Going ‘Prezi’ at this year’s conferences

This year I’ve switched to the impressive Prezi tool for my presentations during conference season. I’m not sure if I’m quite unleashing it’s full power and potential, but I’ve worked in a couple of hacks that have suited my needs, and these have been the results.

ATSA Conference 2012

I chaired a symposium on recent developments in research with online sex offenders at this year’s ATSA Conference. My role here was to provide some context and theoretical insights, before my esteemed colleagues discussed their new data. This became, essentially, my musings on the topic.

I used post-it notes on the back of my office door to map out my thoughts. Then I wondered, “Well, couldn’t I just take a photo of the back of my door and use Prezi frames to zoom in on each note?” Turns out you can do exactly that.

Here’s a link to the Prezi.

ASC Conference 2012

I was speaking in a symposium on the role of community support on offender reintegration at the ASC Conference. I was presenting the findings of our Penn State Justice Center National Institute of Justice-sponsored evaluability study into the Circles of Support and Accountability program.

My thinking here was that funding agencies are keen to know how you plan to disseminate your findings, and finding innovative (and time-effective) ways to do that is a key to project success. So for ASC I found a way to triple my deliverables in one go. I created a poster-sized powerpoint slide and used it to create a contemporary-looking infographic – making sure that each section was approximately in 4:3 aspect ratio. I then saved the slide as both a PPTX file and a PNG image file. I then uploaded the PNG image to Prezi and added some 4:3-sized frames. Viola, I have a poster, an infographic, and a presentation. Three birds, one stone.

Here’s a link to the Prezi.

Here’s the infographic:

Elliott Zajac Meyer CoSA 2012

So, again, I’m not sure if I’m doing Prezi ‘right’ – but these have certainly worked for me. The latter, allowing me to quickly develop two products at the same time, is definitely something I’ll be doing again in the future.

Now where can I find some of those trendy infographic typefaces…?

Keep on running…

I have signed up to run the 2014 Cox Providence Rhode Race marathon next May. I am hoping to use this opportunity to raise money for the ‘Stop It Now!’ organization.

Running a marathon has always, begrudgingly, been a ‘bucket list’ item for me. I used to run as a school kid, won a couple of school cross-country races, and did reasonably well in a few hometown-area races. I also, begrudgingly, ran a half-marathon in Brighton, England in 2009 and did alright with 1hr 51m. I realize that being 32 years old now, and seeing my ability (and motivation!) for distance-running and the training required fading FAST, it’s time to knuckle-down and man-up!

So, I need some motivation – and what better way to stay disciplined and stick to the training than to create some good ol’ accountability! Thus, I want to use the opportunity to raise some money for an amazing cause. The cause I have chosen is Stop It Now!, an organization dedicated to the prevention of sexual violence perpetrated against children. I used to work for the wonderful Lucy Faithfull Foundation back in England, who ran the sister Stop It Now! UK and Ireland campaign and thus I know how important the work that they do is and am aware of the drive and enthusiasm with which they do that work. Obviously, being a psychologist in that field, it also made a lot of sense! It truly is a wonderful cause and your donation will genuinely make a difference in children’s lives.

So please, I urge people to make a donation, any donation they can, to Stop It Now! via their donations page and under the box headed ‘I want my donation to be dedicated:’ please include the message ‘Ian Elliott – Rhode Race 2014’. Donations are made via the trusted ‘Network for Good’ system. If you have any problems donating please do email me and let me know. Even if you dislike me and think I’m a tool, you should still donate!: the more you donate the better I have to do = more training I need to put in = the greater the physical and emotional pain!

Repping the Stop It Now! brand out of the streets of Boston!

Me ‘repping’ the Stop It Now! brand!

So, I’d better go get on with it! I’ve done 6 miles so far this first week of training – with 6 more to go this Sunday (11/17). I will be tweeting updates on my training and progress. I’ll also be shamelessly plugging Stop It Now! and trying to rope in other organizations for donations and/or awareness.

Cheers all!

Ian

(More pictures to follow!)

