AGP Ep 4: Kerry Walker—The power of values, and changing the system, one victory at a time

by | Oct 24, 2016

Kerry Walker is the Director of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood, for Courts Services Victoria.

She has successfully led and delivered significant change to how the Justice system works in Victoria for the betterment of the community in an environment that’s extremely resistant to change.


Alpha Geek Podcast
AGP Ep 4: Kerry Walker—The power of values, and changing the system, one victory at a time
Alpha Geek Podcast AGP Ep 4: Kerry Walker—The power of values, and changing the system, one victory at a time

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"What works about service and community is relationships, and the law is no different" —Kerry Walker
"We have very few rules about what we do because our values are strong enough to hold us" —Kerry Walker
"Have fun, get out there. Do it!" —Kerry Walker

Show notes




Andrew Ramsden: G’day Kerry. Thank you for joining me on the show.


Kerry Walker: Thanks for having me, Andrew.


Andrew Ramsden: I’ve been looking forward to having a chat because it’s always been fantastic when we’ve gotten together professionally to share information. I’m just really excited to dig further into some of your story and some of the amazing things that you’ve achieved down here in Victoria. Kerry, you’re the director of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre for Department of Justice here in Victoria?


Kerry Walker: No, actually Court Services Victoria.



Andrew Ramsden:


Court Services Victoria? Okay. There you go. Clearly showing that I’m under prepared already. What’s your current title?


Kerry Walker: Director of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, but what happened the last 3 years ago …


Andrew Ramsden: It’s not a part of Department of Justice?


Kerry Walker: No. Court’s moved away from the department and so now is a body in its own right.


Andrew Ramsden: Okay. I know that the Neighbourhood Justice Centre represents a bit of a different philosophy to how justice has been approached before. Tell us a little bit about that.



Kerry Walker:







Essentially this is a community justice model and it’s the only one in Australia at the moment, but really it’s about saying what we need to do rather than just go through the revolving door of courts where you do something wrong, you get punished. You go out, nothing has change so you do something else that’s wrong. You come back and you get punished and off we go again. This is really saying, “Well, what is it that sits underneath the behaviour? Let’s look at the person.” It’s this notion that if we can connect people better in their own communities and with treatment services and with a circle of support, then you’ve got a better chance of the person not offending and that means that you get a healthier community.









It means that you get a community that then takes some responsibility for people coming back into it who have been pretty oscillated or disaffected and that it’s also about building communities and building community norms so that communities start to protect themselves in a preventive way around offending. It might be for instance that rather than I’ll say, “Well, we’ve got a real problem with people breaking into cars so yup, let’s make the penalty greater,” why don’t we think about, “What about if we put people in a position where there was not much to steal from cars?”







When people go to the local cinema for instance, what about if we had an ad running saying, “You still got time to go about and check that you’ve got all your valuables out of your car,” so that people who go, “Oh, yeah. I did leave my computer there,” that can go and get them, still watch the movie, but it’s safer. Those sorts of things then mean that you got less likelihood of your car being broken into and less likelihood of people offending in that way. The community is actually taking a really proactive step.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow. Much less a focus necessarily on crime and punishment and really try and target that outcome of less recidivism.


Kerry Walker:


Yes. What we’ve been able to since we’ve been here is in fact to have the lowest recidivism rate of any court in Victoria and we’ve also been able to help the police and the community to drop the crime rate by 30%.


Andrew Ramsden: That’s fantastic.


Kerry Walker:








We’ve seen half the number of offenders in the City of Viera who actually reside here. That’s been kept by 50%. You can really feel there’s a difference that’s happening and that the community taking much more charge about how it wants the behaviour set in its own way. For instance down in Richmond which is the largest housing estate in Victoria, they’ve started to take the fences down which means that estate will be much more a part of flexible, open really human transfer in the City of Richmond. Viera, just adjacent to us where we’re sitting, they have built a multiuse sports court that is open to everyone, but it’s built on public housing land. That’s a first.


What we’re seeing is this really strong sense of this community starting to build its own norms in a very external way. It’s always had them very strongly, but this is making at a very external statement and that’s fantastic.


Andrew Ramsden:


This seems like a really systematic approach. Not only is there a targeting of the negative behaviour and I guess rather than treating the symptom, you’re really looking to find the cause and support that so that the recidivism’s not there. Then there’s the positive side which is about building what is an ideal community, what do we want our community to be and really focusing on enriching that as well.


Kerry Walker:







That’s right. That’s in a sense how we got into the digital work because it flows on from there to say, “Well, if the community is doing all this good stuff and if good law is about strong community, then the community deserves to better understand the law. It deserves better access to the law.” We, as those who come from the portals of the law through the court or through administration, then our duty lies in making sure that every member of the community feels that the law is there in a protective way, but also in a really active way of justice so that justice isn’t just this funny concept that is really fusty and musty and just sits at the bench of a court. It is something that’s really alive and vibrant and that it’s about stewardship and it’s about tolerance and it’s about fairness and that goes throughout your community.








Then it’s been up to us also to think about what we can do. There’s very organic things that are really older than the ecclesiastical courts in terms of really reaching out into the village. Then how do we also encompass some modernity of the way in which people now live. That taking a day off work to come to the court to fill out a form is probably not a modern day way of reasonably accessing a service within a law. Being told to come to a court at 9:30 and reasonably expecting that if you’ve been given that time, your case will be heard then. No. You may sit there until 10 to 4 and find out that your case has been adjourned. How does that really fit?


Andrew Ramsden: That’s the same in Queensland and other jurisdictions.


Kerry Walker:






All over. How does that fit with the modern expectation about how well and respectfully I’m being dealt with if that’s how I’m going to spend my day? It was really then about us saying, “We should be better than this.” If we are saying that we’re supposed to … One of our goals is to help modernize the broader court system. If we’re supposed to do that, well, we’ve got to be better than those we charge to since I supposed show some way of testing out new ways of dealing with the law. That’s how we fell into digital work because that seemed to be a way of connecting with people in a modern sense of their devices, of respecting their time, of trying to build a connectedness that still had people involved in it.









