What have we learnt and, what more needs to be done to drive the use of digital technologies across the prison and probation service?
Exploring anything from infrastructure, in-cell telephony, healthcare services to rehabilitation, education and skills. With national lockdowns introduced and social distancing measures implemented, we saw prison and probation service processes having to change overnight. How did technology support these processes? What have we learnt from the last year and, what more needs to be done to drive the use of digital technologies across the prison and probation service?
In the last year, I think I’ve learned that there’s no shortage of “drive” for new digital technology in prisons and probation, but there is a supply-side gap of understanding of the pressures faced by users in those teams which have only increased under COVID. Lockdowns dramatically reduced our capacity to absorb technology change, just at the moment we became dependent on new technology for a new way of working. My immediate learning from where it’s worked well this year is to show more empathy to help increase adoption.
It’s a well-worn trope that prisons and probation have suffered from a lack of investment over many years. It’s also not news that the technology and systems are dated and updates are underway. However, I think we’re less sensitive to the immense gap that’s grown between what’s being used today and state of the art. We still have a reliance on tech that’s 10 years old or more, and as a consequence the step change between existing systems and what can replace them is huge. If it’s true for many businesses that technology is moving faster than people’s capacity to learn and keep up, this is felt even more intensely when we try to drive digital transformation in prisons and probation.
Add to this the user base, often by their own self-admission, isn’t particularly tech-savvy - I think we’d all agree that prison and probation staff often have higher priorities than familiarising with esoteric technology solutions.
We digital evangelists can help by ensuring that technology updates are incremental, easy to adopt and enormously intuitive. We need to redouble our efforts to make sure our new technology doesn’t imply big, disruptive changes to ways of working, yet still provides the platform for ongoing transformation.
Perhaps more than any other industry I’ve worked with and for, we need to be sensitive to the user if we want to drive digital transformation. This year, even more than before, it’s not unusual for a customer to reach out for help, only to have to pause in the middle of a support call to go and attend to a high priority incident – we’ve learned that any support and guidance we offer has to be concise, succinct, and easy to understand.
I’ve gone back to basics and dug out the old textbooks on implementing successful technology change... This year, I think we’ve done well when we’ve applied the following 101 items in spades:
Explain the need for the new technology that we’re introducing and most importantly, the impact the new solution will have on the users’ day job
Although training is essential, don’t forget that everyone learns differently especially when we’re time-poor: provide online videos to watch, collateral to read or even print out, and ensure well informed advice and guidance through an understanding helpdesk so that everyone can dig in and learn in their own way
Keep reviewing adoption and tweak your approach frequently: millennials may feel more comfortable working with a new device or system, but other generations might be more comfortable with pen and paper and transcribing into the system later – be ready to accommodate those differences for some time to come
Be consistent. To reiterate my opening point, lockdowns constrained our capacity to absorb the impact of change, just at the time we needed new technology to adopt a new way of working. We can help ease the pains of adoption by remaining consistent, to allow new solutions to be embraced and usage become routine.