rapid prototype

Jailbrake & Spill, a mobile peer support service

getting late, originally uploaded by Josie Fraser.
I spent last weekend holed up in London at the Young Foundation, working with a stupidly talented group of young people, designers, developers, programmers, policy makers, service designers, youth service experts and anyone else you can imagine needing to pull together together solutions to social issues that involved tech. Jailbrake, the competition/camp we’d all signed up to, focused on supporting young people out of the cycle of re-offending.

Youth offending isn’t an area I’ve had a great deal to do with, although I have previously (& briefly) worked as a member of AoC’s Offender Learning Group. Primarily I was there to contribute in terms of risk management issues, since I’ve done a lot of work on social technologies and young people, and also to check out how Social Innovation Camp works  – the extremely rapid development process Alice Casey referred to recently as ‘hacking stuff together for social justice’. Between January and March, a call went out for approaches to using mobile and web-based techs to support young people involved in the criminal justice system, with the broad aim of putting the brakes on re-offending.

Keeping a young person in custody for a year currently costs around £140,000 in hard cash, and huge additional social costs. 6 ideas made it through this initial round and the people who came up with them were invited along for the weekend. I helped out Common Ground – the team who went on to win the judges vote (congratulations!), but spent most of my time working on & in the end pitching for Steven Whitehead‘s Phone A Friend idea, later rechristened Spill.

Spill was a small team, but we also benefited from floating support of other people contributing to the the weekend, and particularly from the input and encouragement of the young people – some of whom were working as volunteers on youth advice projects – who took the time to find out about our ideas and tell us exactly what they thought. As well as Stephen Whitehead, our team included Noemi Mas, Ian Bach, Lauren Currie & special thanks have to go to our developers, Ben Nickolls from Ribbit and Glyn Roberts who built our working service prototype in time for us to demo on Sunday afternoon.

Stephen’s Spill project idea was to use mobile technology to enable young people who are in trouble for the first time to be supported through and out of the criminal justice system by young adults who have ‘been there and done that’. What we came up with over the course of the weekend was not just the technology to support that in a cost effective way, but the whole project cycle development and implementation plan needed to support and run the service effectively. It would be great if Spill were taken up by the youth offending sector, but essentially what we designed is massively transferable: the frame work and infrastructure for a safe, co-produced, mobile phone peer mentoring service.  In terms of our planning, we had two groups in mind. Callers – 13-18 year olds, who may or may not have access to some professional support services, and need to talk about their situation – this might include questions about the legal processes and what next, their rights & obligation, or just someone to acknowledge anxieties and point them in the right direction.

Our adviser group was made up of young adults coming out of the criminal justice system, perhaps still on probation, not currently in employment, education or training, and wanting to develop skills, experience, confidence and to support young people in ways that they themselves might have benefited from but not had access too. Our service design solution matched these two groups of young people and used a mobile service to help meet the needs of the first group by developing the skills of the second.

We picked mobile because this would enable callers to select when and where they accessed services, using an already familiar, personal technology. Mobile allowed us to negotiate ‘on call’ periods with our adviser group, and to decentralize service provision – once they were comfortable with the process of handling calls, there would be no need for them to come to a specific office to answer a particular phone at set times. Their own phone would become the hot line. This shift from centralised call centers to a distributed mobile phone network has massive implications and opportunities for the provision of any phone support service, particularly within the voluntary sector, including potential cost savings benefits and greater flexibility for (& potentially availability of) those taking calls. The process of the call looked like this: The adviser logs onto the system through the web interface, leaving their phone number and submitting the times which they are available to be on call. This could be done centrally by an administrator but adviser access obviously provides greater flexibility, and the process is very simple/form based. The caller would text a command (ie CALL ME) to a number. This reduces the caller cost significantly, but for those unable to call out, we set up a prototype web-based interface. Using the web version the caller would simply enter their phone number and hit the submit button. We also talked about introducing a limited, additional caller command menu, for example in order to request someone previously spoken too, or to specify the preferred gender of the adviser. These are all feasible in terms of the technology, but dependent on adviser availability. So users would be able to make requests, but where these could not be met, would connect them with the best/next available adviser, giving them the opportunity to talk to someone or call back later. The adviser receives a call to their handset. The call is indicated as a service call, but they don’t receive any information regarding the caller, i.e. the callers number, at any point. Answering the call prompts the call back service: The callers phone rings, again, with a service indicator, not with the number of the adviser. The call-only costs of the service come in at 6p per minute, so you can extrapolate the cost of the service level you’d expect support from that. For our pilot it came in at around £4.7K per year. Working with current and ex-offenders raised a wide range of risk management issues.

Actually, these aren’t particularly unique this group, but are the same issues faced by any group wanting to work with young people or provide advice – a need to ensure quality of service; to support caller anonymity; to support people giving advice (what they are expected to provide, support available to them, anonymity); and to ensure there is no inappropriate contact or activity between the caller and adviser. We managed these risks in several ways. Since our solution would be likely to be perceived as a high risk approach, the idea was for a localized pilot which would enable us to prove concept and build confidence. The volunteer adviser recruitment process, and the initial adviser training process would both be designed to support the identification and navigation of risks. The co-production approach we envisaged as leading the service design and implementation can be used in the process of defining and addressing risk, although it’s effectiveness isn’t of course limited to that. Ensuring the service can technically support anonymity is obviously critical to the security of callers and advisers. The project-coordinator, or person with responsibility for training and supporting the advisers, would also need to take responsibility for sampling and reviewing calls, and feeding back on these as part of the adviser development process. Caller feedback would be enabled by mobile and web in case of specific concerns about the service, calls would be archived and retrievable for a specified period of time, and service guidelines would be made available in a readable format to all users. Again, our template design for service implementation is transferable, and could be adapted to a wide variety of service needs and variables. So that was my weekend 🙂

If you’re interested in finding out more about the service please get in touch, and find out more about all the projects here. The big message that I took away from the weekend was this: All of the projects came in at relatively small cost, especially in comparison to the direct and indirect costs of keeping a young person in custody for a year. You could maybe even fund all six projects for that amount. If you only managed to keep one person out of custody, you’d break even, and you’d be significantly improving someones prospects, and the lives of their family. Projects like the ones coming out of Social Innovation Camp are offering real, innovative opportunities for effective social change – if we want to see a difference these are the kind of risks we need to be taking.