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Co-production and engagement through disagreement
Kevin Wong on co-production in needs assessment and sentence planning.

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This is a guest post by Kevin Wong Reader in Community Justice and Associate Director of the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University and Rachel Horan Director of the Averment Group

The relationship between probation supervisor and supervisee has returned to centre stage in the post Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) Probation Reform Programme – the next chapter in the twisty history of probation in England and Wales. Of course, the importance of the relationship never really went away during TR.  For frontline workers effectively engaging with people with convictions was always ‘a thing’. 

Embracing the switch of emphasis, the renewed relational focus is an opportunity for practitioners, policy makers and commissioners to build on what we already know but to nudge it that bit further; to get closer to the 21st century’s twin pinnacles of public service delivery: co-production and effective engagement.

What they might look like and how they can be nurtured?

This is something that we took a punt at in our recent Howard Journal paper.

In The role of needs assessment in the effective engagement of people with convictions – we draw on the lived experience of supervisees and supervisors trialling an alternative to OASys – the Enablers of Change – a new needs assessment tool designed to operationalise the risk needs responsivity (RNR) model of rehabilitation alongside the good lives model and desistance principles.

This is what we found.

Co-production in needs assessment and sentence planning

Co-production in needs assessment and sentence planning was facilitated by the design of the tool and the way it was used – with supervisor and supervisee sitting side by side, a computer screen before them, completing the tool together in real time.

It encouraged supervisee candour, honesty and disclosure of information not previously known to their supervisor.

The emotional engagement by the supervisees with the supervisor and was experienced by supervisees as generating a warmth and understanding from supervisors.

When disagreement can lead to effective engagement

Counter-intuitively perhaps, disagreement between supervisee and supervisor, especially in the assessment of risk was part of the co-production process.  In fact, it emerged as a key underpinning principle of the tool and process.  Handled well, we found that the resolution of that disagreement lead to more rather less engagement.

Perhaps the ability to resolve disagreement is implicit in the existing engagement frameworks: Copsey and Rex’s (2013) the engaging practitioner model, Shapland et al’s (2012) principles for quality supervision and Bateman and Hazel’s (2013) effective engagement model. Our study suggests that this skill should be explicitly articulated as a practitioner skill, integrated as a principle of quality supervision, and embedded within one or more of Bateman and Hazel’s (2013) modes of engagement.

Of course – ‘it takes two to tango’. Given the evidence of supervisee agency (present in our study and in the rehabilitative literature), their part can and should be encouraged and enabled.

Which means what in practice?

From our study: a conducive physical and social environment; encouraging supervisee self- reflection; focusing on strengths as well as needs; and recognising the process of disagreement as a way of signalling honesty on the part of both supervisor and supervisee. Facilitating this, we suggest goes some way to address the frustration of supervisees of being “done to” when it comes to risk assessment (Attrill and Liell, 2007).

And what do we mean by physical and social environment?

We suggest adapting the case management and supervision environment to positively influence process, something which is embedded elsewhere in criminal justice through the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) literature (amongst others see Armitage and Ekblom, 2017).  Physical configuration is important in the proposed young adult courts in England and Wales providing “…an adapted courtroom environment more conducive to engagement” (Transition to Adulthood Alliance and Centre for Justice Innovation 2015:3). It’s argued that using youth courts which are smaller (than adult courts) and on one physical level, is likely to improve defendants’ perceptions of procedural fairness and their willingness to engage in the judicial process.

….Do what you’re doing a little better

We realise that our recommendations may not appear to be that innovative – if by innovative you’re thinking of something flashy, new and seductive.  They are not intended to be.  This study and our experience of evaluating and researching rehabilitative initiatives (over many years) suggest that it’s the accumulation of small but important changes that leads to sustained improvements over time.  Magic bullet innovations – with their promise of transformational change – are a diversion from the day to day challenges of enabling individuals to lead better lives and should be regarded with healthy scepticism.

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