“Dialogue facilitates multi-agency working in the criminal justice system”

Margaret WilliamsonWritten by: Margaret Williamson

The Right Conversation: Spotlight on Dialogue,
Promoting the right conversations at work

Over the past year I’ve been researching the impact of using Dialogue for organisational change, both in the published literature and in conversation with people working with dialogue in the public sector.

There are few, if any, systematic research studies of the overall impact of dialogue on organisational or personal change but there are many individual examples of where dialogue has been employed successfully to:

  • create alignment around a shared vision or strategy;
  • improve employee engagement;
  • increase the effectiveness of cross functional teams and multi-organisation partnerships by building relationships and trust;
  • resolving or transforming conflict

What do we mean by Dialogue?

There are situations where it is important to think things through together with others, especially when making changes that will impact on other people. Examples include: developing a new strategic direction, restructuring an organisation, redesigning a service, introducing a new IT system, changing work processes, or creating a new partnership organisation.  The integration of health and social care would be a good example of where dialogue can be helpful.  The issues are complex and no one person has the answer.

Dialogue is a way of talking together about issues that matter.  Participants are encouraged to contribute their thoughts, experience and understanding to improve the quality of their decisions. Dialogue starts from the perspective that everyone has a part to play in the system being the way it is and all views are of equal value. It uses simple communication and engagement skills to support everyone to participate.  Everyone has the potential to make an equal contribution to developing and improving the quality of services and determining future priorities.

I have found some really interesting examples of the use of Dialogue in the Criminal Justice system in the UK and the USA by Prison Dialogue.  Prison Dialogue was established in 1993 and registered as a charity in 1995.  It has pioneered the use of dialogue in prisons working at all levels from the local engagement of staff, offenders, agency workers and local communities to the executive, strategic decision-making level.

Here are a few examples and outcomes that have been written up in the form of case studies by Peter Garrett, Director and Jane Ball, Programmes Director.

Title Outline Outcomes
Nebraska Department of Corrections Introducing dialogue to a hierarchical organisation and build skills to address stuck relationships at senior level and create shared vision for the Department. Revealing of unspoken deep emotions

Realigned relationships

Shift from skill building to genuine dialogue

Transforming identities

Washington State Department of Corrections Develop a group of Dialogue practitioners New initiatives including Spot check on individual prisoners asking whether they are being served well by the system

Development of a pre-release dialogue with prisoners and families to reduce reoffending

Creating a contract of behaviours

Dorset Threshold Dialogue Creating a multi-stakeholder partnership to reduce re-offending and improve relationships between agencies: 3 prisons, 3 community centres, multi-agency team of trained dialogue facilitators, inter-agency operations group and governance board. Integrated approach to reducing reoffending

Shared understanding of the offenders’ journey

Increased knowledge of range of support services available

Greater inter-agency collaboration

New ideas to prevent reoffending

Facilitator training for Criminal justice staff Aim was to embed Threshold Dialogue in local ownership and operation to create long term sustainability; 55 participants from a wide range of agencies trained to facilitate dialogue; 3 days of training plus practice co-facilitating with an experienced facilitator The development of effective facilitation teams

Improved listening

More effective engagement with each other and with offenders

For more cases describing the work of Prison Dialogue go to www.prisondialogue.org  website:

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