It wasn’t just machines, but was also about saying, “No. No. We get it. We get it. We get it that for a woman applying for a family intervention order to come into court to fill in a form, she may have to take a day off work. She may have to lie about where she’s going. She may have to organize childcare.” That is an extraordinary impost on her and a very … What can be a very alienating and strange circumstance to find herself in with a stranger who is a registrar helping her filling a form about something that is a very personal either episode or systemic way in which she has been abused in her living. When we started to look at that, we were at, “Well, hang on.”


Andrew Ramsden: That was one of the big successes that you’ve had, isn’t it? Is putting the family violence intervention order application form online?


Kerry Walker:







That’s right. Then, of course, we looked at them and said, “Well, it’s not just about it being a form. This is about it being a living application. What does that look like rather than it being a form that is largely for office use? What about if we made these an experience that had some depth in it, that also placed accountability in a sense in the legal system because if we could articulate what the risk was, then that then places an accountability on the courts to respond in a particular way.” It starts to set a bar and a threshold. Really then you’re starting to seek a cultural change.


Rather than it just be a piece of paper that you file, you’re actually looking at it saying, “Oh, okay. I understand that the risk is severe and it is extremely urgent. This may in fact be beyond us and we need to call the police. I will certainly make contact with this applicant right now.” You’re actually changing that interaction. You’re changing the way in which the court can respond.



Andrew Ramsden:


Have you seen that? Have you seen that by taking that step it has impacted on the culture?


Kerry Walker:




Well, what we’ve seen is that we’re at the moment working with the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria to implement this process into other courts and then to look at a state wide roll out. The feedback we’ve got from registrars is really positive. Part of that is about saying rather than asking the applicant to fill in a form, we say, “Please tell us your story.”


Andrew Ramsden: It’s very human, isn’t it?


Kerry Walker: It sounds a small change. It’s an enormous change because then you’re actually establishing a relationship. What we know is that what works about service and community is relationship.


Andrew Ramsden: Nice. Very philosophical.


Kerry Walker:






Whether it’s in government, whether it’s in family, however, the neighbourhoods, it’s about relationships and courts are no different. The law is no different. It has taken itself off in a way that is quite again difficult to navigate, difficult to understand, different language, different concepts, pity if not at time such [inaudible 00:11:51] in the arguments that no one really understands. You can well go through a court process, come out and really have no idea about what’s happened to you.


Andrew Ramsden: Because a lot of resistance to that change and I guess I know this from my experience in Queensland, we followed your lead and I was involved briefly with a long running project to roll out a similar service. I guess as I say I’m very aware of the challenges that come back to that change. There’s a lot of resistance. Did you find that?



Kerry Walker:





What we found was that we learned much more about the institution of courts. There are 2 I think prime elements. One is that the law moves through slowly. Courts as the external face of the law for us as a community has a lot to defend and protect. Law can’t change by women. It has to be steady. It has to be exactingly a force in your society. That’s the first conundrum really that it’s easy to go, “You’re fusty and you won’t do what I want and da da da da.”


Andrew Ramsden: I guess that’s a challenge that government faces in general and I guess large organizations faces that we can’t be seen to be putting it as a step wrong so we’re very risk averse or even more so injustice.


Kerry Walker:





I think so. You’re talking about chronological principles. You’re talking about liberty. You’re talking about the right of fairness that guards your society. There’s that element. The other element is that argument is pure in law. The way in which lawyers and I think the judiciary having, best called as lawyers, that they learn to talk with you about anything new is that in the first instance what they want to do is to test it by trying to demolish it.


Andrew Ramsden: Right.


Kerry Walker: That’s an argument out of basis.


Andrew Ramsden: Yes.


Kerry Walker: It’s just a pure argument. It’s about how do you hold against that demolishing. Unless you understand that, you get hurt.


Andrew Ramsden: You could take that very personally.


Kerry Walker:


You take it personally. You feel really hurt. You feel really demeaned. You feel, “Why did I ever try to do this if you’re going to be so nasty and horrible to me?”


Andrew Ramsden: They’re not trying to be nasty. That’s just the way that they look at the world.


Kerry Walker:








That’s right. It’s a mindset about well, if I can’t demolish it, if part of it still stands, then it has passed the test. Part of what we have done is to try and avoid that demolishing exercise by saying, “We’re not going to trumpet really the values that sit under what we try to do as an instigating purpose. We will talk with you about what we think it can do for you. We think it can save you time. We think that it can tell you what risk is that can actually held that for you so you then can test that. We think that it can set a triage so that registry has a way of being really clued in and give you proper advice about what that application is about.


We think that overall it will be a better experience which means that the societal in a sense interactional feedback to the courts will be much more positive.” It’s about doing that …


Andrew Ramsden: They could see the benefits for themselves.


Kerry Walker:


Yes. Then we don’t have to go through the demolishing which we did an exercise some years ago where we just got demolished all the time and we couldn’t understand it. We felt hurt beyond belief in a sense. We came with something we thought that the courts would want and would love and they just demolished us on the spot. We’ve learned that now. “No, no. Don’t go there.”


Andrew Ramsden:


Don’t go bother. I’ve always found that I think you can connect to difficult stakeholders and they’ve always got the best of intentions. They’ve just got their own intentions by trying to align with their intentions and try to align with their goals and the benefits for them, selling them on that. I think once you’ve done that, you can often then connect them to a bigger intention as well, a bigger goal, that bigger picture about well, what are we doing here for the public as well. We’re making this better for those affected by family violence. Did you think that that was a possibility after selling the judiciary on the benefits of the online application?



Kerry Walker:


Well, no, because the judiciary sit in a place of saying, “We are …”


Andrew Ramsden: We are the broader intention.


Kerry Walker: That’s right.


Andrew Ramsden: Right. Fair enough too. There is a very strong hierarchy there, isn’t there?


Kerry Walker: That’s right. There is a purity in what we do that far exceeds …


Andrew Ramsden: There’s no greater.


Kerry Walker:


That’s right. Then you can show us because we are here with the rule of law. We create and add order and fairness. We are the gold standard in a sense. We are without fear or failure. No one can buy us. We stand solid in that way that we are connected to the law and that must be the first principle. In that way, we’re never going to get high moral ground.