Evaluability assessments of the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) model

After 6 months, 5 sites, 8,930 miles, 6 reports, and 46,500 words, on the 31st of July we (myself, Gary Zajac, and Courtney Meyer of the Justice Center for Research) finally submitted Penn State’s evaluability assessment of Circles of Support and Accountability to the U.S. National Institute of Justice.

Below is the executive summary from the project’s main cross-site report. The final reports can be obtained from the authors via email (ian@iaelliott.com). It was a truly fascinating project to work on. I have worked for a COSA provider, conducted research on the program, and going into this project considered myself to be pretty knowledgeable about the program – however, I was still exposed to many unique new perspectives that I hadn’t even considered with every site visit and each conversation with those dedicated people who make the program happen.

In textbook cover-my-backside style I also include the NIJ’s disclaimer: “This project was supported by Award No. 2012-IJ-CX-0008, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expresses in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” You also should not quote/cite the executive summary below without obtaining the express permission of the report authors.

===

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

According to the U.S. National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) at least 95% of state prisoners are released back to their communities after a period of incarceration. Both criminal justice agencies and the general public are often particularly conscious of the issue of sex offenders returning to the community because of the potentially negative biological and psychiatric outcomes for victims (e.g., Andersen, Tomada, Vincow, Valente, Polcari, & Teicher, 2008; Chen et al., 2010). Due to these negative outcomes, criminal justice responses to sex offender reentry have typically involved tightening supervision for sex offenders. Conversely, the base rate of recidivism for sex offenders is lower than is often expected at around 12.4%. There is also a growing interest in using restorative justice approaches with this population, which redirect society’s punitive response to crime with the aim of increasing public safety through reconciliatory action between offenders, victims, and the community (Sullivan & Tifft, 2005)

Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) is a restorative justice-based community reentry program for high-risk sex offenders with little or no pro-social community support. COSA originated in 1994 in response to the release of Charlie Taylor, a high-profile, high-risk, repeat child sex offender in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. A ‘Circle of Support’ was arranged – a select group from the church congregation maintaining daily contact with Taylor (Hannem & Petrunik, 2004). Taylor did not reoffend and the program was extended in Canada, and similar programs grew in, among other places, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the U.S. There have been no rigorous large-scale outcome evaluations of COSA conducted to date. Some small-scale outcome evaluations have been published that vary in quality. A weighted average of the three significant estimated reductions suggest that COSA may be responsible for a reduction of 77% in sexual recidivism. However, because of the varying quality of these studies in terms of retroactive and imperfect matching of samples, the integrity of statistical analyses, and the lack of statistically significant results, it could be argued that this figure should be considered only an estimate of effectiveness. Therefore, at this time there is not enough evidence to confidently state that COSA is proven to be effective in reducing sexual recidivism.

This report outlines an evaluability assessment of COSA across five sites with the goal of assessing the readiness of COSA provision in the U.S. for rigorous evaluation. Evaluability assessments examine the demand for information that might come from a large-scale evaluation and seek to match supply with demand by proposing designs that are feasible, relevant and useful. The assessment aimed to clarify program intent, explore program reality, examine program data capacity, analyze program fidelity, and propose potential evaluation designs for future evaluation.

An ‘intended model’ was developed that sought to illustrate the espoused theory of COSA. A logic model was developed to define the three key problems that COSA seeks to address: (1) the increased frequency of recidivism for high-risk sex offenders; (2) the lack of formal supervision for offenders who have completed their sentences in full; and (3) the lack of social capital and community support for returning sex offenders. A model of COSA program operations, adapted from a model developed by Correctional Services Canada (CSC, 2002; 2003), was also developed that outlined stakeholders and operations. The stakeholders form four broad categories: COSA project staff, service users, formal criminal justice organizations, and community service providers. COSA operations involved five phases: (1) establishing the COSA team and program; (2a) Core Member enrolment; (2b) volunteer enrolment; (3) forging the Circle; (4) ongoing support; (5) dissolution of the Circle.

