The Construction of Expertise: Unpicking the term and finding no answers!

The Construction of Expertise: Unpicking the term and finding no answers!

In December I tweeted that I was thinking of writing this blog – aimed at unpicking the term expert. I had a lot of responses and it has taken me this long to read them, consider them and put something down into some vague narrative.

Several recent events finally made me put fingers to keyboard, one of them being a programme on Radio 4 discussing, in some depth, the ‘art’ of presenting an opinion or a subject, getting your opinion or your evidence heard and the most effective method to get the balance between this and listening to and taking on others ideas. This, it felt, summed up a lot of what we do as academics and sometimes of course we get it very wrong.

So why this blog?

Over Christmas I was asked by an online news reporter to talk about rape investigation – as an expert in this field. I took issue with this definition as I do not consider myself in any way, an expert in investigation of any kind. It was this scenario that caused to me to think (probably too much) about this issue over recent weeks.

What makes someone an expert and what makes knowledge expert information? What gives a person the credibility to call themselves an expert and does that mean we stop learning? In policing, as an example, the term can be related to someone’s rank, time in the job or their performance and in academia it can relate to the number of publications, REF ratings or the amount of money bought into a department through research activity. I am not condoning these judgements, but a quick anecdotal overview might point to these factors as important within these two worlds.

In terms of the formal definition, an expert is defined in the dictionary as ‘a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area’. So, taking that definition, does having a PhD in rape investigation make me an expert in it? No I don’t think it does. I may be overthinking this but surely there are some critical questions that problematise the term expert and they, for me, fall into three categories.

1: The Production of Knowledge

Most academics – who are researching a particular phenomenon – interview people with practical ‘real lived’ experience and knowledge of the situation that they, as researchers, want to enquire about. Whilst much reading is likely to have been undertaken around the issue, it is not that common that academics themselves have high levels of practical expertise in the specific area they want to learn about. Therefore they gather information from an array of, in the case of policing, practitioners, who have the lived experience of the matter in hand. At this stage then, the knowledge sought from these individuals is considered, by those listening to it, as credible and worthy of hearing.

So who is the expert? Is it the academic researcher who has gathered and analysed this ‘data’ created through interviews, focus groups and surveys with these practitioners?

Academics, by considering their analysis alongside a range of other works (usually the type of literature that the researcher can relate to in their specific area of interest) derive new concepts and theories. They make recommendations about what practitioners could do to improve / amend their actions and write peer reviewed papers based on this expert knowledge and evidence of a problem. This can leave them as experts in that area IF their peers decide that the knowledge is worthy of a secure academic stamp and subsequent publication.

The point here is that whatever we do with our data there is always a core subjectivity around how we analyse it, how we write it up as knowledge and then who judges it as ‘good enough’. This might depend on someone’s background / affiliated academic discourse and previous experience of the issue at hand. Indeed, as a recent article by Kalyal articulated, ‘one person’s evidence is another person’s nonsense’. So if both of those individuals refer to themselves as the expert surely even the term itself is subjective.

In policing we always focus on the credibility of knowledge as per the two disparate groups – the academic and the practitioner. The crafted learnt knowledge that holds priority (in the main) by police practitioners has been written about extensively but in qualitative research it is these narratives that formulate the guidance and recommendations developed by the academic community – perhaps it is this that is not widely enough discussed in the context of the term expert.

Is it the source of the data provision who is the expert or the person that collects it, analyses it, contrasts it with other works and develops theories from it? I do not profess to suggest that there is an answer to this but in the work I have developed from my personal research I firmly believe that the expertise of practitioners has been fundamental in the production of my work. To name myself as an expert in my own right in that field, on that specific issue, would be wrong and almost fraudulent.

2: Outputs of expert knowledge

The other question within this debate relates to the practical products produced from this created expert knowledge. Guidelines / toolkits / predictions / risk assessments / recommendations and scripts are the regular type of outputs constructed at the end point of practical research projects or data gathering exercises.  This is often how expert knowledge is translated for the practitioner and therefore applied in practice.

What these constructions can fail to address is the turbulent and changing nature of what the police have to deal with – especially at the moment. Policing does not operate in a vacuum – political, social and economic forces do fundamentally change the landscape in which crime and social problems exist. What might have been a recommendation at one point in time might not be five years on. Furthermore, what about the individual contextual factors that come with dealing with people. In a world like policing, for example, there needs to be a commitment to continuously learn and reflect on working practice to ensure the knowledge applied is valid, relevant and applicable to the fast changing environment within which police operate. Prescriptions can hinder this.

