Mentoring Project – a case study on Partnership Working and Innovation
Mentoring, according to the National Mentoring network, “does not have one universally accepted definition. This is because the definition depends very much on why, where and with whom it is being used”.
PPPF is a Scottish Charity who utilise their collective experience of the criminal justice system to benefit others still within the system or shortly after their release. We have trained some of our volunteers in the theory and practice of mentoring. We have started to mentor inmates as they leave HMP Kilmarnock. We also operate a “ninja” service where professionals who are aware of our unique functionality can call on us to help them out.
Our vision for the SPS estate was to have a mentoring scheme within each prison run for and by the prisoners and staff. This would enable those with experience of the system to share that knowledge for the benefit of new entrants and others who are struggling with incarceration. The objective of each mentoring relationship was to build the confidence and experience of the mentee to the point whereby they could confidently start to make decisions for themselves, would not be afraid to ask for help and where this process of providing and seeking such help was not viewed as a weakness. Mentors would need to receive accredited training that could be utilised upon their eventual release. Staff would also be awarded a qualification that would help with the professionalisation of the staff. This whole process would also require buy in from senior management within the estate.
The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services are a Glasgow based charitable company whose mission is to: –
…promote positive outcomes for the people who use Scotland’s social services by enhancing the capacity and capability of the social services workforce to access and make use of knowledge and research for service innovation and improvement.
In May last year, IRISS sent out a mail request looking for volunteers to take part in their Social Service Laboratory process. The mailer contained the following:
IRISS is seeking two partners to test the process of using Social Service Labs as a prompt for innovation and improvement. A Lab is the name given to an environment where people involved in providing support can come together and try out new ways of working. This opportunity could be used in three different ways but we welcome other ideas. These ways include:
- Explore current service provision, experiences of this provision, and think about ways in which the service could be improved.
- Test out new ideas, i.e. adapting current service processes, interactions, products and experiences
- Test the creation of a new service, i.e. developing new service processes, interactions, products and therefore experiences
To engage with IRISS, PPPF had to provide a presentation that outlined our vision and ideas as to where we viewed the lab process fitting in. We presented three options to IRISS and after a competitive selection process we were successful in partnering with them for this process. We had some meetings to further define the process and what we were trying to achieve.
One of the options was to establish a mentoring system with a prison in Scotland. Perth was identified as a particular candidate for two general reasons:
- Our coordinator regarded Mike Inglis as a more progressive Governor who might embrace what we were trying to achieve.
- The coordinator had a meeting scheduled for the following week with the Governor at Perth.
The outcome of this meeting was that we received the go ahead to proceed with our proposal to establish a mentoring system within HMP Perth.
We had a number of tripartite meetings between SPS staff, IRISS and PPPF. The system was outlined and talked about in general terms of how it might work, the outcomes that might be achieved and the benefits that would accrue to the inmates, staff and HMP Perth.
The senior Management team totally bought into the concept that we had outlined. They also were happy to take part in the Lab process with IRISS. It should be noted that our expectations of what would be achievable were far exceeded by the management team. We have been singing their praises highly wherever we get the opportunity to.
PPPF had a pre-lab process meeting with a selected group of inmates and others who saw the poster and volunteered. PPPF outlined our thinking behind the programmes and this seemed to get quite a buy in from the inmates. The discussion was wide ranging and covered most of the points that we might have had concerns about. Clearly the inmates were passionate about trying to help others, they clearly saw the opportunity for getting a qualification as being beneficial to them and they were not phased by the proposal to be trained in conjunction with the staff members. PPPF received two letters from two participants – each letter made the point that they took heart from the fact that an organisation like PPPF exists on the outside and it gave them both a positive feeling for the future. This is a small unintended consequence of our involvement but one that should not be ignored.
The lab process includes two co-design sessions, the lab process itself and a number of evaluations after the event . As a general feeling after the meeting PPPF and IRISS both thought that the day had gone better than we could possibly have expected. Inmates and staff engaged fully with the process, there was openness and transparency about the issues raised and everyone was able to take part with an equality of voice, in the sense that views expressed were not given any additional weighting based on what uniform was being worn! In terms of the theory and practice of co-production and the asset based approach, we would be hard pushed to find a better example of this process.
The process itself has not progressed without any hitches. Timetabling seems to be a very big problem in trying to get congruent times when all interested staff are available. The lab process has also been scaled back from its original programme wide remit to focus on the production of a code of conduct. Staff and inmates are both fully aware of the duality of purposes of the current venture and the scaling back has not had any significant detrimental effect on the programme.
There is still work to be completed on the general programme of mentoring within the prison. PPPF will be establishing the best way to facilitate the certification of mentors within the prison. How and where mentoring is applied within Perth still needs to be refined further. These discussions are ongoing between PPPF and HMP Perth.
PPPF has been very enthused about the whole process with IRISS and with the Management team at Perth. We will certainly be making our experience of this whole process and the knowledge gained available to other institutions within the SPS estate.