COSA program reality was established via site visits to five locations delivering, or intending to deliver, COSA programs in the U.S.: Fresno, CA; Denver, CO; Durham, NC; Lancaster, PA; and Burlington, VT. During these site visits in-person interviews were conducted with key program personnel, other stakeholders, and any documented material related to COSA policies and procedures was collected. Data was collected and analyzed using a fidelity item measurement tool that examines 41 items across 10 fidelity categories, including management, model, operations, outcomes, staff, Core Members and volunteers and a data item tool that examined the availability of 23 key data variables.

In summary, all of the sites have implemented versions of the CSC model, adapted to suit their needs. Only COSA Fresno appeared to be running the program in the absence of formal parole or probation supervision in the community. Management structures and financial and operational security differed between sites. Fidelity scores at the sites were (in descending order): Vermont COSA – 86%; COSA Fresno – 58%; COSA Lancaster – 52%; Colorado COSA – 27%; and COSA Durham – 24%. The site reports suggest that VT-COSA alone could be considered to have high program fidelity, with COSA Fresno and COSA Lancaster demonstrating adequate fidelity, and Colorado COSA and COSA Durham demonstrating low fidelity (due mainly to their lack of capacity).

It is concluded that there are five potential obstacles that need to be addressed in order to conduct a successful experimental evaluation of COSA. Firstly, a myopic focus on recidivism may not adequately measure the success of COSA as in some circumstances the detection of a new offense by the Circle may be a marker of program success. Secondly, significant differences in program implementation, namely grass-roots versus institutional models and fully-completed versus supervised Core Members, could result in key differences within the population from which samples might be drawn. Thirdly, there are concerns regarding the systematic selection of highly-motivated offenders and the apparent flexibility in the application of selection criteria. Fourthly, the low capacity at sites, and thus the small populations from which to draw numbers of COSA-eligible participants, combined with the low rates of recidivism expected for both COSA Core Members and controls, may make the detection of any observable effects of COSA more difficult. Finally, in many instances key data, particularly for the Core Member, were not solicited, collected, or reported by the COSA programs. The site reports also noted that both the quality of the relationships between the program and their criminal justice partners and the importance of program stability would need to be addressed for successful evaluation.

It is concluded that there is no methodological or ethical reason why a randomized control trial of COSA provision in the U.S. could not be conducted. The obstacles to an RCT are all such that they can be addressed with a combination of realistic tightening of program implementation, rigorous experimental control, and an increase in real-world resources. It was concluded that there are no major benefit to the use of non-experimental studies over a randomized control trial for the evaluation of COSA. Consequently, three action recommendations for future evaluative activity are presented: (1) conduct an experimental evaluation of the Vermont COSA program alone; (2) conduct an experimental evaluation that combines the Vermont COSA and COSA Fresno programs; or (3) allow the fledgling sites to develop and conduct a multi-site evaluation of COSA in the future.

=== End of executive summary ===

(To reiterate: Do not quote/cite the above executive summary without obtaining the express permission of the report authors.)

We are aware that the findings of the assessment may not to be everyone’s liking – but we sought to provide an objective outlook on a program that is much-vaunted, but sometimes subject to assumption and under-critiqued. I like to think the outcomes of the evaluability assessment were positive and encouraging, and the sheer will and motivation of the vast majority of individuals we met at the five sites was humbling at times. Essentially, our only real criticism is that even the most determined belief in a program and its effectiveness is not a substitute for evidence of its effectiveness. What we hope is that the COSA community take the opportunity to assess how the program and its aims have evolved since the 1990s, how the problem and contexts for which it was developed have changed, and how service provision can be developed moving forward to establish and ensure best practice.

New Job Resolution

I’m starting a new job on September 1. As a New Job Resolution I’m planning on updating this blog more. Hopefully this resolution will last longer than New Year’s ‘fitness regime’…

So I’m wondering how I can kick things back off and get back into the habit. Well, since it’s a new job, I’ll share a personal story that gets to the heart of why (most of the time) I love what I do – and the people you get to work with. It’s basically an example of something that I guess you just don’t get to do in every job.