In some cases the rigid application of these expert, best practice options can lead to the impression that the police are trying to apply certain interventions / ways of working / predictions to individuals rather that working with them to empower them in decision making processes and the establishment of their own risk. This was a key conversation in a recent @wecops debate about mental health where the exclusion of the voices of those with mental ill health featured heavily. Sometimes, assuming that we know best is not the best option. Individualising problems can, paradoxically, place the focus on the individual and can ignore the wider societal issues that really need explaining to properly understand the problem being presented. Only the person in that space knows that context and such personal information can’t be captured through the application of a rigid process where everyone involved is channelled into a particular framework.

Such methods do not encourage social justice and can create limits on the type of longer term considerations really required to both understand and subsequently, address the issue. This can be the same in the processes applied to risky places and hotspots in policing / those with mental ill health / victims of crime and offenders. One size can never fit all and that is where the role of the practitioner, the person operating in that fast moving environment, needs to come in. Through using their own practical knowledge and experiential expertise alongside the knowledge from the individual with the lived experience of that situation. Expert directives and prescriptions about how police should act within certain situations can undermine professional expertise, impact on personal accountability and can certainly inhibit the development of the type of learning environment that encourages reflections and organisational learning.

Rather than harvesting it, the important expertise embodied in police officers themselves, which might ultimately culminate in new knowledge about the environment within which they work and the individuals they work with may be lost. Hence new ‘expertise’ to be trialled and tested can be stifled.

3: The application of evidence / expertise and knowledge

Power and privilege is another key influencing factor in the conversation about expertise. Indeed power and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. Chosen knowledge can reaffirm or provide power and therefore the notion of there being a given truth or definitive answer argument is an anomaly. Individuals might use certain expert knowledge to confirm ones social capital and credibility or to evidence their ideas or successful interventions. I won’t go there but you only have to look to government departments to witness evidence of this happening.

Of course knowledge is powerful but choices about ‘which’ knowledge to use can also result in the selling of certain types of knowledge. This happens in policing and in academia and indeed in politics. Such capital can gain social standing, rank, promotion and respect and indicates that the cherry picking of ‘expert’ knowledge can present a certain set of evidence as ‘fact’ when actually another piece of work may challenge and even entirely conflict with it. For example hotspot policing reduces crime but hotspot policing also impacts individual professionalism. So what do we do with that?

Of course we know we have to be careful with the way we use knowledge but the lesson for me is that there is never one real expert opinion. We can gather a realm of different pieces of information, think about it, analyse it and assess its value, its relevance to the context and a range of other things I can’t think of right now. We need to be very careful about the way we use and apply it.

At the front end of fast decision making sometimes the only expert we have to rely on is ourselves and the advice of those directly around us. Not all risk assessments fit the individual we face, ask them. Not all interventions work in all places, ask why. Not all experts look outside of their own personal knowledge bank to understand in depth the problems they explore. It is complex – I’ll leave it at that!





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The Critical Role of Leadership – Dan Reynolds @wecops

The Critical Role of Leadership

The Critical Role of leadership (in policing) – a #WeCops debate

With thanks to Dan Reynolds

(Our thanks to @TACCSteveGraham for hosting this chat)

This blog follows one of the most recent @WeCops chats with the Home Office on Police Leadership as part of the #Frontline Review.  The aim of the discussion was to explore the role of leadership in modern policing. It is mainly based on contributions from the discussion on Twitter as well as some extra observations and content from the @WeCops team.  As always, we want to reflect the debate in the right way.

Three questions were posed:
Q1. What does effective policing leadership look like to you?
Q2. How could line management in policing be made more effective?
Q3. What could be done to make policing leaders more effective?

Normally the WeCops team would simply blog about the discussion but in this instance that work will be pulled together by the Home Office team and feed into the much wider work of the front line review.  So instead, this is a mix of review and musing on this topic by the WeCops blogging team as a bonus extra just because it is of such interest. We hope you agree…

Police Leadership.  Let us set the scene…  After all is said and done it seems that leadership (in policing) is a much talked about subject and frankly we seem to have reached the conclusion that police leadership is just leadership.  It seems that it doesn’t matter what area you apply it to, we are all people and our general observation is that we all want the same things when we talk about leadership.  When pushed to describe our ideal ‘leader’ this becomes slightly different as this means different things to different people and indeed changes depending on the situation.  Similarly, ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are two concepts used interchangeably but these words often describe two different concepts.  Therefore, to be clear from the start, there is a fundamental difference between leadership and management.  Management is a set of processes that keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects can include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving.  Leadership however is different.  It is a set of processes that creates organisations in the first place, or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. So while management has to do with providing order and consistency in organisations, leadership produces change.   We in the WeCops team (and you from the tweets contributed) all agree that leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.

