(Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash)

The influence of First Nations practitioners and academics

Some of the thinking that sits behind the Magnolia Project has been informed by the work of First Nations practitioners and academics. First Nations approaches include theories of change. Our book project, for example, is based on the simple idea that connection between people in prison and their children is important. Our books can provide one way to help people maintain connection and strengthen significant relationships.

First Nations theories of change in Australia

In Australia, the work of the Healing Foundation has helped us to understand explain why connections – whether they be to country, to spirituality, or culture – are so important.  It reminds us of why having a ‘theory of change’ is so important. Theories of change help to know which programs and services are going to be most successful. The Healing Foundation theory of change, for example, is framed around three key elements:

  • quality healing programs and initiatives, led by communities and developed to address the local impacts of trauma;
  • healing networks, champions and organisations to promote healing at a national and community level, including trauma awareness and the importance of truth telling;
  • a supportive policy environment where policy makers and influencers understand and advocate the benefits of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing and its long-term nature.

First Nations theories of change in Aotearoa New Zealand

Similar work is underway in Aotearoa New Zealand. E Tū Whānau, for example, is a theory that conceptualises change as involving moving from one state to another; from a state of unrealised potential (Te Kore) to a state of becoming or knowing (Te Pō) to a state of enlightenment or wisdom (Te Ao Mārama).

The importance of community-led solutions

We can see that both theories of change assume that community-led solutions are needed to create sustainable community-level social change. This means that to prevent and address social problems, connection to culture, pride in identity, and the restoration of cultural principles is critical.

This is an important reminder to us that programs and services for justice-involved people are stronger and better when they go beyond individual interventions. Programs must consider and respond to the social conditions that create the circumstances in which crime occurs.

In addition, programs should also be underpinned by a clear and strong set of values. We will continue to reflect on these as the Magnolia Project develops and matures. But the core values that sit behind E Tū Whānau are important to us:

  • Aroha: Giving with no expectation of return;
  • Whanaungatanga: It’s about being connected;
  • Whakapapa: Knowing who you are and where you belong;
  • Mana manaaki: Building the mana of others through nurturing, developing and challenging;
  • Kōrero awhi: Open and positive communication and actions;
  • Tikanga: Doing things the right way, according to our values.

Just something for all of us who work in the criminal justice and youth justice sectors to think about.