Following completion of his PhD in 1976, John joined the Scientific Civil Service as an urban planning researcher at the Building Research Establishment (then part of the Department of the Environment) where he was promoted twice in three years. But the arrival of Mrs Thatcher in Downing Street signalled more difficult times ahead for research in government, so John looked for an opportunity to return to academia – but one that would satisfy his interests in applied public policy research. INLOGOV, at the University of Birmingham, was well known to him and seemed an ideal working environment for his interests; so he had no hesitation in applying for a lectureship there when he spotted a recruitment advert. He was delighted to be appointed and has thoroughly enjoyed his subsequent thirty five years there.
Although at the time of his appointment his research interests and experience were primarily focused on housing and planning, in his first year at Birmingham he was asked if he might take on a project with colleagues in the Law Faculty on the organisation of the magistrates' courts of Hampshire, to which he agreed, thereby opening a door to a new specialism for him – of judicial administration and the management and governance of court systems. The project led to many similar commissions by local court services, as well from the Home Office, and to John becoming something of a national specialist in judicial administration.
With time, his criminal justice horizons have broadened; for example, he became involved in work on the probation service (taking on the editorship of the journal 'Vista: Perspective on Probation' and serving as a member of the editorial board for the European Probation Journal). He also undertook a major research study for the national charity Victim Support evaluating a set of pilot initiatives in introducing a witness care service at the Crown Court – the success of which led to a national roll-out. Then research opportunities arose in relation to police governance and accountability and much of his recent work has been on the advent of police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.
In 2002 he was invited to serve on the newly established Criminal Justice Council for England and Wales – chaired by a senior high court judge and a body that provides oversight and scrutiny of new proposals and developments in criminal justice. He has served as a Council member ever since.
In addition, he retains strong research interests in local government and public management and governance more generally. He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Public Administration, and has undertaken several studies of local authority regulatory functions – a subject that links well with his interests in criminal justice. His knowledge of and interests in local government also benefit from his practical involvement as a Green councillor – from 1995 at parish level in his home area; then from 200 onwards as a district councillor; and more recently (since May 2013) as a county councillor as well.