Andrew Ramsden: Right.



Kerry Walker:


Possibly nor should we ever. It is about I think being able to duck in and to be clear about how we can assist in a modern way without being a risk in the rule of law.


Andrew Ramsden:



I guess I see that by making it better for those affected by family violence, that’s got to be the purpose of law. That’s what it’s there for. That’s what that entire application process is there for. If it is so difficult and challenging to actually go through that process, then we’re not achieving that fundamental goal.


Kerry Walker:




I’m not sure about this, but I suspect that the way in which the law has developed, that it’s in a sense that … There are 2 elements to it. One, if it’s difficult to achieve, to get a hold of it, to grasp it, then what you get at the end of it is something that was worth that pain. That that’s part of the belief structure. The other is that because of the purity of the law, it should be difficult.


Andrew Ramsden: Interesting. Confounding mindsets that make this a much more complex problem.


Kerry Walker: Yes. It should be much harder than going in and buying a new fridge that you shouldn’t have to be [inaudible 00:19:24].


Andrew Ramsden: I don’t think it’s ever going to be as easy as buying a new fridge.



Kerry Walker:


Yeah. Well, that’s probably a bad analogy.


Andrew Ramsden: No. No. No. I think that’s the mindset. I think you’ve accurately reflected that mindset.


Kerry Walker:








It’s tricky. It’s a tricky one. It’s much easier to deal with … In my view, it’s much easier to deal with government departments. It’s much easier to deal with people who will be excited with you about that prospect of wanting to add value at the grassroots, wanting to be involved in a project that lights up your thinking, that let’s you unlock resources in a way that you’ve not been able to do before, that brings together a strange collection of people in a partnership that yesterday you couldn’t even dream of. I think that in itself is the excitement that can be in working with government, but I think that’s quite different working with courts.


Andrew Ramsden: To be fair while we’re talking about some of those challenging mindsets present in the judiciary, to be really fair we’ve had some fantastic champions within the judiciary in Queensland and that’s really made things a lot easier. They’re really keen and excited to see technology and what that can do for them and for the public. Have you found that as well?


Kerry Walker:






For sure. One of the things is that you’re dealing with really bright people. You’re dealing with people who I suspect the part of it is that the onslaught everyday of so many cases going through our courts and in cases … The level of cases that … It hasn’t been reviewed. I don’t know if it’s ever been reviewed. It just means more and more cases come before courts. The ability to take yourself out and to be able to think and have that time and to have those conversations I think is much more limited than it is for those of us who work more on the ground and get to meet people just as we’ve met.


We like what each other says and we’d like to catch up again. That’s much more difficult I think for a judicial person who is going to sit in court from 10 until 4 everyday and their day is really caught you in a bit of a hoody goody.



Andrew Ramsden:


Absolutely. They may not have that luxury of being exposed to some of the new ideas.


Kerry Walker: I think so. Yeah. There are certainly those who transcend and will always be as I think in any organization that they will be the ones who want to ride the new boundary, who want to be the rule makers and to seize on the newness.


Andrew Ramsden:








I think that’s a really important thing to have is those champions within the influential positions. I think without them it’s really, really challenging to get around some of the other. I think this is a bit of a tangent and I was hoping we might here more about your leadership journey first, but I guess while we’re on the topic. I guess I have been doing a bit of research into what makes it difficult to drive transformation in large organizations and in government. Recently I had that opportunity to like yourself join the public sector network digital series and speak in a couple of cities around Australia.









As I was moving around the different cities, one of the themes that really jumped out at me was this idea that we have really good buy in from the top. Our CEO or our DG really clearly bought into the idea of digital transformation and all the messaging is let’s make this happen. Then the people on the ground seem to really get it. They’re really excited. They really bought in and invested. They put a lot of energy into trying to make things happen, but somehow the message is getting lost in the middle. There’s a bit of a disconnect there and they’re not feeling as support as they should. They send ideas up and they disappear. As I dug into that, I got a sense that there were these 2 types of challenging personalities in the middle.





One of them is the executives that aren’t necessarily up to speed with the technology. They don’t comfortable with it. Often referred to as the digital dinosaurs. I think the other one was some of the people in that middle layer who have built a bit of an empire. They’ve been around for a while and they’re quite comfortable the way things are. They don’t want to feel like there’s a challenge there or a threat there to what they’ve built so they find reasons to throw up risks and red flags and get ideas stomped on. Do you find that? Does that resonate for you at all? Are there a couple of personality types in there that make things difficult?



Kerry Walker:







I think both those exist and there’s no doubt about it. In any large organization, you’re going to hear people who are stuck in those ways. I also think that there’s another key issue and that is that the digital work to succeed, it has to be tested. That means that resources have to be unlocked in order for it to be tested and that causes a disharmony at times. For instance, for us to do testing on the 3 major projects that we’re involved in, it has meant that there had to be a reprioritization of the work that was being done on the major database for the courts. Someone’s nose was going to get out of joint about the labour being directed towards the testing.








We found it very difficult to have those resources unlocked. As it happens in large organizations, it becomes a bit murky about well, who’s responsible to unlock that resource? Is it the person who runs the work on the database? Is it the person I report to? Is it the person who’s ahead of the committee that does the prioritizing of the work that gets done? It isn’t as clear. That means in a sense that a paralysis sets in where it’s difficult for those players I think sometimes to converse about how to reset the priorities because then they have an uneven understanding about what it is that’s being tested.





They will certainly have different levels of interest in what’s being tested. If they’re working on something that means that a legislative change or imperative can be put on-board and we’re saying that we’ve got something that will benefit a range of members of citizens, then who’s … It’s the Solomon question, isn’t it?


Andrew Ramsden: Yes. Where are the priorities?


Kerry Walker: That’s right. I think that that’s another element that certainly I hadn’t realized would be so difficult.


Andrew Ramsden:


I also see a bit of a fear that, “Okay. If I give up these resources on this occasion, is that now going to be the expected norm?” Is the question then going to be asked, “Do I need these resources? Do I need as many?”


