Passionate people are at the heart of social innovation

Anton Shelupanov

The world, as we are continually reminded, is always changing. A generation ago the use of satellite technology for remote court appearances, the use of CCTV evidence, electronic monitoring of offenders were all the stuff of science fiction. As humans and as a society we are resilient to all kinds of changes so we adapt and all of these radical innovations sooner or later become part of the mainstream.

But as our StreeCraft Scholarship helps demonstrate, technological innovation is not the most important change. Some constants remain. In terms of progressive criminal justice practice there is one important constant: great people with a passion for their work, and with a desire to keep evolving things to make them better. That is the iterative process of individuals innovating which the StreetCraft Scholarship aims to support. A few months into this year’s Scholarship we are seeing the four Scholars discovering new tools, seeking out new collaborations and their prospective projects slowly taking on definition and becoming recognised by colleagues.

Already we are witnessing some reflection on the original ideas, and thinking being refined. The journey has not been without challenges, after all the process of innovation is rarely completely smooth or predictable. That has been especially interesting for us at the Centre. One of the Scholars has been surprised by the enthusiasm for her idea from colleagues. Another has realised that a new service can have a stronger focus if initially it is delivered across a smaller area than originally envisaged. All this reflects one of the themes which emerged strongly in the book StreetCraft: an initial hunch may be broadly right, but if it’s a brand new idea you may need to iterate and gather evidence along the way.

The 18th Century modernising tsar Peter the Great famously said to his law enforcement officials that working in prisons was a “damned craft, and to carry out this tragic duty you need firm, kind and joyful people”. This great quote has often been cited by frontline criminal justice practitioners to describe themselves. And they are good words with which to describe some of the attributes of our StreetCraft Scholars. Firmness is a necessary quality, as is a sense of compassion. And equally important is the joyfulness, perhaps better described in modern terms as enthusiasm or passion.

The major thing which the StreetCraft Scholarship continues to prove is that passionate people are at the heart of most social innovation, and it’s important to create an ecology of support for them in the justice sector. That way, innovation will flourish.