To keep things short, as this is just a blog the term ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ get used in the same context as those that tweeted.  We will also choose to leave ‘management’ alone as this is a different subject again and yet you will see from the discussion that we all use these three terms interchangeably and they bleed together, so no wonder the topic is big and complex!

Question 1 posed the question of what does effective leadership look like?  A broad question and generated lots of tweets so clearly something we are all quite passionate and have an opinion about.

“Effective leadership is stepping up when needed and stepping out of the way when it’s not.  Supporting the team to deliver the very best that they can achieve.” @ACQ91

Lots of others supported this so there is something about what leadership is as a function – or in other words, what the leader does but only at certain times.  It is fair to say that in policing we don’t want to be micro managed but we do want to be led (at times), so for the new leaders stepping up it can be a daunting and unfamiliar place of unknown expectations.  Because lets be fair here – we are able to say what good leadership looks like but actually, delivering it (or indeed teaching and shaping it in others) is a much harder thing to do.  The question was also asked whom we were talking about when it comes to leadership.

“When we are discussing police leadership – who are we thinking of?  The Home Office?  The command team? The Inspectors?  The Sergeants?  Or those leading without the authority of rank?  Do we all have a part to play?” @DannoReynolds

The Police Leadership Review (2015) identified that in policing, leadership can be described in four dimensions: individual, operational, senior and organisational. At the individual level, everyone working in policing needs leadership attributes to be successful in his or her role. At the operational level, incident management and team effectiveness are critical. The task is different at a senior level, which is strategic yet still requires elements of command. Organisational leadership involves the governance, executive and direction of a service at a systemic level.

Taking a wider view, Simon Sinek who has studied leadership across a variety of organisations has summed up that leadership is “always a choice, and not a rank.”  He suggests that there will always be people in positions of power and authority and we will do as they say as they have authority over us – but we would not follow them so therefore are not leaders.  He then argues that we will all have known people who do not have authority or positional power and yet they are leaders in every sense and we would absolutely follow them.  It makes sense then that leadership is founded on, and is a function of trust and cooperation.  We consent and choose to follow a leader for our own mutual gain.  So what is going on here? Can good leadership be measured in the creation of trust?  It would seem that this is supported by the tweets on this chat. Here is a flavor of them: –

“Leadership is about caring and seeking to make a positive difference.  It is about being genuine, sincere and authentic whilst really listening.  It is about challenging, discussing and learning from others whilst encouraging and motivating others to achieve their potential.” @CambsChiefSupt

The general opinion was that good leaders are seen to operate with fairness, consistency, operational competence and most of all compassion.  They are accessible, honest, open and approachable.  They act with integrity, are firm but fair and support whilst leading by example.  They motivate, inspire, and build trust whilst empowering people.  They are able to make good decisions and recognise success in others.  They also understand that if something goes wrong it is a chance to learn and change rather than punish and blame.  They create a culture of trust.

It is worth noting that this has been a constant theme over 2 years of WeCops chats and is why you will often see the same tweet popping up repeatedly which we used to capture it.  It is an old tweet now but a good one!

“Sometimes we need rank.  Often we need organization.  Frequently we need leadership, but always we need trust.” @DannoReynolds

It seems then that good leadership is not about inspiring fear in followers (if it ever was) but is actually about liberating them from fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of making a mistake.  Fear of being wrong.  Sir Ken Richardson (the famous educator) believes that being seen to be wrong in the workplace is what has removed our ability to be creative – to have new and innovative ideas.  His position is that because being seen to be wrong (and therefore potentially punished) is endemically the worst thing to happen in our workplaces, we lose our confidence in ‘just having a go’ that seems to come so naturally to children.  He believes that for us to truly liberate our workforce we need to give them the confidence to trust that being wrong or failing does not make you a failure.  Moreover, this equally applies to our leaders.  Our people need our leaders (at all levels) standing on their feet and leading the team through the uncertain future with the confidence to sometimes get it wrong, without fear of retribution.  This is definitely something for the inspectorate, senior leadership and Home Office review to take note of.

The second question posed generated many more tweets in response when we asked how line management could be made more effective.

Many of the responses focused on how we develop our line management, and the promotion process.  Again the need for just or learning culture vs a scapegoat culture was expressed with all able to feel safe to express themselves and be supported and developed.  This was then contrasted by the feeling that the promotion systems encourage selfish behavior in individuals.

“Leadership is not about being the best.  Leadership is about making everyone else better.” @AnyaHoHo1

Issues of lack of available and visible line management were expressed.  A direct consequence of the current financial constraint resulting in the front line feeling the lack of visible leadership?