Kerry Walker:




That’s right. It’s new. How do I know how high up in the decision-making tree before I unlock those resources? Can I make them have to go up higher? Will I get into strife if I unlock the resources? There’s a bit of, “Yeah. It’s a new ground.” I think that makes it difficult because there’s not that agility in large organizations whether it’s the courts or it’s departments to have that sorted. Of course when we come to them and say, “Look. We’ve got this far, but we need now to test it or else we can’t go any further,” well, if you’ve never had it, that’s not a great loss in terms of looking at what you’re doing with the bails of the database.






“Bugger off. I don’t care if somebody tells me what to do.” Then you’ve got to find your way through. I do think that there’s that element to it. Of course, the other is if it’s tested, what happens then? We’ve gone from buying these large scale, off the shelf things to doing our own development, building the minimum viable product and wanting to test it and see what happens. As we know, for those of us who do that, it’s exciting and it’s fantastic and it’s lovely. We’ve got heaps of people involved and you’re all on the same page and you go with this great excited sense of, “We’ve got to see them. If we could test it, we could show it to you.”


[00:29:00] “Well, what exactly is it?” “Well, at this stage it’s just this little bit, but if we can test it, we can build it into something bigger that …” “Sorry what is it?” You’re saying, “Look. We just want to test to see if the mouse will eat the cheese, but if we get it to eat the cheese, what we’ll give you is a lovely big elephant.” That I think is …


Andrew Ramsden: It’s hard for them to see that elephant.


Kerry Walker:


Well, I think again it’s difficult in this day and age around accountabilities and stuff. About, “Yeah. Okay. I took everyone offline to let them test this tiny thing. None of us quite understood it. Yeah. I’m sorry. It does mean that the legislation gets delayed and it does mean that this …” Again it’s about I think excitement isn’t enough.


Andrew Ramsden:









That’s interesting. Look, we’re sitting here in your office and I see a copy of “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries sitting there on the shelf. When you talk MVP, I know you’re really thinking about this the right way in terms of fostering innovation. I had never thought of it that way in terms of a resistance to that lean startup thinking based on the fact that it just does seem so inconsequential at that point. Whereas if you put together the epic project plan where the master plan’s outlined from the beginning, you can see the elephant. There’s a blueprint of it and it’s very clear. Then it’s easier to sell that idea, but it’s also easier to design the wrong elephant.


Kerry Walker: Well, as has been shown time and time again that it’s a really full hardy way to go most of the time, but on paper it’s persuasive.


Andrew Ramsden: It’s easy to sell.


Kerry Walker: Yup.


Andrew Ramsden:



There you go. Are there other aspects of “The Lean Startup” that you like to apply? Is there something about that book that really jumped out for you because I know it’s a challenge to then take that startup thinking and apply it to the enterprise level?


Kerry Walker:





Well, I think what it commands in a sense is … Let me go back a little bit. Working in community justice, essentially what you’re always trying to do is to invert your usual thinking. How can I prevent things rather than deal with things that are to prevent things that might be. With “The Lean Startup,” in the sense again you’re having to invert because really what you’re having to say is, “How do I sell the big picture by only building a tiny picture?” I’m not sure that I’m very good at that or that I’ve seen many people who are very good at that. We spend a lot of our time down here with the smaller with all our belief bills going off.


[00:32:00] Of course we feed into each other because it’s a good values base, it is exciting, you have to apply some great intellect to it and it’s very stimulating. I’m not sure we spend enough time of that. How do we sell this now, the bigger picture?



Andrew Ramsden:








There’s a fantastic video that the UK Ministry of Justice put together. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but it basically paints a picture through a fictional short video, short episode that they’ve put together of what the justice system could look like in 15 years or 20 years. Obviously it’s very high tech. You’ve got people tracking criminals using drones and other technology. You’ve got policemen on cycles with cameras and iPads and the rest of it. That’s all very highly integrated and they can actually …








I think there’s a bit of a mugging on the street and the police Australian, they’re getting a report and getting the word put out there and then the person’s identified through some footage from a drone and they go and intercept quite quickly. It struck me as a really fantastic way to tell the story without necessarily having to build exactly what was in that picture. It was more of a flavour. It was more of a scene setting than any specific solution.


Kerry Walker:









The way in which the Brits write about the innovations injustice I think is really clever in that they never write about doing one thing. They always write about doing a range of things which creates an issue for someone as little as us to be able to do a number of things at one time. Again what makes me think is that okay, we’ve got to do some better joining up with those who are doing other facets of this work to design in so that then we build it looks like a much broader strategy and a much more intentional strategy rather than, “Oh, well. Someone’s had a broader idea down in Collingwood. Oh, here we go again.” I do think that again is another really positive challenge for us to do. I think we’ve got better about how we think about that.






Certainly our relationship for instance with the Department of Premier and Cabinet I think has given us entree into that broader strategic digital happening and thinking and so that we’re not just out on our own in a sense just standing out in a … Like the tiny pea. It is all a learning. I’m not sure that also the smartest element isn’t also a bit of a turn off to organizations.


Andrew Ramsden: Explain that for me.


Kerry Walker:



Yeah. We turn up and say, “Look. We got this great idea. You could do this and you could do this and if we’re thinking about this.” Everyone goes, “Well, thanks. I’ve been doing the real work here while you all been out there playing.”


Andrew Ramsden: You think I’ve never had a good idea before?


Kerry Walker: Exactly. I think there’s a bit of the insult to it as well.


Andrew Ramsden: Right. Yes.


Kerry Walker: This is the latest thing since slice bread. If I could tell you for every slice, how many failures I’ve seen and dickheads like you turning up.


Andrew Ramsden: It’s almost a vindication in being able to get the opportunity to squish down that idea a little bit.



Kerry Walker:







Well, I think it’s real. I do think that sometimes we do come across as being smart asses like, “We’re the bright new penny,” where in fact that’s not really so. What we’re saying is and again it goes back to that relationship stuff, if we can connect in a more modern, then what we’re doing is bringing the interface or we’re making it different. We’re giving it a different rhythm. We’re giving it a different character. We’re giving it a different name. If we’re able to do that, then the values that hold the person doing the same job for 20 years isn’t being dismissed.


