Using a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to transform youth justice

by Anna-Christina Jones and Hannah Smithson

A ‘new take’ on Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) projects

After securing a pioneering Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project in the youth justice sector, joint funded by the AHRC and the ESRC, we have spent the past two years working collaboratively with young people and practitioners to develop a truly transformative model of working with young people in the justice system across Greater Manchester.

Our new model, called the Participatory Youth Practice Framework (PYP), has been developed by working not consultatively but collaboratively with young people themselves, learning about their identities, cultures and backgrounds and bringing those experiences into the development of this new model of youth justice practice.

An approach that helps us understand and empower

Although young people are undeniably the experts in their own experiences, we have often found that their opinions are not sought in any meaningful way when developing services that are designed for them. This is certainly true for young people who are in conflict with the law, who society typically deem to have foregone a right to have their say.

When attempts are made to listen to young people’s views through consultation projects, the young people involved are often expected to communicate in the way that adults and those in positions of power understand and respect. Typically young people’s views are sought through a questionnaire or in response to a set of predetermined questions at an interview, often amounting to a relatively meaningless tick-box exercise that elicits no real insights and leaves their experience untapped and their voices unheard.

Employing a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) approach, we set out to rebalance the research process, empowering young people to actively direct the process of knowledge construction and insert their own perceptions and lived experiences to co-create a system of justice designed for them, with them.

Power sharing is theoretically central to our work, so our collaboration allowed the young people to shape the research project and guide its outputs. They guided us towards the ways they were most comfortable engaging and communicating, and we worked with them only in those environments and through those mediums. We co-developed a series of workshops on topics of their choosing, run in a protected and non-judgemental space where they were free to speak their mind. Handing them this authority enabled them to guide us to a deeper understanding of their unique experiences as subjects of the youth justice system, and ultimately to realisations of where and how the current system is flawed.

Learning from the experts

When given the chance to choose how they engaged with the research process, the young people gravitated towards physical or creative activities- away from teachers, their local youth justice office, paper, pens and the classroom or interview room.

Using the mediums of boxing, grime music and urban art, we explored their interests and experiences. By creating a forum for them to share the appreciation they have for these activities with us, we created an environment where they, as the experts, took us on journey to understand their lives; granting us access to knowledge only they hold. We explored notions of respect and masculinity, who and what they identify with and why, and the importance of legitimacy and authenticity – amongst many other things. .

The understanding generated through engaging authentically in this way could then be distilled down into a number of key learnings, again with the help of the young people themselves. Now with a clear grasp of what they wanted to say, they young people set about using their preferred communication method- grime lyric writing- to create their own impassioned and deeply personal lyrics to illustrate the research findings. These lyrics were used to create a short film (watch below) to introduce the new model of youth justice these young people had created.

Creative transfer of knowledge

Using young people’s experiences to co-create a concrete framework of eight-principles of practice, which have then informed a series of everyday practitioner resources and a new approach to low-level involvement with the justice system, this project has encouraged practitioners to take a distinct, co-creative approach to engagement, encouraging a solution-focussed youth justice practice that is evidence-based and user-led.

The PYP framework has now been embedded in practice within the local Youth Justice Services (YJS) across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester. It will be supported on an ongoing basis through our partnership; via training, sharing of resources and the development of bespoke local ways of working in conjunction with nominated participation champions in each region.

Our positive approach takes account of the difficult circumstances in which a lot of young people find themselves, believes in their ability to change, and supports them into breaking free of the cycle of offending and re-offending. By valuing expertise often dismissed as biased or illegitimate, this project has taken a novel, creative and empowering approach to a  complex problem, developing a practical model of youth justice that is evidence-based, research-informed and youth-led.

Anna-192x192Anna-Christina Jones, is a Senior Research Assistant, at
Manchester Metropolitan University. She was the KTP associate for Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership (GMYJUP) KTP project, the initiative that developed the PYP framework.
Anna-Christina has a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Investigative and Forensic Psychology. Her PhD argues for a new theoretical paradigm of youth justice practice shaped by the use of participatory action research.

You can follow @anna__christina and @GMYJUP_mmu on Twitter

Hannah-192x192Hannah Smithson, is Professor of Criminology & Youth Justice, at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is the Director of the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies (MCYS) and a key member of the GMYJUP.
Hannah has published in the area of youth justice, youth gangs, community safety and crime prevention. She was the academic lead for GMYJUP’s ESRC/AHRC funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). Hannah has directed projects funded by the Youth Justice Board, the DfE, local authorities, police forces and charities and her research has been instrumental in shaping agendas in research and policy across youth gangs and community crime prevention.

You can follow @hannahlsmithson and @MCYS_mmu on Twitter

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