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Conversation as a Practice

Developing relationships and trust within probation services through meaningful conversations

MA 2020/2022
Keywords
Alternative to Recall, Probation, Dialogue, Conversation Framework, Policy, Social Impact
Overview

Conversation as a Practice is a framework that has been implemented into a pilot programme created by Catch22 that aims to reduce the number of individuals being recalled back to custody due to non-compliance with their license conditions. It enables probation staff to build positive perceptions around probation services among prison leavers as they are beginning their probation period, as well as equipping them with the skills to create more meaningful relationships with People on Probation. Based upon 10 weeks of research and working closely with prison leavers and probation staff, we have designed this framework to help facilitate meaningful dialogues through active listening and care.

Collaboration

Conversation as a Practice was created in partnership with Catch22, a not-for-profit social business that designs and delivers public services, with a focus on building resilience within communities. Over a 10 week period, we worked closely with prison leavers and probation staff. We conducted our own research to uncover new insights that ultimately supported Catch22 in delivering the pilot programme to the Ministry of Justice.

CONTEXT

Avoiding Preventable Recall

Recall happens when an individual breaks the terms of their license, but a majority of the time this is not linked to a repeated offense. Most recalls are preventable, which represents an important goal for all parties involved as it can have a significant impact on a Person on Probation's future prospects and mental health, it deteriorates resettlement outcomes for probation services, and it is costly to the Ministry of Justice.

In their pilot programme, Catch22 has proposed that through the role of an additional member of staff, known as a Navigator Mentor, a Person on Probation's risk of reoffending and returning to custody can be reduced if they receive intensive and individually tailored support as they reenter the community.

RESEARCH & INSIGHTS

Interview Considerations and Outcomes

As a team, we felt it was necessary to start this project by addressing how our shared values would shape the considerations we took in designing the various interviews we had. Particularly with People on Probation, many of whom may have experienced discrimination and trauma, we made sure to prioritize their wellbeing by acknowledging their presence and showing gratitude for their time and contribution to our project, which ultimately allowed us to define a solid framework for discussion by creating an environment that our interviewees felt comfortable in.

We also spoke with Probation Practitioners to understand the system from their perspective, and to potentially foresee any issues that a Navigator Mentor may experience in their role. After organizing and combining all of our findings, we categorized everything we had learned from each stakeholders’ perspective to identified all primary motivations and challenges.


Insights

After 10 weeks of research and analysis, we uncovered the following insights:

  1. People on Probation often view probation services as unhelpful, regimented, and clinical, which leads to them losing trust in the system and further disengaging, especially if they don't find value in their sessions with staff.
  2. Probation Practitioners shared with us that whilst they were trained in various skills involving risk and violence management, they were not trained in the art of having conversations, which they have found to be crucial in building trust when working with people on probation. From their experience, this lack of preparation only further increases the gap of disengagement between People on Probation and their probation staff.

We looked at these insights through the lens of the pilot designed by Catch22 and found that, despite its clear structure, the Navigator Mentor will likely still face hurdles in delivering support due to high caseloads, long wait times from external partners, and other issues in receiving social assistance.


OPPORTUNITY

While there is a conscientious effort to deliver tangible support through the pilot programme, we found that there is far more fundamental support that the Navigator Mentor could provide: the often overlooked act of listening and conversing with care. The Navigator Mentor is meant to be a mentor to the Person on Probation, but they can only build a trusting relationship if the interactions they have are meaningful. Therefore, we set out to answer the following two questions:

  • In order to ensure that People on Probation engage with the pilot programme, how can we build positive perceptions around probation from the start?
  • Understanding that Navigator Mentors will be the key touchpoint in achieving this, how can we equip them with the skills to create more meaningful relationships with People on Probation?

SOLUTION

We have created Conversation as a Practice, a framework consisting of two interventions aimed to assist Navigator Mentors in building positive perceptions around probation, and equipping them with the skills to build better relationships with service users through meaningful conversations.


1. The Kick-off Dialogue

Understanding that People on Probation often perceive probation services to be regimented, it is crucial to demystify these negative perceptions from the get-go and create a positive first impression with the programme in order to ensure engagement. As such, we propose that the pilot programme starts with The Kick-off Dialogue as the first interaction between a Navigator Mentor and Person on Probation, prior to the introduction of any formal assessments or guides that may be deemed too clinical.

The Kick-off Dialogue is set up to build the foundation of a trusting and meaningful relationship and has been specifically designed based upon what we learned in our research — the need to accommodate People on Probation’s different apprehensions and challenges, and the importance of setting expectations early on in order to prevent future conflict. These concepts have been developed into a session guidebook centred around 4 crucial areas of discussion.


2. Training Workshops & Workplace Ritual

The second intervention we created is designed to ensure that Navigator Mentors show consistency in their support in order to engage People on Probation throughout the duration of the pilot. We proposed that Navigator Mentors incorporate Conversation as a Practice into their training and implement rituals into the workplace to better equip them with the skills needed to have more meaningful interactions. We identified four key principles to maximise such practice and structured them into two parts:

  1. ​​Training Workshops in which Navigator Mentors participate in a series of role-playing activities in order to deepen their understanding of People on Probation's lived experiences.
  2. Workplace Ritual that allows them to apply reflection into their practice through weekly activities built around one of the four principles. Navigator Mentors are guided in reflecting upon their conversations with People on Probation and are encouraged to share what they think could be improved on.

CONCLUSION

Creating Intentional and Reflective Conversation Cultures

We believe that in order to reduce the rate of recall, successful initial engagement and consistent engagement is critical. We designed The Kick-Off Dialogue to build trust, set expectations for the rest of the programme and create a positive first impression, to demystify the perception that probation services are clinical and increase subsequent engagement. To ensure the follow-through of engagement, we created Training Workshops & Workplace Ritual to coach Navigator Mentors in facilitating better conversations and developing more meaningful relationships.

Whilst our proposals focuses on increasing People on Probation’s engagement with the pilot programme, these solutions were designed to be implemented at scale into the entire Ministry of Justice system. Our goal is to create a culture where conversations become an intentional and reflective practice.

SPECIAL
THANKS

Our proposal was put together through intensive research, but most importantly, what inspired us were the conversations we had with our friends from InHouse Records, and the stories they had shared with us about themselves and their peers. 

We realised through our practice, that we, as humans rushing through life, often overlook the simplest but most important things—like the acknowledgement that you exist, and these connections we build through conversation.

We would like to thank our tutor Judah, Naomi, Matthew and the rest of the team at Catch 22, as well as our friends from InHouse Records, for their support and belief.

Team
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