Andrew Ramsden: That real passion and drive for change needs to be tampered a little bit with some empathy and …


Kerry Walker: Respect. Respect and humility. Yeah. That’s right because it is hard not to be excited about this stuff.



Andrew Ramsden:


Yes. Whenever you introduce something new, the implied message whether it’s stated or not is what you were doing before was wrong and crap.


Kerry Walker: We’ve got to be better at saying, “What you do has given us an idea.”


Andrew Ramsden: Yes. What you do has been fantastic and was better than what came before. Now it’s time to modernize a bit further on.


Kerry Walker: The values that you enshrine in your work are still here.



Andrew Ramsden:


Nice. A connection to values. Is that something you use in conversation? Is that a word that comes up explicitly or is it more about just showing them that you’re aligned in values?


Kerry Walker:







This place runs on values. We have some 20 agencies that work together. The only way that you can hold people together of quite disparate professional disciplines is by values. You have to hold professional tensions. You have to hold confidentiality. You have to hold different ways of approaching a problem, a client. You have to have values that instil a confidence in each other because often you’re at loggerheads. If you’re defending and you’re prosecuting, you’re at loggerheads. If you join by values that say, “We are here to achieve the best outcome for this human being that is standing in front of the court,” then that’s the value that will hold you and stop you really from going outside the slanging match where that person gets harmed.








Your values are very keenly a part of what we talk about often. Often we view our values, our adherence to our values. We over the years have gone through many exercises where we review our values and try and name them. Our last attempt was to come up with this term “the courage to be just.” This notion that you’re to instil fairness and to ensure that the law is there to protect the people you don’t like as well as the people you do. It takes courage to do that. It takes courage to have that conversation in a community. It takes courage to prosecute that argument. It takes courage to keep those values really strong. I often describe the staff here as being lion hearts. They’re people with great heart, good heart, that they bring to their work.


[00:40:00] They are the boundary writers and the new rule makers. We expect courage each day and we have very few rules about what we do because the values are strong enough to hold us.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow. That’s fantastic. Are those values shared across the 20 agencies?


Kerry Walker: Yeah.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow. That must be hard to get alignment or, sorry, to get agreement on what those values are in the first place.


Kerry Walker:


It’s not really because again you wouldn’t want to work here if you didn’t have them. You wouldn’t last working here if you didn’t have them.


Andrew Ramsden: How many are there?


Kerry Walker: There are very few. Our values are curiosity, integrity and courage.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow. What a fantastic combination.



Kerry Walker:


What we want is always to be curious as to what happens underneath, where the next step is, what people are telling us, how the voice of the community sounds. It’s an earnest and quite pure curiosity that we hold.


Andrew Ramsden: I think they’re fantastic values to have to drive innovation and change and technology adoption as well. You’ve got to have that curiosity. You’ve got to have that courage and integrity is always an important one especially when it comes to justice.



Kerry Walker:


That’s right. You have to be able to be relied upon. There has to be a truth in what you do and that’s really what integrity is. We try and keep it really simple, but powerful and a little cockeyed in a sense. You’re not expecting that-


Andrew Ramsden: Curiosity.


Kerry Walker: -curiosity would be a value in this setting, but we think no, it’s a really important part of who we are.


Andrew Ramsden: Number 4, have fun every day.



Kerry Walker:


That would probably be in it. That’s right. Also because we are an action learning project, so that curiosity has to be a part of what drives us to get to the next step to want to go further.


Andrew Ramsden: Absolutely and lovely that that’s reflected more broadly in organizational values and that people seem to respond to that and align to that. That must make it easier to keep these things moving.


Kerry Walker:


I would think that most people who work here would describe this as a fairly joyful workplace where there’s always something going on this. They may have been offsite this morning meeting about white ribbon day. Behind you the presentation cases, having t-shirts put up that have been painted by members of the community.


Andrew Ramsden: There you go.


Kerry Walker:


No violence against women. We’ve got student clinics here this morning that are doing divorce clinics and Wills clinic. We actually do Wills for homeless people. We’ve got children’s court upstairs happening. There’s a lot always going on at any one time. We’ve also got members of the community who are meeting down in the community room.


Andrew Ramsden:



It’s an interesting metaphor you were telling me about some of the philosophy of the building itself earlier this morning. I think the building itself almost reflects those values because you’ve got the integrity. There’s lots of glass everywhere which gives that transparency that you were telling me about. There’s that courage around that as well. I guess the curiosity as you say and that aspect of fun and enjoyment comes from the community art pieces. It’ll be a shame to see those sculptures taken down, but the shirts look lovely as well.


Kerry Walker:







That’s right, but it will all change again. We’ve had some wonderful, just wonderful things on show. It’s also about the fact that we celebrate the members of the community who make these pieces. We always have a launch of each installation. It’s fantastic. People invite their families and friends and for many they’ve never had anything hung in public before and it’s been great. We had a woman who had not spoken for a significant period of time, like 18 months, and she had a piece of artwork that was hung here and she started speaking to it. The workers who had brought her here were just astonished. It is those small, but really significant moments in people’s lives that we get to in a sense foster.


Andrew Ramsden: Why did you say it’s such a small thing to be able to do that and feature that artwork, but so powerful?


Kerry Walker: Yeah. You never know. It’s the unintended consequence that we’re also always vitally interested in.



Andrew Ramsden:


It’s very symbolic. It’s very symbolic that your office is here front and centre, sitting right on the street and lots of glass. You’re really, as you say, looking at the community and they’re looking back.


Kerry Walker:



Yeah. I love it because people wonder in and say good day. Kids come in and sometimes you hear people banging on my glass wall about what’s happening in court. Then they’ll see me and go, “Oh, sorry love. Didn’t see you there. No. No. No. I bust out.” It’s fantastic because it really does mean that I get to engage with everyone who comes in and out of here. People who are upset or people who are happy. People who come to just pop in to tell me things about what’s going on here or there or staff wondering in and out. There are 2 doors to this office that are always open. It’s a lovely environment for me to work in.


