In June this year senior leaders from across the criminal justice sector came together at the Modernising Criminal Justice Conference in London.

I chaired an interesting break-out panel discussion on how to better use data and technology across the sector, and was joined by Chief Inspector Alex Metcalfe, Business Change Manager at Greater Manchester Police (GMP), Lisa McDowell, Head of Operational Strategy and Design at Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), and Nick Stevens, Data Solutions Consultant at Capita.

I’ve since had time to reflect on the discussion and the three areas that the panel members felt could improve effectiveness and decision making across the criminal justice sector: investment in technology, agile working and data management.

Understanding the importance of investing in technology

From working with partners across the criminal justice sector, we’ve seen the value that investment in technology and data can bring. Not just in improving back-office processes, but in enabling vital data to be shared across agencies and empowering frontline employees to make informed decisions. However, it’s clear that there’s some way to go before all agencies feel that investing in technology is as beneficial as investing in guns or stab-proof vests for police officers, for example.

Chief Inspector Alex Metcalfe from GMP spoke about how submitting proposals for technology solutions that can improve ways of working and save money are not being implemented quickly enough. He said the hierarchical nature of police forces can mean decisions are too slow; “The biggest blockage in the public sector can be when people don’t take responsibility for a decision. Own your decision, take responsibility for it, accept the consequences.”

So, how can we help decision makers see the value of investing in technology? Lisa McDowell from HMPPS was right to say that the sector needs to get better at putting forward the right business case and helping people to understand the benefits of using data; “If we can’t demonstrate the value of information and data, and how that can help on the ground to make decisions, we don’t create the right environment for people to want to use those systems in the best way possible.”

That’s where partners such as Capita can help. We have the knowledge and experience to develop compelling business cases that can save people valuable time and help them achieve the investment they need.

Adapting to agile

Taking an agile approach to technology projects can also help public sector agencies to see benefits more quickly. This is understandably a difficult concept for some organisations to accept, especially because they are rightly mindful of how they spend public sector money. Chief Inspector Metcalfe summarised this well when he said, “It’s a difficult concept to sell to business managers, that the tech solution that we're going to provide is going to be 80% there. But, by the time we deliver 100%, the needs will have changed, and we’ll end up never delivering anything because we're always trying to get 100%.”

This reticence is understandable, but at Capita, we’re beginning to see increased adoption of agile working across the public sector and we have the experience to help organisations overcome barriers.

During our panel discussion, Lisa spoke about the importance of user testing, and ensuring that technology teams respond to user needs. A great example of this is a proof of concept that we’ve developed in partnership with GMP to improve how their officers record domestic violence incidents. We designed the solution for officers by working with officers, and one of the things we've learned is that you need to have all the right stakeholders on board from the beginning of these projects. Taking an agile approach and working in iteration enables you to test and refine the solution, and demonstrate the benefits early.

Ensuring effective data governance

The third key theme to emerge from our discussion was how to collect and share data safely. Lisa gave a great example of a new HMPPS project that tags the whereabouts of prisoners who have been released from custody after serving 12 months or more for a serious acquisitive crime. They then share the data with police colleagues to assist in the prevention and detection of crime.

With projects like these the potential benefits can be huge, but it’s vital that data is collected and processed safely with a clear purpose in mind. The people who are going to be using the data also need to understand how to use it effectively, so data literacy is key. Chief Inspector Metcalfe referred to data as the ‘lifeblood’ of his police force, but we know how complex and fragmented the criminal justice sector is, so it’s important that all organisations recognise the value of joining and sharing data between themselves.

At Capita, we’re helping to ensure that technology is an enabler by essentially freeing up data. We’ve helped Police Scotland to transform the way they handle their data, so they’re able to get a complete picture of an individual and their history. Previously, data was stored in multiple places – a crime a person had committed was stored in one place, for example, but their arrest records were somewhere else. By applying rules, logic and probability, we helped to join the data up and provide a single view, which is helping to create better outcomes across the force.

Working in partnership and breaking down barriers

It’s evident from our panel discussion that the justice sector is willing to use data and technology more effectively, but there are some barriers to overcome. By working in partnership, we can help teams to effectively develop and present compelling business cases to articulate the benefits of technology to the organisation and citizens, whilst helping to speed up the decision making process. When implementing solutions, an agile approach can ensure that people within the sector see benefits early and have the opportunity to test and feedback to ensure continual improvement.

At Capita, we have extensive experience of developing solutions that improve processes and help people to focus on creating better outcomes.

Read more about how we’re supporting the criminal justice sector

Written by

John Cheal

John Cheal

Solutions Director at Capita Public Service

John is digital and innovation lead at Capita across Justice and Policing. In this role he researches and develops service and solution propositions to solve sector challenges, improve citizen experience across public services and enable the digital justice agenda. John’s background is in the design and delivery of technology enabled solutions and services for public and private sector enterprise clients. He has been a champion of workflow automation and technology driven citizen experience for more than a decade. John is also a member of Tech UK’s Justice and Emergency Services Management Committee.

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