How Maricopa County Used the Innovation Academy to Collaborate and Solve Problems

ARTICLE | Dec 1, 2015

Maricopa County, Arizona is the fourth largest county in the United States. There are approximately 13,000 employees supporting 59 agencies/departments, providing services to 4.09 million people. Nearly 52% of the $2.2 billion dollar FY16 county budget is spent on public safety and criminal justice. 

In order to operate in a fiscally responsible manner, collaboration is critical.  One such collaboration is the Maricopa County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s Smart Justice Committee, which is comprised of the following stakeholders:

  • Adult Probation
  • AZ Dept. of Health Services
  • Correctional Health Services
  • County Attorney’s Office
  • County Manager’s Office
  • County Sheriff’s Office
  • Human Services
  • Justice Courts
  • Justice System Planning & Information
  • Maricopa County Education Services Agency
  • Public Defender
  • Regional Behavioral Health Authority
  • Superior Cour

These stakeholders collaboratively leverage resources to ensure targeted Maricopa County justice-involved individuals have access to the necessary services so they can become functional, law-abiding and healthy residents upon re-entry to society after incarceration. Evidence has shown that it is best to provide prevention and intervention opportunities to reduce the likelihood that a person becomes involved, or re-involved, in the criminal or juvenile justice systems.

In July 2014, Maricopa County joined the Alliance for Innovation, learned about the Innovation Academy and wanted to participate. It was natural to identify individuals from these stakeholder departments (bold, italicized in above list) to participate in the Alliance’s 2015 Innovation Academy. The Maricopa County Innovation Academy Team quickly got to work and identified a team project that focused on justice-involved women and women with justice-involved children.  Incarceration trends for women in Maricopa County do not follow the same trajectory as elsewhere – it has been hovering around 20-25% for about a decade compared to the sharp increase other jurisdictions are seeing in the past few years.

One of the Innovation Academy lessons focused on having a shared understanding of WHY. The team had questions, ‘WHY are these women/children justice-involved? What was it in their life that brought them to the point of being justice-involved? Are women in Maricopa County involved in the justice system following similar paths to offending as women elsewhere in the nation?  If so, is this something that we can address systematically?’

It was decided that we would conduct in person interviews with justice-involved women and women with justice-involved children. We identified resources from within our stakeholders group that could (1) help identify individuals to be interviewed and (2) allow employees that have the necessary skill sets to conduct a qualitative interview.

Before this could be accomplished, we encountered a challenge. The nature of the interviews required that we engage an Institutional Review Board (IRB). Due to the project timeline (as set by the Innovation Academy), it was not feasible to contact a local university to assist with the IRB. Working through our Procurement Office we were able to contract with a private IRB that worked with our project timeline and provided the necessary safeguards for the interviewees.

Analysis of the interviews conducted with the justice-involved women and women with justice-involved children led to emerging themes. It was identified that a significant health condition of a parent/guardian, particularly during adolescence, appears to create increased vulnerability; as does exposure to violence and trauma. These thematic elements need to be studied further with additional data from a larger, yet to be identified population that provides a stronger representation of justice-involved women and women with justice-involved children within Maricopa County.

Our participation in the Alliance’s Innovation Academy led toward this research, which we plan to expand upon. The data we receive will provide us direction on where we need to focus additional resources toward support for those justice-involved individuals as well as prevention of involvement for individuals in similar circumstances that are not yet justice-involved.

Through this project and the Innovation Academy, participants have a better understanding of the innovation process and how to incorporate innovation into their respective teams. The sessions on Design Thinking and using empathy to help shape one’s focus were very enlightening. These concepts were strengthened even more at the 2015 TLG conference with the keynote speaker, David Kelley.

Tips from our Innovation Academy experience: If your organization is planning to participate in future Innovation Academy trainings, be certain to identify a team lead that is able to facilitate and has strong project management skills. A team lead that can manage multiple personalities and can ensure that all voices will be heard is beneficial. The team lead will need to be able to keep the team on task for both the Innovation Academy and the project selected.  

A team that brings diversity of thought and experiences is beneficial. We had individuals from different departments, while other teams included external stakeholders. However your team is selected, allow time before the Innovation Academy begins for your team members to meet and get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. Collaborating as a team is an important element for the success of your selected project.  While you strengthen your business relationships and work together toward a common goal, HAVE FUN!

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