Creative and comparative ways to study experiencing supervision

The Bratislava meeting was an opportunity for the Experiencing Supervision Working Group to review what has been done so far and look for a creative way of doing comparative work in the coming years.

Based on our literature review we noted that most of the methodologies employed in assessing the experiences of those under supervision are mostly narrative ones: interviews, questionnaires and so on. Although these tools can produce valuable knowledge about how different people perceive and interpret their experience they cannot capture aspects like context, structure and so on. Therefore, our group started to think of some alternative ways to grasp a more comprehensive image of supervision from the recipients point of view.

One way to proceed was, as suggested by Reuben Miller, an ethnographic approach. In his presentation Reuben emphasized the value of ethnography in capturing the interaction between individuals and social/penal/private institutions.

Another approach was suggested by our colleague Wendy Fitzgibbon. In her presentation, Wendy made a very strong case for the idea that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ (Brisbane, 1911). By visualizing a social situation the researcher together with the offender can construct and re-construct the feelings, the thoughts, the decisions and so on associated with that particular picture. Numerous options were discussed like:

  • using digital versus traditional photography 
  • limited or unlimited numbers of picture
  • visual diaries
  • art or documentary photography etc.

The decision of the group was to explore these idea further and come up with more concrete thoughts of how we can use this method in the comparative research. Wendy together with Lol will try to do this before the next meeting in Malta.    

Linked to these ideas, another option was suggested – ways of collecting accounts of  ‘A day on supervision’. What if we ask people under supervision in different places around Europe to record and describe the experienc of the same day in the calender? What would this method produce? What day? Who exactly should we ask? We noticed that experience is influenced by a number of factors. Shall we look only at those who have an interaction with their supervisor that day? Shall we aim at collect data from both supervised and supervisor? These are only a few questions that were debated in Bratislava. Fergus agreed to liaise with the other working groups and analyze the possibility of producing astudy of ‘one day on supervision’ as common enterprise across the working groups, taking more perspectives into account.

Another way to enhance the comparability of experiences is to ask the same questions to supervisees from different jurisdictions. This was the starting point for the idea of developing an European ‘barometer’ on experiencing supervision. In my presentation I introduced the five dimensions that might be the skeleton of the future tool: supervision as a general experience, supervision as a helpful experience, supervision as a human service experience, supervision as punishment and supervision as a rehabilitative experience. In developing these dimensions into questions European probation rules and the what works literature could be incorporated.

Different issues were discussed in connection to the ethics and the use of such an instrument. What if the countries will use this tool to pursue their political or ideological agenda? What if they will use it to scale probation services?

In the end it was agreed that together with some colleagues I will try to develop the tool further more and test it in a few jurisdictions. A new application might be needed to support a full development of such a tool.

The presence of our colleagues from WG 4 stimulated a lot all the discussions and we are looking forward to continue this format in the future.

Ioan Durnescu (Co-leader of WG 1 – Experiencing Supervision)

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