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Co-producing digital media with probation
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Rob Ferguson guest posts on the value of lived experience when developing digitally enabled interventions for people in prisons and probation.

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Making behaviour change interventions more responsive

In this blog-piece, Rob Ferguson (@RobFerg82)  writes about his experiences and reflections around being involved in a co-production project. The piece highlights the value of lived experience when developing digitally enabled interventions for people in prisons and probation. HMPPS Interventions Services and Merseyside and Cheshire & Great Manchester CRCs would like to extend their gratitude to Rob and Paul Grove for their work in helping to make behaviour change interventions more flexible and responsive to the needs of participants.

NB – the views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily coincide with Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) policies relating to digital, co-production and interventions.

My Story

My name is Rob, I am currently studying an undergraduate degree in Psychology at Liverpool Hope University. I have also been volunteering with Probation as a peer mentor for the last 4 years. My journey getting to this point has not been straight forward. There has been so many ups and downs but – on reflection – it has all been worthwhile life experience.

From early adolescence, I was your normal risk-taking non-conformist teenager (or what I thought was normal) involved in crime, with alcohol and drugs (my substances of choice). My behaviour led me to have many scrapes with the law and what I would describe as being caught up in the system where at the time there was no way of getting out. This turned into years of petty crime and periods in the criminal justice system and addiction services. Life was a struggle but I knew I wanted better and I knew deep down I had it in me to get out.

Making Changes and Giving Back

After my last stint in Probation and many attempts in recovery it was time to change and I felt I was ready for new challenges. Having turned a corner, I had a strong sense of wanting to help others move forward in their lives. First I wanted to understand why I got caught up in the system myself. So I started an online Psychology course with the Open University where I started to learn about human behaviour. This gave me a starting point to learn, but from the outset I knew that this alone would not be enough for me to really start making a difference. So, I started looking into voluntary work to run alongside my degree. This for me was a simple choice: the Probation Service was the route I was heading down. Working as a volunteer mentor is a challenging role; not only have I been working on myself but I’ve been meeting many others who want to change but just don’t not know where to start.

The Project

While volunteering I was keen to experience as much as possible; so when an opportunity came up to be part of a project creating digital content for an intervention I jumped at the chance. I felt the interventions I took over the course of my probation orders had an impact on my life. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t understand at the time, but seeds of knowledge were planted in my mind. For me, change hadn’t been easy but by recognising what needed to change and understanding what’s going on behind my behaviours helped me to develop knowledge and ideas to change myself for the better. This project looked like a good opportunity to draw together my past experiences and the new knowledge I was learning to put to good use.

The project was creating digital content to run alongside the RESOLVE programme, a course for men with convictions for violence. This involved creating a character (“Terry”) who resembled a service user. We had to come up with scripts which resembled experiences of service users in the criminal justice system. There I met Roy, Paul, Jason, Sharron, Firoza and Jane. Paul was another ex-service user who shared many of the same experiences as me, so creating content with Paul was pretty easy to do. We came up with different scenarios to fit the course content. It felt good being able to look back in my past and try to identify with how “Terry” needed to be to get the message across. Roy and Jane were there as programme facilitators and I felt their support and knowledge around programmes was vital as they had first hand experience working with service users, Jason, Sharon and Firoza  brought a psychological standpoint and these ideas were put across, but it was our perspective they wanted to hear. This was empowering and gave me and Paul the confidence to come up with a range of different scenarios in our words. Once these scripts were created it was down to Paul to deliver these on camera, as it was Paul who stepped up to play Terry.  He quickly adapted to this role. For me this process was a challenge as talking to camera was something I have never done before. It felt nerve racking and there was definitely a feeling of anxiety around doing this. I can only relate this to feelings from my past of low self-esteem and lacking in confidence, so I must applaud Paul for taking centre stage. Although I did do some voice overs. I’m glad I did, what I’ve come to learn is it can be uncomfortable doing things out of your comfort zone but next time I’m in a similar situation I know it will be that little bit easier.

What We Created

I feel the video scenarios that we created will work well with the intervention. Along with the animation it gets you thinking more and triggers memories that help you identify with the character. For me, this visual learning process helps in identifying your own beliefs. Using Paul as the character works really well and gives a sense of reality to the skills that are being delivered and someone to identify with.

There were some challenges with the project, and the staff I worked with were ready to take things on board. Creating content for the first time involved me understanding some of the theory that underpinned these interventions. I have knowledge of sitting on the other side, so maybe more preparation around content before each meeting would have helped the meetings run more smoothly. Also, I feel adding more emotion to the clips could hit messages home harder. Service users could relate to these feelings and really get involved and identify with the character. More creative content that hits service users emotionally would inspire and motivate them more to want to change, as this is their chance to learn about themselves and be the person they want to be.

It would be really interesting to trial the content with service users I work with and get some feedback off them to understand how they see it.

Using Digital to Support Desistance

Overall, this project has been enjoyable and at times fascinating. It’s a privilege to learn about what goes into interventions and how they are evolving to adapt for the modern world we live in. In many areas of society, digital platforms are forever adapting and changing at a rapid pace. It seems that the criminal justice system is lagging behind for whatever reason, but I feel time and money pumped into this area would be well spent and could have positive effects on re-offending rates. This is the time to push for these digital interventions to work alongside the rehabilitation system through prisons and probation and make a real difference to people’s lives giving them a chance to change and to become positive role models in society.

For me, my desistance journey continues. I hope to meet many more challenges along the way, overcoming personal barriers and to carry on with a positive mindset. My goal will always be to try and learn more about myself and to continue to be a better version of myself, but it is in helping others to change and supporting them follow the life they desire that will be the driving force that matters most to me.

Rob and Paul co-created 18 clips for the RESOLVE Digital Project. An example clip can be viewed above. Click here if you can’t see it.

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