The UK government is currently undertaking a review of the probation service and is encouraging probation trusts to be innovative in responding to fundamental change. Jason Davies’s (@b00tstrapper) post shows that there’s plenty of innovation in the current probation service.
SWM Probation Trust’s adventures in mapping, phone apps and pecha kucha.
It’s Wednesday afternoon, mid-June and we’re back in Southampton. It’s the final of the Geovation Challenge. The judges have retired to their chambers. We’ve made our case and it’s out of our hands, but the nerves are jangling now.
This is the culmination of a Staffordshire & West Midlands Probation Trust bid for some GeoVation funding. Ordnance Survey run the GeoVation Challenge with prize money awarded to the best and most innovative ways of combining maps and data to benefit local communities.
We wanted to address the lack of public awareness in community sentences and feelings of disconnection between the public and authority – a sense of distance from decision-making.
We wanted to develop a mobile phone app to make it easier and more likely for people to nominate sites for Community Payback. We would exploit the rise in smartphones and harness the camera and GPS applications to make it happen. The reward would be far greater visibility of the unpaid work that offenders do to improve their local communities.
Part of our inspiration for the idea came from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. A couple of colleagues at work had been talking about the North American wildlife conservation organisation. The IDFG have developed an app that lets drivers report roadkill on Idaho’s roads by taking a picture with their mobile phone and sending the geo-tagged photo in for analysis. Elk and moose lovers, rejoice. This app helps boost survival rates near busy Idaho roads. On one particularly hazardous stretch, IDFG hollowed out a tunnel to protect the travelling beasts from oncoming juggernauts.
We posted the idea on the GeoVation website and waited. 74 other ideas had been submitted, so we were delighted to be shortlisted as one of 20 invited to the GeoVation Camp in May.
We got a small team together to represent the Trust: Mark from IT, Craig from Community Payback and me. We knew we’d have to pitch to the assembled audience and judges, so we got some slides made and put down a few words.
The weekend was challenging, but rewarding and fun. Until Sunday afternoon. On Sunday afternoon it got a bit tense, a bit intense!
Sunday afternoon was pecha kucha.
Roughly translated from Japanese as “chit chat”, it’s really anything but. Two minutes. Six slides. 20 seconds per slide. Auto-timed powerpoint. No room for waffle.
Slide 1: Intro. 20 seconds to explain to an audience of non-criminal justice people who we are, what we do and what on earth is Community Payback anyway?
Slide 2: The Problem. We quote from the final report into last summer’s riots. “People want to be involved in improving their areas and more communities should nominate projects for Community Payback… Probation Trusts should publish clearly accessible data on the outcomes of community sentences.”
Slide 3: The Solution (Part 1). We want to develop a mobile app that members of the public could download for free. The app will let them take a geo-tagged photo of a site they want offenders to work on. OrdnanceSurvey streetmaps on the phone will display the location to the user, who will be able to manually adjust it to give pinpoint accuracy. The app will send the photo automatically to us and we will assess the site for suitability.
Slide 4: The Solution (Part 2). We will respond to all nominations, even anonymous ones, via link to a unique url – or webpage – where the nominator will be able to track their request. Suitable projects will be posted on a website with estimated work times, photos of work, clean sites and – most crucially – stories about the offenders’ experiences.
Slide 5: The Execution. This is the business model bit. We talked about getting an app developer and hosting the devices through cloud servers. We wanted a clean, modern and professional website capable of handling live maps of projects. People could search on the map for projects in their patch, or zoom in on any part of the Trust and click on tags to reveal photos and links to stories.
Slide 6: Next Steps. We talked about market research and publicity. We talked about our strong partnerships with police and local authorities, other Trusts who would support us and help us spread the word. We started allocating specific amounts of money to each bit.
For us, The most important part of the app was the opportunity to engage with the public as they followed progress online on the work sites they had suggested.
We imagine a map-based tapestry of local stories – stories the public could play a part in, stories about sorting out issues in people’s neighbourhoods, stories about the reintegration and rehabilitation of offenders.
We must have done OK because we got through to the final. We are back in Southampton. Ten teams are there and there’s a genuine sense of collaboration that has been there since the beginning. Of course everyone wants funding, but there’s no overt sense of competitiveness.
The judge returns and promises not to keep us in suspense.
He only seems to deliberate for eight or nine hours.
He tells us four of the ten ideas will get funding. Three prizes of £25k are announced: Groundwork’s Green Space Mapper, Ideal for All’s Shout Crime app and Sustaination. He hasn’t said our name yet, but there’s one prize left – £40k funding… It’s us!
Now the real work starts. Firstly, we get a prototype app, some cloud server and the backend of the website built. Then some testing and market research. There’s work to do, but we’ve got funding and technical support from Ordnance Survey, the backing of our chief executive and the words of the riot report ringing in our ears, so watch out for developments.