Andrew Ramsden: Keeping it real.



Kerry Walker:


Yeah. I love it.


Andrew Ramsden: Fantastic. Your role is obviously much more than just technology, but I know it’s been a focus for you. How did you get to this place that you’re in now? Tell us a bit about your journey and how you got into leadership?


Kerry Walker: Not sure anyone really knows how they ever get into leadership, but it is a …


Andrew Ramsden: Was it a choice or was is thrust upon you?


Kerry Walker:


I don’t know really. It’s one of those funny things isn’t it that I started off working with young people and really loved it and then realized that I got to an age where I was actually too old to do it. When I walk into the room, the conversation had stopped and I thought, “I think this is …” Then I went off and did other things for a while.


Andrew Ramsden: That’s sad.


Kerry Walker:






Yeah, it is. It is a telling moment I think about working with adolescence is a time when you just feel pass that threshold. Then I went off and did some other things and then I ended up working in a funny way, but often working in jobs that were a bit on the age to try and create some change or to fix things. For a number of years I fixed things. Programs that had fallen down, I would go and reset or rewrite in a sense.


Andrew Ramsden: Doing that through bringing some fresh ideas and new thinking.


Kerry Walker:









Yeah. Just trying to again invert some of the thinking and try and think about how might we do this differently and how can we do this. Also a number of jobs I worked in were quite advocacy style jobs. I worked in a little unit called the street work unit which was a bit like here, a bit of the lunatic fringe in a sense. We used to work with young people on the streets of St. Kilda and in the City of Melbourne. We were quite renegade in our activity in the way that we would advocate for young people who were often wards of the state. We weren’t a particularly popular unit, but we were also I think seen as having a real spot about trying to push the larger systems to change around those.


Andrew Ramsden: Changing that thinking from purely punitive through to well, look, there’s other things that play here. How can we support them?


Kerry Walker: Not to be so rule driven and process driven. I then got to the stage where I had done lots of things I really wanted to do. One of the things about working in a large bureaucracy is you get spoiled by just what’s an offer for you to do. If you’re happy to or you get tapped and poke your nose into other people’s business, it’s fantastic.



Andrew Ramsden:


As you say, “As long as you bring that humility and respect with you.”


Kerry Walker: That’s right which I don’t think I did quite often enough. No. I’ve been on the youth ProBoard. I had been the CEO of the youth training centre. I had developed …


Andrew Ramsden: Why did you take that role on? That’s very prominent leadership role.


Kerry Walker:


The truth is that there are a number of us … We were at a conference and we’re all saying we thought that the way that the place had been run we didn’t think was all that good. We thought if we ever had a chance, we would do it better. We’ve been really arrogant about it.


Andrew Ramsden: I think we all feel like that at certain points in time. You have to give it a go, don’t you?


Kerry Walker: We pulled straws as to who would apply and I got the short straw.


Andrew Ramsden: It was thrust upon you. There you go.


Kerry Walker:


Yeah. It was a collegiate thing. I went for the job interview which was … It was just appalling. It went very, very badly. I didn’t hear anything about it for months. One day they rang and said, “You’ve got the job.” I remember I was actually drinking a cup of coffee as I took the call. I just spurred the coffee all over the room. I was like, “Oh, no. This was my worst nightmare,” because I just decided, “I didn’t get it. That’s fine. I wonder who did.” I don’t have the bet really.


Andrew Ramsden: I wonder if you’d subconsciously sabotaged that interview. You may not have even tried. You just thought, “I don’t really want this.”



Kerry Walker:


Look, I have no idea, but anyway, it was a really tough interview.


Andrew Ramsden: There you go. There you go.


Kerry Walker:




Again it was about creating change and about inverting the way in which people normally thought about things. It was simply, but it took a long time to get the change in the thinking. It was essentially whatever we do inside the 4 walls has to be relevant to the young person’s life outside the 4 walls and has to be a driver to take them to a better place.


Andrew Ramsden: That would be very challenging to live up to that venture.


Kerry Walker:



People got behind it. It changed the way in which we did things. It started to … For instance, we got to close down the Central Kitchen and young people started to be engaged in cooking food. We changed the school and changed the curriculum. Because it was about it, it had to be that it took them somewhere. It had to be relevant.


Andrew Ramsden: Again the power of an underlying value or principle to really change mindsets and change the way we do things.


Kerry Walker:


That’s the first time I think that I really understood the power of that. In that closed environment, you really start to see it in spades. That I think was the first time really that even though I had been in charge of some things that I had really felt that I was being asked to step up to a plate that I never been on before. It was tough. It was really hard. I would say it took me a long time to get over. It was the first time that I’d ever experienced the death of a client.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow.



Kerry Walker:









You start to realize that what you’re doing … The seriousness of what you’re doing is beyond anything you ever believed you could do before. It also dented my belief about the young people who I worked with. I’d always believe that they were invincible and here I was faced with reality that this wasn’t so. That was terribly confronting for me as a worker. In a sense became the first step of my deciding I wanted to do something else. I went off and studied law and felt that I never wanted to have that responsibility again, that life and death responsibility. After doing law, worked my way back into I think the positions I wanted to be in.


Andrew Ramsden: Do you think you’d moved on from that pain at that point? How did you get over that?


Kerry Walker: It really was time, but it took a long time. I think by then yes, I had. Also that I’d been filled with a new discourse and a new thinking and opened up I think new opportunities.



Andrew Ramsden:


Also makes me wonder why law? Why did you decide to head into law?


Kerry Walker: Oh, everyone was doing it.


Andrew Ramsden: Okay. It was all the range.


Kerry Walker: It was all the range.


Andrew Ramsden: All the cool kids were doing it.


Kerry Walker: A number had said, “I think you’d like it.”


Andrew Ramsden: Okay.


Kerry Walker: I think you’d be good at it. I think you’d like it.


Andrew Ramsden: Did you like it?


Kerry Walker: I liked it.


Andrew Ramsden: Yeah.


