Evolution of the Evidence-Based Movement Interviews Series #1
Interview with Sobem Nwoko, President, Joyfields Institute, and Founder, Evidence-Based Professionals Society
Please summarize the work you do and the mission of Joyfields Institute and the Evidence-Based Professionals Society:
I have the good fortune to work with some very talented and committed individuals who work hard to understand, inform, and shape the field and other professionals on proven approaches for helping clients they work with succeed. Both companies are vehicles for doing the work. While Joyfields supports organizations and their employees through training, implementation support and performance evaluations, the EBP Society caters to the broader community of evidence-based professionals through live events for training, networking and credentialing of professionals and their organizations. The events include EB Pathways, with its two nested Masterclasses for Practitioners and Organizations. The Society also has an active blog and online resources the community is able to access 24/7. The Society also houses an online BETA membership that caters to the community featuring an online e-learning platform for ongoing evidence-based education (updates to come in 2020).
Why and how did you first become interested in evidence-based approaches? What specific evidence-based approaches do you focus upon in your current work?
Do you have time for the story? Anyway, it has been an interesting experience with twists and turns though very rewarding. Joyfields Institute was founded initially as a training company for technology firms in 2000 until 2007 when we switched our entire focus to human, social and justice services work. Prior to founding it, I worked for another technology company where I supervised hundreds of employees. While many of my people were successful goal-getting sales and service professionals, there were others who would fall short of expectations frequently. Consequently, I became a student of understanding how to work with my employees and help them be self-motivated to succeed. It intrigued me then, and still does today, why some people succeed at what they do and others do not.
During all that, I had a chance meeting in 2006 with the Controller of the Prisons Service in my native country Nigeria. He had asked to obtain training for himself and his staff on prisoner rehabilitation. My research in 2006/2007 uncovered that (1) the US at the time spent $60 billion each year on incarceration; (2) people were being released from prison with just a few dollars in their pockets unprepared to re-enter their communities; and (3) there was evidence that when certain steps were taken ahead of release, people tended to have more success when they got out. Then head of National Institute of Corrections referred me to Public Policy Associates and Paul Elam, Ph.D., who at the time was helping the Michigan Department of Corrections implement MPRI (Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative). Dr. Elam had the credentials and impressed me as very knowledgeable about the field and also quite dynamic that I decided to work with him to help simplify and adapt the program for my Nigerian friends. When my Nigerian colleagues would not move forward with the contract, I offered it instead to other correctional agencies. The response was so positive I shifted the company’s entire focus to doing this work. Clearly there was room to have impact in this space.
Today we work with agencies and professionals in the human, social and justice services fields.
What would be your first recommendation to agencies that want to become more evidence-based? How about for individual practitioners who want to become more evidence-based?
I would first say that for every situation, both personal and business, there is a correct and efficient way to do things. They should find it and do that. To do something else is simply dumb. In addition, of course there are other ways of doing these things that often are not efficient, and sometimes downright dangerous. If anything is worth doing at all, we owe it to ourselves to find the proper and correct way to do it. That includes running an organization and treating a patient. Like the laws of gravity, you can count on bad things happening if the job is not done right. The thing about our field is that, when bad things happen, often it is not just the client who is harmed. Sometimes other people are killed, or individuals can become a menace to the public. So, there is even more incentive for us to know how to do the work effectively. Indeed, why would anyone do something the incorrect way? It should be criminal to not use proven approaches – Find out, learn it, and practice it every day. No ifs, buts, or maybes.
Another challenge is that there are many different “experts” who offer solutions and claim to have the proven “evidence-based” answers, when in fact they simply have found a way to make the numbers support their hypothesis. Consequently, well-meaning agencies and practitioners, if they can afford it, are confused or may even buy into unproven approaches. Others simply wing it. Compare that with a surgeon who amputates the right big toe when a simple prescription for a cold is warranted. An extreme example I know, but you get the idea. She/he won’t last very long.
I would encourage interested individuals to at the very least begin to ask about these proven approaches. Some really smart people have spent the better part of their lives studying this stuff. Thanks to them, we don’t have to re-invent it. I will also tell them they should become students of the field of evidence-based approaches. It is fascinating. Perhaps join our community or mailing list and take advantage of our various resources, many of which are free.
What have been the main challenges you have seen agencies and/or individual practitioners experience in becoming more evidence-based, and how have they overcome these challenges?
I would say there are two: (1) many people are struggling – mentally and perhaps spiritually – and they need help, and (2) the “waiting to be made to” attitude many agencies and practitioner have. They sometimes seem to want their grants to require them to be EB, in order to get moving.
A third challenge may be that many practitioners and leaders are just tired of the trial and error that is their experience with other approaches that failed. So, they see EB as just another “flavor of the month” – a passing fad. Those who have had success simply began to pay closer attention and want to learn. That is really all it takes. They find it's easier than they have been led to believe.
What are one or two of the most memorable successes you have seen agencies and/or individual practitioners experience in becoming more evidence-based?
It is always amazing to me when an agency returns to our events, or we happen to be talking on the phone and they talk about how exciting it has been since attending our courses, and what a difference it has made in their practice. Sounds like I am bragging, but I’m not. We are paying attention and are intentional about what we are doing. We are not just throwing conferences and workshops. Instead, we are asking questions of our community, talking with funders, and getting input from clients and our faculty. We have conversations around what the present holds, and we look forward to emerging trends. Our faculty, for example, is made up of top-notch best-in-class experts who have been practitioners and leaders themselves. They are esteemed by their peers and have published very meaningful books and articles that are helping to guide serious professionals every day.
How do you see the evidence-based work of agencies and/or individual practitioners changing or evolving in the future?
My sense is people generally mean well, and they want the best for themselves and the people around them. They also want to be treated well by others. So, my suspicion is more and more agencies and their practitioners will embrace the evidence-based movement and what it represents.
I also think that evidence-based approaches for working with clients and with colleagues will become simpler to where practitioners and their agencies just need to hone and deepen skills around fewer essential elements. Agencies and their staff will acquire and endeavor to apply proven skills for doing the work. Consequently, they will deliver services confidently and achieve great results. More and more clients will become successful at what they desire and care about.
On our part at Joyfields Institute and EBP Society, we will be an important set of resources where solutions needed for doing the work can be easily found and accessed. Also, recognizing how immense and challenging the work ahead is very especially for individuals doing the work, the other thing we will do is to be a source of encouragement and strength.
That’s how I see us all evolving.
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