A former colleague of mine went through a phase where he seemed to only ever refer to masturbation as “furious masturbation”. Those individuals viewing illegal online material could never just be masturbating to it – they had to be doing it furiously.

So I relayed this idiosyncrasy back to a few colleagues of mine in an otherwise innocuous Facebook conversation. Immediately I was asked the obvious question, “What exactly makes masturbation furious?!” And this is what I love about research: that there’s a potential explanation for everything, especially if the subject is so vague and/or ridiculous that unadulterated opinion and speculation can be your weapon of choice. And so I set about spending 10 minutes of that summer afternoon preparing what I believed to be my best and most verbose professional answer. And this was it:

“I would imagine that it depends on two interacting factors:

  • like swimming, ink jet printing, and the piston engine, it boils down to stroke speed. As a rule of thumb, a pace of more than or equal to two strokes per second could be considered furious, coupled with;
  • the level of intensity and/or anger.

So for masturbation to be considered furious it needs a combination of one or both of the above factors, i.e.,:

  1. High stroke speed / High intensity (the ‘dangerous one’)
  2. High stroke speed / Low intensity (the ‘quick one off the wrist’)
  3. Low stroke speed / High intensity (‘bitter indulgence’)
  4. Low stroke speed / Low intensity (the ‘I’m just bored’)

Discuss…”

Not many professions allow you to spend your afternoon furthering your intrinsic understanding of the concept of masturbation. Well, actually all jobs allow you to sit around discussing masturbation. But this one lets you still consider it work. And that, readers, is one of the reasons I love what I do.

Zoophilic and pedophilic advocacy groups: Political bedfellows?

Advocacy groups exist for paraphilic minority groups. Despite differences in their chosen activities, it appears that they share political goals.

The work of advocacy groups for minority interests can often provide a fascinating insight into lesser-known manifestations of human activity and belief structures. Many of these advocacy groups seek to represent the concerns of minority and marginalized groups based on some social or geographical nuance or a particular mutual activity. One particularly interesting advocacy case related to sexual paraphilias recently emerged into the media spotlight. In November 2012, media outlets focused on a proposed criminal justice policy shift in Germany regarding the country’s laws on bestiality. Under the current legal framework bestiality is not a crime, except in instances where the animal is judged to have been subjected to significant harm. This recent policy shift intends to re-criminalize bestiality in Germany.

I assume that most people would have at least some understanding of what the term ‘bestiality’ refers to, but here’s a revision session. The term bestiality is typically, and somewhat colloquially, used to describe all sexual acts between humans and non-human animals. This blanket application of the term though is now considered somewhat outdated and disingenuous. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV bestiality is incorporated into the larger concept of zoophilia - “recurrent intense sexual fantasies, urges and sexual activities with non-human animals” – and is listed along with other ‘Paraphilias not otherwise specified’. Some have even suggested that because some self-identified zoophiles prefer sexual relationships with non-human animals over humans and make a distinction between themselves and others who use animals as sexual objects without an emotional connection, zoophilia could be conceptualized as an alternative sexual orientation.

What is interesting in the Germany story is that there is (naturally) a German zoophilic advocacy group who seek to represent the nation’s zoophiles and to maintain the status quo of legalized romantic activity between humans and non-humans: Zoophiles Engagement für Toleranz und Aufklärung (Zeta) (loosely translated as Zoophiles Commitment for Tolerance and Enlightenment). Zeta’s political goals can be summarized thusly:

  • To oppose animal cruelty and animal suffering;
  • To promote the position that: (a) sexual intimacy is possible with an animal, (b) that such sexual activity is not necessarily harmful, and (c) that it can be physically and emotionally positive for the animal;
  • To promote the position that zoophiles have the same constitutional and democratic rights as any other citizen and those rights should be protected;
  • To encourage research and public education on the topic of zoophilia and the honest exchange of ideas to counter the ongoing dissemination of misinformation;
  • To promote the open-practice of zoophilia without social discrimination;
  • To provide advice and assistance to zoophiles who are exploring their zoophilic feelings or encounter social discrimination.