Kerry Walker:



I loved it. I realized that I understood a lot more about how the world thinks and works because the law is so male. That you start to understand how men really do think and how they use logic in such a lineal way. They actually blow logic out at the other end and how differently women think in a tangential way that can come back to the core of the argument and men don’t like it. Yes, it really made me understand a lot about that friction in thinking and argument.



Andrew Ramsden:


Tell me more about that. Men think lineally and you said blows the logic out at the end. What does that mean?


Kerry Walker:









If you read some of the high court cases or any of the, I suppose recorded judgments, what you can see is there’s a famous case and I’m trying to remember it. Alathy is one of the names in it. It’s about this bloke essentially falls in love with this woman who is not returning his interest, but they do become friends. Over a period of time, his affection for her just doesn’t die. In fact, it becomes more adamant. She sees that they have a platonic friendship. She’s not going any further, thank you. He offers to buy her a house. She accepts that as part of the friendship. Then, of course, once the house is settled, he then says, “Well, I’ll move in with you.” She goes, “No. No. This is a gift from you and da da.”







Then, of course, he wants the house back. The court says, “Look, we can say what’s happened here.” They plot the case just as I’ve plotted it to you. I’m sorry my memory’s a bit hazy so it may not be all that accurate, but where they arrived at is those interactions over the house and that she in fact was being very selfish and manipulative and was something of a siren to have attracted his interest over such a long period of time that she probably was after the house all the time because how else could you have a friendship with someone who had a non-platonic interest in you and da da da. It just goes back and forth and back and forth until she becomes quite a monster and they found in his favour.


Andrew Ramsden: There’s a lot of assumptions that have been added in.



Kerry Walker:


That’s right. He, in a sense, is infantilized by this dreadful woman who was out to manipulate him all along. There’s nothing to demonstrate that at all in the case that he was not acting in an adult capacity. It’s one of those cases that I think is a really wonderful illustration of how you can blow that logic out.


Andrew Ramsden: That’s almost like the slippery slope fallacy where it seems like you’re at one end of the spectrum and they’ve pushed it all the way to the other end of that spectrum.


Kerry Walker: There are lots of cases like that.



Andrew Ramsden:


Wow. That does seem quite biased, doesn’t it?


Kerry Walker:





Yeah. Well, logic enables you to be biased, but logic has been changed by the tenants of logic. When you do those logic … Whatever. Those plans with logic [inaudible 00:57:46]. You’re only allowed to have 2 or 3 points. You go, “Well, that’s logic.” Well, no, it’s not. Logic can extend. No, we’ve actually made a rule now that it can only have those 2 or 3 points to it. Why? It’s either logical or it’s not.


Andrew Ramsden: It’s very mathematical, isn’t it? They can reduce it down.


Kerry Walker: Logic actually comes from philosophy which I get has a relationship with math, but it actually sits in philosophy. Yes, it’s this mathematical formula.


Andrew Ramsden: You can break all that down into trues and falses and reduce it all down into a single …


Kerry Walker: I think that’s right.



Andrew Ramsden:


It’s reducing the complexity of very subtle, as you say, philosophical type discussion and values based discussions down into ones and zeros.


Kerry Walker:





That’s right. Then this job was advertised for and I rang. I was on my way to Canberra and I rang and said, “Are you really serious that this is about innovation? That you want to do it differently?” They said, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No, we’re really serious.” “Really, really serious?” They said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, look, I wish you the best of luck. I’m stuffed to a conference now.” It was the closing date I think for the application. I said, “I hope it goes really well.” They said, “Oh, well, if you’re interested, we’ll hold it open until Sunday night.” I had a bit of a think about it and so I ended up applying. It has been an extraordinary 10 years of my life.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow.


Kerry Walker: Just has been extraordinary.


Andrew Ramsden: They made good on that promise that it was about innovation. They were serious.


Kerry Walker: Yeah.


Andrew Ramsden: That’s fantastic.



Kerry Walker:







What they did was which was critical to us growing up was that they didn’t have us reporting through the courts. I reported directly to the executive director of courts. We were allowed to experiment and to blossom and to find our own way. Because when we started, we honestly we had no idea what shape this would be. It was to be shaped in concept with the community. We were here to ask the question about, “Well, what does this look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like?”


Andrew Ramsden: Having a huge impact, but I get a sense you’re feeling far enough removed from the life and death impact?


Kerry Walker: Yeah.


Andrew Ramsden: It’s not quite as close or as present?


Kerry Walker:








No. Well, this has been really joyful. It’s been an extraordinary experience to have a Greenfield site and the magistrate know. We often talk about, “Wow, how lucky are we this time in our careers to be given this opportunity and to work so closely with community and to have something that isn’t shaped by bureaucracy.” It’s not shaped by that fundamentalist principle which is why in a sense we don’t fit in with the courts because we’re not born of them. We’re born of this community. All large organizations or institutions hold a fundamentalist position that unless, “I thought of you and look like me and behave like me,” you don’t get a show. That’s a position we’re in where we are the strange little beast that sits out here and no one quite knows what to do with them.


Andrew Ramsden: Do you think it will spread further?


Kerry Walker:







Well, it’s an interesting thing. It’s an interesting dilemma I think that if a major goal we were set or tasked we were set was to help influence the modernization or I think it’s … The way it’s written is to assist in the modernization of the broader justice system. If there are more of us, does that mean that the broader justice system gets to behave just as it always does because it says, “I don’t have to change because I’ll build another one of those.” Do we really stay in a very difficult place of saying, “No. We’re going to nudge. We’re going to push. We’re going to nudge. We’re going to push each day as well as doing our ordinary work. We’re just going to push.”










If you look at what has already come out this small place, the dispute settlement of Victoria now has what it calls abbreviated mediation. Now when we introduced that, it was absolute treason at the time. We were saying, “Well, local shopkeepers don’t have … They don’t want to take another day off work. They don’t want to wait for a month to have the mediation. They want it today.” That now happens throughout the state and it’s a [inaudible 01:02:47] proud of what they do. Because we had Victoria Legal Aid and Victoria Legal Service on site with police prosecutions, it meant that they could hand the briefs over to each other prior to going into court. We were able to save a whole lot of court time doing that.










