What the Heck Do I know About Prison Reform?

I spent an exciting hour on a zoom call this week with a network of eclectic and extraordinarily wise individuals from diverse professions and countries around the world.

The dynamic presenter shared a concept that is gaining traction. While ultimately her vision is to develop strategies for regenerating society and broken systems, her idea is to begin with an innovative pilot that will focus instead on reforming a prison or correctional institution - ideal because prisons are typically a self-contained community entity where applying a holistic, systems, or community perspective is more feasible. 

The conversation was fast and furious, swooping, and looping to include discussions about reducing recidivism of those incarcerated by increasing opportunities for their empowerment and dignity while providing learning paths, strategies for digital literacy, mentoring, and learning trades. Discussion also addressed reducing operating costs, the greening and climate footprint of prisons, implementing a circular economy, emphasizing clean energy, and even the potential of a documentary.

Turns out my area of specialization - strengthening capacity and a culture for innovation, futurism and multisector collaboration, was also a piece of a very complex puzzle.

Despite few in the group having expertise in the reform of correctional institutions, the exciting ideas that emerged demonstrated the potential of innovation when a challenge is tackled by those with diverse lenses, experiences, and ideas. Additionally, the culture reflected within the meeting was one where those in the group demonstrated kindness and generosity, offering up information and connections to other experts from around the world who could potentially provide advice or assistance.

It was a wonderful example of both the multisector collaboration and the futurism that is needed to fix our too-often broken systems.

So Why Are futurism And collaboration such a key part of the solution?

From a systems or holistic perspective, there is a need to fundamentally change the way our sectors design and deliver products, services, and supports. Futurism, together with collaboration across sectors and silos, are key components.

Futurism is a means to see beyond today. The World Economic Forum (2021) suggests:
Futurism is about opening minds and inspiring curiosity in order to challenge orthodoxies and overcome inertia and incrementalism.

Wide-eyed optimists will tell you that the future is clear. Transparent and entirely predictable. Cynics and skeptics, on the other hand, see the future as opaque. Unknowable.

Neither is quite correct.

The future is translucent. We can make out the shapes and shadows, but not the fine details. The pragmatist sees futurism as a strategic discipline: a means of harnessing tailwinds, dodging headwinds and setting a more intentional course towards a preferred tomorrow.

Systems Collaboration

In her book, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems, Barbara Gray describes collaboration as a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem [or an opportunity] can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible.

In Collaborative Leadership, David Chrislip and Carl Larson define the process as a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties who work toward common goals by sharing responsibility, authority, and accountability for achieving results.

It would seem the solution for today’s complex issues and opportunities might just be systems collaboration. For me that means government, social-profits, businesses, and individual stakeholders and citizens coming together to identify their collective assets and expertise, issues and opportunities, and ultimately, work together to address and resolve interconnected challenges.

Just like the meeting I attended today, today’s complexity is in large part about acknowledging and trusting that those with the answers are likely in the room, ready and willing to engage and assist. 

It is clearly time for change. Time for people, organizations, businesses and government – of all sizes, from all sectors – who care about individual, community, environmental well-being, to work together for our collective future.

Posted on 09-02-22

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