The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) needed a new digital service to help them better manage their intervention programme for people on probation in England and Wales, as part of the wider reform of the probation service.
An Intervention covers a broad range of rehabilitative activities in the justice system, from unpaid work like clearing litter to an accredited programme that aims to tackle the triggers that may cause someone to re-offend.
A national service was needed to enable probation practitioners to find suitable interventions for people and refer them to the suppliers who run intervention programmes. It also needed to allow those suppliers to report on what they deliver. The service forms an important part of a wider programme of work to transform the probation service.
We successfully launched the ‘refer and monitor an intervention’ service in June 2021. At the time of writing, there have been 70,000 intervention referrals of which around half have now been delivered. As the roadmap for the service is realised, and more intervention services are added, these numbers will grow substantially.
The team rolled out the service to a fixed one day deadline in line with the recent reform of the probation service. This presented a significant challenge. We needed to work quickly and pragmatically and be clear about priorities with multiple stakeholders. In January 2022 we handed over the service to the MoJ team, leaving solid foundations for them to build on and deliver improved outcomes for people eligible for an intervention.
What we did
Working in a blended team
We began the project in Spring 2020, taking it all the way from discovery through to live. We worked in a blended team alongside the MoJ team and specialist contractors. We also collaborated with others across MoJ including their digital, commercial, risk and governance teams.
Interventions cover a large and varied range of areas across prisons, probation services, and community schemes, with many interested parties. We needed to understand and navigate this complexity to deliver the new service. With multiple user groups, with many different needs, a key task was to scope and understand who the first users of the service should be and how it could best work for them. Through extensive research and co-design with experts in interventions, we were able to map out a Day 1 version of the service and a sequencing of how the service would be scaled up after that point.
Focus on good communication
With so many different stakeholders, ensuring good lines of communication was essential. We used a consistent narrative and common language to talk about the service and coordinated our communications across a number of channels.
We joined existing stakeholder meetings, and led a working group with the service owner for updates and feedback. We maintained a strategic roadmap to reflect on the bigger picture and worked in the open, publishing weeknotes and sharing videos of our show and tells for those unable to attend in person. As we approached going live, we shared 2-3 minute easy to understand videos to explain the service to a wider audience.
Having a blended team meant we maximised our capability. We created a culture of evidence-led decision making to keep everyone aligned, with data and KPIs to report on progress.
One of the main challenges we faced was balancing the need to integrate with existing systems to access and share critical case data, whilst also supporting the long term strategy of breaking MoJ’s dependency on those same systems. We did this by gradually becoming the source of truth for intervention-specific data in the new service and carefully carving that away from the existing systems. For non-intervention data, we maintained integrations with the existing systems as minimally as possible for the needs of the new service.
With a tight and immovable deadline there were limited options in being able to start small, test, iterate then scale-up. The team had to deliver a comprehensive minimum viable product and get the site live. Although this meant there were more support issues in the first week than usual due to the greater number of active users, the team was prepared to prioritise the requests and keep the service running smoothly. We helped to define MoJ’s operating process and created a support model so users’ problems could be fixed quickly.
Using data to improve lives
In the past, data on interventions had been poor and disjointed. This resulted in limited understanding of how successful an intervention had been, and the probation practitioners who placed people on interventions weren’t always aware of what’s available or how an intervention was progressing. We designed the new system to make these key metrics accessible and available to everyone who needs them.
Knowing how well interventions and suppliers are performing will help MoJ understand what is actually working and what needs to be improved. Most importantly, this will lead to better outcomes for the people who are placed on interventions.