The police then took up that as a project and now that is seen as best practice and that happens now in most places. We started an aboriginal hearing day grassroots with our community. We then helped the Heidelberg Court start one with their community and that’s up and running. From that they felt they had the confidence then to take on the aboriginal children’s court. There are lots of things that have emanated from here and the thinking from here that really is out there now. There is an education officer who works at the children’s court and that was our idea of looking at the stats and saying, “Well, if 75% of the kids who go to the children’s court aren’t in school, then education needs to be at the face of the court.






It needs to be that interaction and so that something can be done.” I’m in 2 months about, “Well, is this what you do or is it not?” We give a lot of technical advice to other areas around joining our primary care. We have legal services and that now is happening in quite a number of places throughout the state and interstate.


Andrew Ramsden: Although this model isn’t replicating, the philosophy is spreading.


Kerry Walker:








Yeah. I think so. We’ve been invited by the Unite Nations to do work in Cambodia. We’ve had the Chief Justice of Cambodia out here with very senior officials. We have staff here, one how speaks fluent Vietnamese and the other Cambodian. They were actually able to do role plays of problem solving and community justice and speaks in their own language. We are quirky in that we’re able to do some stuff that other people find I think a bit more difficult. Our next foray will be in Cambodia. We’ve been asked by the African community here if we would consider doing some work in Sudan. What we find is that there is a genuine interest in the way in which we do some work.










We were approached after the tsunami by Indonesia around villages that had lost everything about how to … With no records of land ownership and how might they go about that. We have in fact provided a lot of technical advice. Not only that, but just provide some problem solving I think sit downs with people where we’re happy to put our shoulders to the wheel to try and think through what the issues are. We’ve had thoughtful delegations I think here rather than people just wondering through whether it’s Papua New Guinea or Fiji or Vietnam or Sweden or Amsterdam. There are people from all over who we have a pretty healthy contact with. We also have a very vibrant relationship with community courts in America. I would say that we will and truly punch above our weight in a lot of what we do.









We’ve started up a community conferencing program that is modelled on the Baltimore Community Conferencing Centre. We’ve just recently been asked to do some work with what’s been labelled as the Apex gang, but that broader application of what we’re doing about trying to bring people in the community to give a … We’ve made a huge dent in the crime rate in one of our most colourful streets and brought the aboriginal community back into harmony with traders and with the police. That’s being done through a music festival and that’s won national awards and local awards and all sorts of awards.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow.


Kerry Walker:




It has been a fantastic way of being able to show the strength of aboriginal leadership being able to host this music festival that has all aboriginal performance and the police have been heartily involved and local government and the traders. When you walk down the street now, it is a much calmer place. Police call outs have gone from 10 a day to 2 a month.


Andrew Ramsden: Wow. That’s incredible.


Kerry Walker:









That’s right. Then you said the things we get involved with now. We now get invited all over the place to talk about that experience and whether or not other areas can pick up something similar. We’re now started to talk with the traders down in Victoria Street which is one of the largest open drug markets in Australia and about trying to get that grounds well of activity about how do we reclaim the ownership of Victoria Street. Again it’s very grassroots and the traders are being really responsive to that effort of trying to facilitate that. A lot of our work is trying to facilitate and just get people around the table and we know if we can get them there that they will want to work with each other.


It’s about getting them to that starting point. If you’d say, “Well, okay. Do you create another one of us?” Sure. I think it’d be fantastic, but I don’t think it’s a make or break.


Andrew Ramsden:



There’s something very unique there about the thinking and the way that you approach it that I assume would actually be quite difficult to replicate. Might be quite challenging to create another community centre that does it quite the same way.


Kerry Walker:





Well, you wouldn’t want to do it the same way because it needs to be shaped by its community. It should be different. It should look different. It might be that it deals differently. It might have an emphasis on family violence or might have an emphasis on drug taking. You can make it whatever it needs to be in that community, but it is about having the voice of your community and what you do. For a lot of people that’s very difficult to have that power sharing with the community. Often people don’t like it. It is really important that you get that feed in all the time.


Andrew Ramsden:


Well, it’s been fantastic hearing about the wonderful outcomes and the influence that you’re having here. Just to summarize, I see a real passion and drive. I can see the power of values and principles underlying everything. I think the power of just looking at things a bit differently. Thank you very much for sharing your stories.


Kerry Walker: Well, thanks Andrew. Thanks for putting up with my stories.


Andrew Ramsden: No. Not at all. Not at all. It’s been fantastic. In the interest of time, I probably have to wrap things up soon, but I have one more question for you. What does the future hold for Kerry Walker?


Kerry Walker: Retirement.



Andrew Ramsden:


Okay. Is that around the corner?


Kerry Walker: I don’t know it’s around the corner, but …


Andrew Ramsden: You don’t look like you’re ready for retirement.


Kerry Walker:




I’m tired, but I’m contemplating doing a PhD. What I’d like to look at is what motivates courts to change because I don’t know that any of us really know. I think it would be a really interesting discussion to have and I would love to burrow into seeing what that looks like where we’ve seen some big changes. Is it that through legislation that pushes it? Is it through government that pushes it? Is it courts taking up that mantle of change themselves? I don’t know the answer. I’d love to find out.


Andrew Ramsden: Absolutely. That will be wonderful.


Kerry Walker: I think so.


Andrew Ramsden: Well, watch this space.


Kerry Walker: Yeah. I reckon.


Andrew Ramsden: Is there anything you’d like to direct our listeners attention to?



Kerry Walker:






Other than to say I think that it’s terribly important not to get ground down by process. I know process is important, but it is to join up your values with a philosophical stance and to have that guide you I think takes you other places. You can always put the rules in later and say, “Yeah. You’re stuck. Buy some,” when you want to sell it. It is I think really important to let your imagination fly and to be in that joyful state so that there is an excitement that you bring to your work because you can see it and you can feel it in the product that you bring. Just have fun. Get out there. Do it.


Andrew Ramsden: Love it. Great advice. Thank you again.


Kerry Walker: Thanks, Andrew.


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