Some would say this article is an impossibility - the authors being a project manager from the Department of Prisons an (ex) inmate and a Designer doing an industrial PhD in the prisons. We hope that others may see this article as an embodiment of how taking part in new conversations and relationships may allow us to transcend the barriers of our formal positions. To us it is a testimony of the struggles and the good times we have shared while attempting to improve life in prisons. Also, this is an occasion for reflection on what we have learned from the process. The User Driven Innovation (in the following referred to as UDI) effort was launched in 2008 as an attempt to improve prison life by inviting inmates to participate in organizational development together with staff. The effort has improved prisons by decreasing tension between inmates and guards and by creating more meaningful jobs for guards. It has turned the focus of the organization towards the importance of relationship-building. In 2011 the Director General and the Prison Governors stated that building positive relations is the most important future task for Danish prisons both in regards to improving prison environments and in regards to rehabilitation efforts. In the context of prisons UDI is inspired by the complexity approach (Stacey 2005). We seek to facilitate freely flowing conversations between inmates, staff and managers – pushing the boundaries of existing norms, roles and beliefs. In the end however we rely on - and support “positive deviants” (Pascal, Sternin and Sternin) – courageous individuals and groups (inmates as well as staff) who transform conversations into new actions and behavioral traits that become beckons of an improved future. In the following we explore concrete examples of efforts at improving relations by changing conversations. Through the theoretical framework of the complexity approach, we discuss how this may lead to organizational change. Finally we suggest that inviting inmates to take part in conversations about core organizational development may be a fundamental strategy in trying to offset processes of (further) marginalization taking place in prisons.
Experiencing Prison, 2012
user driven innovation; co-creation; relationship-building; complexity approach; positive deviance; conversations; identity; power