What immediately strikes me are the similarities between the political aims of this zoophilic advocacy group, and perhaps the global belief systems that underpin those goals, and those that are promoted by advocacy groups who seek to represent individuals who wish to engage in romantic (and sexual) relationships with children. These organizations and their goals are arguably better known than their zoophile equivalents, given the intense societal reaction to pedophilia, a concentrated media focus on the topic, and political priority of child protection over animal welfare. Indeed, the publications of pedophilia advocacy groups are often used as research resources in understanding the belief structures of those who might seek illegal sexual contact with child. Take, for example, the following summary of the political goals of the arguably best-known pedophile advocacy group, the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA):

  • To oppose the disrespectful treatment of youth in society and the high rates of child poverty, neglect, and alienation;
  • To promote the position that: (a) children are able to have a close, even sexual, relationship with an adult, (b) that such activity between is not harmful, (c) that children can initiate romantic relationships with an adult, (d) that children find adults sexually attractive, and (e) that romantic relationships with adults can be beneficial for a child;
  • To oppose age-of-consent laws because (a) they are arbitrary and unjust, (b) they unjustly criminalize romantic relationships between adults and children, (c) they devalue the opinions, feelings and decisions of children, (d) they do not protect adequately protect young people, (e) they breed fear, distrust and consequently isolation between generations;
  • To educate the public on issues of adult/child romantic love , inform public policy, and counter the ongoing dissemination of misinformation;
  • To provide support for individuals who feel a romantic attraction to children, including those who are currently incarcerated.

Although this represents only two groups out of potentially many, there are a number of distinct similarities between the published goals of Zeta and those of NAMBLA. Those differences between the groups also appear to be concepts for which even the most motivated interest group might struggle to provide evidence. For example, given the inherent difficulties in establishing motivation across species, it might be easier for NAMBLA to make a case that children are be able to consent to and initiate sexual activity than it would be for ZETA to make the same case for animals (although there is evidence to suggest that some animals share human paraphilias).

I would further argue that if you take away the paraphilic element, the global goals of these groups can be summarized thusly:

  • That they promote the well-being of the target group for their chosen activity;
  • That their chosen activity is legitimate, possible, is not harmful, and can even be beneficial;
  • That individuals should be free to openly practice their chosen activity;
  • That the legal system (or changes to the legal system) in their location unjustly discriminates against their chosen activity and those who practice it or defend its practice;
  • That they and their chosen activity are misunderstood in a society that persecutes them (and that this is due to a conscious campaign of misinformation by those who oppose their chosen activity).

I am not, and neither do I claim to be, a political scientist, but I argue the case that on face-value these two organizations’ missions share a great deal of common ground. This may provide some insight into the motivations of paraphilic advocacy groups and the belief structures of their members. Furthermore, perhaps there something we can learn about the structure of individual perceptions and beliefs about their own paraphilias from the general literature on advocacy and political groups? Perhaps the global goals promoted by these groups are the same as other non-paraphilic minority interests?

One final point: given the similarities above, one wonders what the implications would be if these groups were to create an umbrella organization that united each and all of the paraphilia-based advocacy groups, of which I’m sure there are many, in order to maximize their impact of their message.

[Disclaimer: I summarize information gleaned from advocacy groups' websites: I do not intend to misrepresent their political goals. Please feel free to disagree with my summaries of those goals.]

The England 6s and 2s curse

So the English national football team were knocked out of another major international tournament via a penalty shoot-out last night. In fairness, the Italians were deserving winners – but as we know, once it goes to penalties England always seem more likely to lose.

To ease the pain I decided to throw England’s penalty shoot out record into MS Excel and take a basic look at it. Nothing surprising came out of the stats themselves: 9 tournaments qualified for; 6 penalty shoot-outs; 16.7% won; and 34% of penalties missed.

