Wise Innovation Dialogue Series #1 – Hamish Robertson

Kicking off the new ‘Wise Innovation Dialogue’ series Hamish Robertson begins the debate with five things we need to do right now to harness innovation and support our Recovery in the Justice System. 

Seek new solutions to new problems 

The problems we face today are caused by a global pandemic which has shut down swathes of society and the structures that support it. Take just one small part of the Justice system – currently there is a backlog of 400,000 Unpaid Work Hours with more to come when court business resumes fully. 

Our colleagues in Justice Social Work and beyond were already stretched before the pandemic and there is only so much unpaid work that can be done in Scotland each year. When restrictions are lifted fully, simply returning to work squads going out to mend fences or arranging group training sessions is not enough. 

The judiciary’s move to court room in cinema is innovation – it kept part of the justice system moving. But the judiciary ‘funnel’ needed investment throughout the system not just at the front end. There’s little point adding capacity for the top if the bottom is unchanged. We need more investment at the bottom of the funnel now than at the top to help people get through their Unpaid Work Hours quickly. 

To reduce the backlog, in summer, we proposed CPO Connect, a programme to deliver Other Activity hours at scale to people servicing Community Payback Orders (CPOs). We proposed creating a standard programme of Other Activity, covering a handful of rehabilitative topics that nearly everyone on an order would benefit from (healthy eat, employment, mental wellbeing, finance etc). This could be delivered at scale online at between 1,000 and 3,000 hours a week. CPO Connect is now up and running, for 6 Local Authorities but with the right approach to innovation dialogue it could be used by all 32. 

To harness innovation, we must find 2021 solutions. What worked in 2019 won’t work today. 

Think like it’s May 2020 again 

The months of April, May and June last year were a golden age of innovation and collaboration in Justice in Scotland.  

One of the most common comments I heard in cross-organisation meetings was how refreshing it was that everyone wanted to find solutions. 

It was a pleasure to work with organisations – Third Sector private business, funders, local and national govt. Everyone proposed ways around problems, rather than throwing up barriers. 

The Wise Group is privileged to deliver the nation-wide New Routes Mentoring PSP in partnership with Scottish Government, Scottish Prison Service, Apex, Sacro, SAMH and Families outside. For years, we’ve asked to spend money on mobile phones to improve engagement with and from prisoners on release, but it was always frowned upon. When the pandemic hit, it was welcomed. 

The problem was the same as it had always been, but suddenly people listened. 

Since the summer, we’ve experienced a return to the pre-pandemic ways of working. The pace of decision making has slowed, Individuals and departments are more risk averse. Process has got back in the way of innovation. 

If we want to harness innovation to support our Recovery, we need to get back to thinking and acting like we did in May 2020 when nothing was too big a barrier to overcome. 

Back all the horses, not just the winners 

No one can back only winning horses, you must place bets across the field. Because some horses will fall at the first fence. Our justice system needs a whole range of solutions to support the Recovery. There’s no silver bullet, but a mixture of all options is needed. 

Funders and commissioners need to embrace failure and channel it toward’s Scotland’s world-renowned reputation for evidence led Improvement. We can all learn something from early-stage investors in tech companies – 1 in 10 will be knockout success 2 or 3 will break even, the rest will fail.  

Failing is not a problem. Failing to improve is. Failing is a natural outcome when you push yourself to the edge.  

Finally, when you do have a winning horse, put more money towards it. Funders need to be much better at ‘follow on funding and not only fund new innovative projects. 

Not everything has to be innovative – when you know something works, just do more of it. 

When you find a ham and mushroom pizza you like, you keep ordering each time. You don’t try the anchovyjalapenos and tuna pizza just because it’s new.  

To maximise innovation to support the Recovery sufficiently, double down on the bets that pay off. Buy two ham and mushroom pizzas. 

Give yourself permission to jump across 

Give yourself permission to take a leap. Embracing innovation is a choice. It’s easy to be the person at the end waiting for everyone else. As a solutions provider, we need to work with more people like this person at the start, who can imagine the colour of the rainbow and the pot of gold at the end, when all we can show her is a black and white sketch. 

When we proposed the idea for CPO Connect back in the summer, only a handful of people thought it was viable.  I had all the put downs you can imagine – it’s not safe to deliver online, people are digitally excluded, how will you prove the person is actually there etc. And we addressed all those. 

One Local Authority, Highland, was the innovator. They could picture the rainbow from our greyscale sketch. Since then, 5 other Local Authorities – the early adopters – joined us.  

We’re now delivering it for 6 Local Authorities out of 32. Everyone else is here, waiting until it’s ’definitely’ a success before embracing it. 

So, to harness innovation enough to support our Recovery, we need more people prepared to take the leap and try new ideas. 

Our invitation to you  

We are a solutions provider. We are a charity and social enterprise. What gets us up in the morning is making a positive difference to people’s lives through identifying gaps in service and investing our money and effort to solve it. 

To get CPO Connect off the ground the Wise Group has made a financial investment. Come and speak to us about your customer and service gaps and how we can help. We have ideas on: 

  • Reducing Remand population 
  • Improving education and training levels pre-release 
  • Making CPOs more rehabilitative and cost-effective. 
  • Improving connectedness between JSW and Third Sector. 

Talk to us about CPO Connect – I’m looking for the early majority to jump over the chasm and join the early adopters. 


Read more about The Wise Group’s activity in the Justice sector.