Training Evidence-based Practices: The devil’s in the details

Past corrections models focused on punishment as a crime deterrent, which was proven ineffective as a model to reduce recidivism. Now more than ever, selecting community correctional programs that include evidence-based practice (EBP) is both smart and necessary. Yet aligning EBP with core organizational business practices can be challenging to achieve the goal of reduced offender risk. In short, successfully implementing EBP requires effective, detailed teaching methods.

BI Incorporated Training Specialist Tammy Coon and Thoughtworks Consultant Terry Gowen discussed best strategies for implementing EBP at the International Community Corrections Association conference. Their talk highlighted the commitment and leadership necessary to shift priorities to research-driven results within community corrections departments. Below are some key points from their presentation.

What is the most important step when training staff on EBP?

Terry Gowen: The most important step in training occurs well before the training itself. The first thing you need to do is lower resistance and prepare in advance for the training. Months ahead of time, begin preparing managers and supervision staff for the coming change. Don’t assume they understand and embrace your vision. Have frank conversations with employees that answer the question, “How will we use the skills gained in this training?” When you roll out a change it is important to lay the groundwork to get staff on board, otherwise you set yourself up for a chaotic transition.

Tammy Coon: Managers have a huge impact on how people come to training. They need to be enthusiastic and set clear goals and expectations in terms of what staff should learn from the training. They should also help staff to be “present in training” by clearing their schedules and covering their workloads while staff is out of the office for training. It’s difficult to focus on the material presented in training when you are distracted by a backlog of work you know you’ll be returning to.

What can trainers do to prepare for success when working with staff to implement EBPs into a community corrections program?

Gowen: I encourage managers to be proactive in the training design and curriculum. When setting up a training, you want to make sure the curriculum and delivery methods match the staff learning styles and abilities. If possible, identify and manage roadblocks ahead of time. If you expect resistance from a particular employee, meet with them ahead of time to discuss the training. This will help you develop a rapport, which helps diffuse resistance to change. And be direct about how you’d like the “classroom” to be set up on training day. Temperature, chair configuration, technology limitations can all affect your training session.

Coon: Trainers need to be more than subject matter experts; they should be able to quickly assess the group dynamics and learning styles of those in their training session and adjust how the information is delivered. Trainers should incorporate a number of approaches to ensure they are teaching to all learning styles. I find that having a lot of resources at my fingertips, like flip charts, a PowerPoint presentation and little toys to keep people’s hands busy, help keep people engaged.

I also like to incorporate practice opportunities, or role-playing exercises, into my training sessions. The opportunity to practice the concepts presented in training really helps cement the practical applications when staff leave training and go back to managing their caseloads.

I structure my trainings to mirror the subject matter. So EBPs for working with offenders become EBPs for teaching staff how to work with offenders. I use a lot of positive reinforcement and role playing to help staff understand how to use those same techniques with offenders. I spend the first third of a training session reviewing familiar concepts. The next third is spent introducing new material to build on what we just reviewed. I dedicate the last third of a training session to practice and review. Sometimes I’ll even assign homework to help improve retention.

What can managers do to help reinforce EBP training?

Gowen: After a training session, it’s important to revisit the goals you outlined several months before the training. Evaluate whether they were achieved. Schedule a mandatory debrief meeting for all training participants to take an honest look at what worked and what didn’t about the training. Develop a plan for continued training and quality assurance. It’s important to solicit feedback from trainings and assess how well staff is incorporating EBPs when working with offenders.

Coon: There are three important tasks to keep in mind after training to help ensure the concepts are understood and incorporated by staff at all levels:

  1. Agency-wide adoption. After training, it’s up to managers to reinforce EBPs by modeling them in their interactions with staff. Creating a culture that embraces these principles and places priority on program fidelity really starts from the upper leadership levels and trickles down through an organization.
  2.  Ongoing training. It’s important to offer recurrent training to give staff the chance to review EBPs and sharpen their skills at regular intervals. Regular training sessions help ensure the latest techniques and procedures are consistently utilized, reinforcing an organizational culture that relies on EBPs for offender management.
  3. Regular review of outcomes. Without well-defined and ongoing outcomes measurements, it is impossible to determine how well staff is incorporating EBPs. Reviews should be done and feedback given to staff by program managers at regular intervals. Re-evaluating, providing feedback and revising processes are EBPs that should not be overlooked. They provide program quality information and are another opportunity to reinforce an agency-wide culture that embraces EBPs.

About the Presenters

Tammy Coon is a senior training specialist for BI Incorporated. Since 2006, she has trained staff and community corrections personnel on all aspects of BI’s community corrections programs delivered within its day reporting center environments. She also trains BI staff that work in BI’s Intensive Supervision and Appearance Program centers, related to immigration supervision. She also has more than 15 years experience working in Colorado’s juvenile justice system, including alternatives to detention programs and pretrial services.  Coon has a B.S. in criminal justice and is certified to deliver training on cognitive behavioral treatment and COMPAS assessment tools.

Terry Gowen has a master’s degree in criminal justice. As a trainer and correctional consultant he draws on more than 21 years of experience in community corrections. He works with corrections agencies to train staff in the effective implementation of the principles and strategies of evidence-based practice.  In addition to EBP, for the last 10 years, Terry has trained parole and probation officers, corrections officers, treatment providers, educators, and others who work with criminal/problem thinkers in Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions.  Terry has also served as a part-time instructor for the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training for the past 10 years.