When I looked at the tournaments in which we’ve lost on penalties, however, an intruiging (and somewhat worrying) pattern emerged. This pattern, which I dub the ‘6s and 2s curse (6&2C)‘, is a pattern in the sequence by which England have been eliminated from either the FIFA World Cup or the UEFA European Football Championship via a penalty shoot-out, after their first elimination on penalties at the 1990 FIFA World Cup (which incidentally was the first major tournament I really watched as a 9-year-old child – I still well-up when I hear Pavarotti’s version of Nessun Dorma).

The English national football team have been eliminated via a penalty shoot-out at the following tournaments:

  • 1990 FIFA World Cup (3-4 vs. West Germany – Semi-finals)
  • UEFA Euro 1996 (5-6 vs. Germany – Semi-finals)
  • 1998 FIFA World Cup (3-4 vs. Argentina – Round of 16)
  • UEFA Euro 2004 (5-6 vs. Portugal – Quarter-finals)
  • 2006 FIFA World Cup (1-3 vs. Portugal- Quarter-finals)
  • UEFA Euro 2012 (2-4 vs. Italy – Quarter-finals)

A basic sequential pattern can be calculated using the years in which a penalty shoot-out loss was responsible for the English team’s elimination. The sequence goes: 90, 96, 98, 04, 06, and 12. The corresponding pattern of differences between these years are 6, 2, 6, 2, and 6. So, since (and including) the 1990 FIFA World Cup loss to West Germany, England have been eliminated from European tournaments via a penalty shoot-out at recurring intervals of 6 and 2 years.

If this sequence were to continue then the next elimination for England as a result of a penalty shoot-out should occur during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil followed by the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament (and so forth). Interestingly, the 2020 tournament is a major milestone for international football in itself, being the 150th anniversary of the inaugural England vs Scotland representative matches, one of which (in 1872) is considered the first ever official international football game. The 150th anniversary of that 1872 game will come at the 2022 World Cup Finals – where the curse decrees England will be eliminated on penalties. Probably in the quarter-finals.

Interestingly too, you can also include the two instances during this time in which England have failed to qualify:

  • 1994 FIFA World Cup
  • UEFA Euro 2008

Here, the pattern of differences becomes a double palindrome curse (PC):

  1. The pattern 4, 2, 2, 6, 2, 2, 4
  2. The pattern PENS, DNQ, PENS, PENS, PENS, PENS, DNQ, PENS.

This potentially writes an alternative future for the England team, where this palindrome repeats itself: 4, 2, 2, 6, 2, 2, 4 – 4, 2, 2, 6, 2, 2 ,4 – etc. In this instance we have four more years before the next penalty shoot-out loss at EURO 2016 in France (which simply suggests we’ll be knocked out in a more conventional way should we qualify for Brazil 2014). Perhaps more worrying, however, is that we will not qualify for the 2018 competition. This would be an incredible scenario, given the controversy that surrounded England’s failed bid to host that tournament (and thus be granted automatic qualification). In fact, a true believer in the determinism of this curse might argue that the pattern dictated that FIFA would not grant England host status.

So, to sum up, maybe:

  1. The 6s and 2s curse was responsible for the England team’s exit last night (and all previous shoot-out failures), not Ashleys Cole and Young, OR:
  2. The pallindrome curse was responsible for:
  • Last night (and all previous shoot-out failures)
  • Our failure to qualify for tournaments in 1994 and 2008, not Graham Taylor, Karl-Josef Assenmacher (the referee who yellow-carded Ronald Koeman), Steve McLaren, or his umbrella
  • The failure of England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup

In the spirit of Nostradamus I will stand by my calculations and will make the following predictions (well, two predictions) about the outcome of England’s campaigns in each of the following four major international tournaments on the basis of each of the two ‘curses’ outlined about:

  • 2014 World Cup: 6&2C =  PENS; PC = PENS
  • Euro 2016: 6&2C = NO PENS; PC = NO QUALIFICATION
  • 2018 World Cup: 6&2C =  NO PENS; PC =  NO PENS
  • Euro 2020: 6&2C =  PENS; PC = NO PENS

I will also be placing these as two accumulator bets. Only time will tell…