene in this way – usually the Gardai. However this role is also played by parents, project managers, elders in certain conflict situations. Care needs to be taken that the protective dimension of this role does not slide over into being abusive. (See also Protector role below)
Arbitrator – again the role of judge is one we do not recommend projects take in relation to Traveller conflict. Judgement on the basis of laws or rules requires independent neutrality and may involve the imposition and enforcement of sanctions or deterrents. While necessary in relation to some conflicts, it is usually an involuntary process and the project has neither the skill nor the resources to carry out this role effectively in relation to Traveller conflict. However, occasionally the project may need to arbitrate on and enforce the project’s own policies and rules.
Protector – The core of this role is about ensuring the safety of all parties, especially the weaker and more vulnerable. We rightly expect Gardai or perhaps the local authority to take on this role especially where there is a threat of physical or psychological violence or intimidation during escalated conflict. Stepping into this role in such circumstances and without proper training can often lead to becoming embroiled in the conflict or protecting in an abusive way. Over-reaction in this role, (it is easy to misjudge the amount of forcefulness needed to protect) can often look like oppression rather than protection to the person on the receiving end and therefore escalate the conflict instead of containing it. However Gardai have limited resources and cannot be ever present so we may need to step into this role using non-violent and non-violating methods of protecting and de-escalating violent and intimidating actions. Training in non-violent communication (NVC) and other containment methods, enacting the roles of witness, provider, response coordinator, can be of considerable value in protecting parties during escalated conflict.
The equaliser -This role is about balancing power between parties where one or more parties. It usually entails persuading/ pressuring the more powerful (one who is abusing their rank, power and privilege and is not inclined to engage to resolve a conflict) to the negotiating table. The equalisation may be influenced or enforced by a more powerful third-party, pressure exercised by the community, by non-violent social activism, by an ombudsperson, legal means, and so on. The mediator will do so temporarily during the mediation process. This role emphasises the value of deep-democracy and the need to include marginalised voices to achieve sustainable resolutions to conflict. Since this role is veering toward the involuntary end of the spectrum we are not encouraging the project to take this role but a National Traveller organisation rather than the local one or other trusted party might be invited to take on this role. However projects should not entirely rule out this role in certain cases and with proper training for the role.