As a newly appointed assistant chief officer, I joined a 3 week induction course along with around 30 others who were setting out in their exalted role in Probation. In those days, the Home Office thought 3 weeks in a hotel to learn about senior management was a good investment. Extraordinary! The Home Office, staffed as they were with some of the country’s brightest and best brains, had this tendency to imagine that we ‘foot soldiers’ on the front line of social problems knew nothing about management, and so they would turn to the latest fashion in management theory consultants to teach us the basics. We would therefore have to sit through lectures / exercises that often seemed like ‘Noddy’s Guide to Management’. Our task was to get through these sessions without getting too delinquent or abrasive, holding firmly to the principle that ‘all experience is useful’ (a principle advocated by an earlier generation of trainers at the start of my time as a probation officer – what a useful principle for a trainer……)
It so happened that the fashion on this occasion was for a couple of likeable Irish lads who had realised that an emphasis on ‘outcomes’ would be very attractive to a Home Office and the ministers who were no doubt often being advised that things were ‘complex and difficult’. Crime policy then, as now, tended to be driven by the need for ministers to have a ‘magic bullet’ that would cut crime and stop re-offending, and by the suspicion that probation officers were woolly minded liberals who wanted to help offenders, and cared little for outcomes of reduced offending.
The consultants were on to a good thing however, and despite all the heaving against open doors, and earnest coverage of the obvious, there was good sense in making us focus on outcomes, and countering the ease with which issues of process could dominate our attention.