21st September 2012

Probation, Innovation & GeoVation

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Today we have a really great post from Jason Davies of Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust who won the ‘How can we transform Neighbourhoods in Britain together?’ GeoVation Challenge with the idea for Community Payback Visibility.  Jason’s post is a great way to get a feel for what happens at a GeoVation Camp and the nail-biting climax of the GeoVation Showcase back in June:

Community Payback is unpaid work carried out by offenders on community service and the idea is for the public to nominate sites for Community Payback via an app and track the progress.  The government is currently undertaking a review of the probation service and is encouraging probation trusts to be innovative in responding to fundamental change.

image of Community Payback Visibility Team with certificate

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 development funding awarded to the best and most innovative ways of combining maps and data to benefit local communities.

We want 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 by developing 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. 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.

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.

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 and now 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 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.