Community engagement via MS Teams: adapting our approach through COVID-19

Emily Tofield, Group Director of Communications and Information Services, Ministry of Justice:

“The new GCS Principles for Inclusive Campaigns provide an excellent basis for building inclusivity into all our marketing campaigns.

While COVID-19 has created new challenges for community engagement, the Ministry of Justice’s recruitment marketing team has shown how we can adapt quickly and still be highly effective.”

HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is committed to recruiting people from all backgrounds, in order to better reflect the diversity of the society that we serve.

10.8% of all HMPPS staff declared themselves to be from an ethnic minority background, which is below the national average for those of working age, and significantly below that of the offender population. Polling data shows many people have low levels of understanding of what prison and probation officers do and some communities have reservations about working in the criminal justice sector.

The Ministry of Justice recruitment marketing team specialises in data-driven local communication campaigns, combining PR with precise local marketing investment. The creative approach adheres to the GCS inclusive campaigns principles by using authentic and relevant images to show that people like me’ work in the prison, probation and youth custody services, and by selecting channels that reach harder to recruit audiences.

Poster of smiling man with text: "I helped Sam into a refuge and on her way to rehabilitation". Campaign tagline reads 'there's potential in everyone. Bring it out'.

The team are always looking for opportunities to do more community engagement in order to bring together staff from ethnic minority groups with potential candidates.

This blog looks at how the team delivered this engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community engagement: Why do we need it?

Insight tells us that people have preconceived views and assumptions about the probation service and the probation officer role.

In May 2020, we ran a series of focus groups with potential recruits and their feedback included:

Participant in YouGov probation officer recruitment focus group, May 2020:

“My wife is Black British…and the probation service has a very poor track record with black people and certainly has failed members of her family.”

Participant in YouGov probation officer recruitment focus group, May 2020:

“Possibly not as diverse as it could be; I would guess there is a lack of BAME representation and possibly an overly male population.”

Community engagement is one important way of showing that the service is diverse and inclusive.

Community engagement during a pandemic

When COVID-19 national restrictions meant we couldn’t run local face-to-face outreach, we decided trial a series of Q&A webinar sessions.

We planned three sessions: the first 2 aimed to increase understanding of the role, demystify the application process, and show the probation service as a diverse and inclusive place to work. The final session was specifically built around the theme of ‘belonging’, with the explicit aim of positioning the service as welcoming to all, through debunking myths and misconceptions about a what a ‘typical’ probation officer was like.

After testing a few platforms, we settled on Microsoft Teams, as it was accessible, free and had an upper limit of 10,000 attendees (we like to be optimistic!). We promoted the sessions through our central channels, as well as through staff diversity networks and our probation sites, which have good links with their local communities.

What happened?

In total, around 1,000 people attended each session. Across the three sessions, candidates heard from representatives from HMPPS diversity networks and a range of probation officers talking openly and honestly about their personal experience of working in the probation service.

Isobel, probation officer, Manchester:

“Working for the probation service gives me a great sense of belonging and purpose.”

Gill, probation officer, Brighton:

“You bring a valuable range of experience and skills to the role and it’s all about strengthening diversity.”

Our post-session feedback survey suggested that 36% of attendees at the ‘belonging’ session were from an ethnic minority background. Feedback was positive, with 97% of attendees agreeing that the sessions showed the probation service as diverse and inclusive and another 97% of attendees saying they were more or just as likely to make an application having attended a session. Feedback included:

Webinar attendee, June 2020:

“The session was well presented by a representative selection of diverse staff. They engaged me and raised my enthusiasm further in applying for the probation service.”

Webinar attendee, June 2020:

“From a diversity perspective it was relly encouraging, particularly questions from other attendees that weren’t sure about how their diversity needs would be accepted or not. Inclusive and transparent, really positive.”

    Image credits:
  • Recruitment marketing team (1)
  • Recruitment marketing team (2)
  • Recruitment marketing team (3)