Pracademic Kelli Zook talks with BetaGov about her trial, in which people on probation in Clackamas County, OR, received text-message reminders for meetings with their probation officer (there are substantial penalties for missing these meetings). This intervention reduced the no-show rate by one-third.
How did you first get connected with BetaGov?
We were familiar with [BetaGov Director] Angela Hawken and her team through the HOPE court, so when they told us about BetaGov, there was no question in our mind that we wanted to work with them. They don’t have their own agenda and they don’t care what the outcome is; they want us to learn for ourselves.
Tell us about the inspiration for this trial.
It was just a matter of looking at our probation-appointment no-show results in general. We wanted to understand, are clients simply not showing up, or are they forgetting? We wanted to treat probation appointments like any other appointment to really see if there was a cause for this.
What made you think, “we can do better?” with the no-show rate for probation appointments?
I think for us as a county, we don’t want to just be average. We truly are looking to improve the lives of our probationers and our community, and we want to do whatever we can to give our clients the best opportunity to be successful. This isn’t reflected in the study, but I think there might have been some who got the reminder who thought, “you know, I really do need to check in and let them know what’s going on.” And there was one person in particular who used to never show up, who reported to an appointment after receiving a text. It’s hard to say if that was because of the reminder, but I’d like to think it was.
Had you ever done research like this before? What was it like to run your own trial?
No, I’d never done anything like this before. In the beginning I think I had overcomplicated it. I also realized that the information needed to come from the probation officers (POs), I needed to seek their input, and I didn’t have to do the trial alone. I was able to enlist help from someone working at our front desk at the time. I got it kicked off and she was able to follow up with the appointments.
We use an automated system for the text so it was someone else who recorded that data. Sometimes a PO would change the appointment and it wouldn’t be documented, so she followed up with that. It took a couple of weeks to get the process smoothed out and get everyone on board.
We don’t have a huge staff, and we don’t have a program analyst or a great way to capture data, but we were still able to complete this trial and learn from it.
What tips would you give to another practitioner who’s running an RCT for the first time?
I would say first, be clear in the beginning with the other folks who might be involved in the trial. Be clear about what you’re doing and why, and clearly explain it’s an RCT just to get results. Let people know it’s not a grant program, it’s just to tell us if this idea works or not. It’s not anybody else telling us to do this, other than BetaGov giving us some facts of whether this idea is successful.
I do believe it was important to be transparent with the POs, clarifying what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and not to have expectations of what the outcome will be. Do what you set out to do and let the results be what they are.