“At the moment actually having some [supervision] would be good.  New neighbourhood policing model has left some like myself with no line management due to Sgt rank being stretched to breaking point.  I have not met my line manager yet after five months in post.” @Zanwrites

In addition, others identified that we need to better define what line management is and what it is for.  It was commented that we promote people but there is often no training prior to the promotion so do we set people up to fail or succeed? If leadership is described as the quality which connects an understanding of what must be done with the capability to achieve it, are we doing our own people a disservice by not supporting them prior to promotion.  Do we succession plan enough?  The picture seems to be a mixed one. Line management is not a process; it is an invaluable opportunity to define the future for others.  So perhaps the answer to how we make line management more effective is to understand what we are trying to achieve and then set in place a strong framework to achieve it.

This is something that is brilliantly described by David Marquets talking about his experience of Leadership on US Navy subs here: (definitely worth a watch)

A key function of leadership is about the willingness and tenacity to investigate the lessons that often exist when we fail, but which we rarely exploit, and is key to driving high performance.  It is about creating systems and cultures that enable organisations to learn from errors, rather than being threatened by them.  A key theme that emerged from question 2 is that we have a risk averse culture, with tick box processes, which has led to prescriptive thinking.  This limits learning, reflection and real thought about what ticking these boxes actually achieves and why. There was a feeling that hiding behind policy, led to easier decision making but not necessarily the right one.  Perhaps this again is the product of a lack of trust and confidence in the consequences of making the right call, but getting it wrong.  These concepts run throughout all layers of leadership from the frontline right the way to the Home Office and every department in between.

The Police Leadership Review (2015) by the College of Policing included a recommendation that there was a need for a coherent model of leadership and management training as well as development opportunities within policing nationally.  The National Police Promotion Framework (NPPF) set by the College of Policing in 2015 aims to develop the technical and managerial skills of officers and staff.  Utilising processes such as 360 feedback, coaching, mentoring and the development of new leaders through work-based research assignments suggests it has a positive benefit in supporting people, nurturing talent, setting expectations and developing leadership.  Yet the commentary during the chat would suggest that we are some way from this being the norm.  It was also identified that there is great research being completed on leadership by the candidates in the NPPF but it is not being captured by the College of Policing, which does seem like a missed opportunity.

Question 3 took us further into what more could be done to make police leaders more effective.  On reflection, this is a wide question and not clear who it means by ‘police leaders’ so in the widest sense it encompassed everyone in the service.

Again, the theme of trust was strong throughout.  A key comment was that as a service we seem to lack a sense of vision to pull us all together in the service.

“I think part of the problem is we don’t have a vision at the moment.  We have a siege mentality of just trying to keep it together.  Perhaps part of the issue with poor leadership at the moment is a lack of encouragement for leaders to have their own vision.” @roz_w01

Each police force has its own unique identity, personality and vision.  Nevertheless, this comment struck a deeper chord and spoke of the disconnect between the front line and the police service nationally and the sense of why we exist.  What is our combined national vision?  Most organisations know what they do; some know how they do it… But the really successful ones know why they exist – as in what their core vision and values are.  This is and has always been a powerful unifying belief within policing and so tweets about disillusionment should be heeded.  Perhaps this, more than anything else is the terrible consequence of austerity, financial constraint and cuts to the service… A slow demise of the service from a thousand cuts leading to a profound loss of trust and confidence within.

“Trust is vital.  There are lots of factors that are trying to frustrate our lives, creating a sense of danger and anxiety.  A key function of the leader is to make people feel safer at work so they put all their effort and focus into work, rather than self-preservation.” @DannoReynolds

The police service relies heavily on the ’emotional investment’ that officers and staff provide. It is the ‘discretionary effort’, which is applied because you want to apply it. It is the difference between a required service, and a caring one. 

Research conducted by Hesketh and Jacques (2017) on the welfare of those in the emergency services showed that leadership has a huge impact on discretionary effort from staff and can be lost if the environment changes, and the leadership does not adapt to meet that change.  It showed that when staff were asked what they found stressful in the workplace, the answers were often not framed around external phenomena, such as austerity, exposure to violence, or the demands from the public. They were mostly internal, and sometimes being the relationships with managers.

Leadership that supports our people therefore seems to be vital.  When teams feel supported at work, are led by someone who knows what they are doing, who is fully committed to looking after them as well as the public, and who can deal with the challenges faced, they respond positively.

This @WeCops discussion supported that effective, progressive leadership is essential if the police service is to continue to modernise and provide improvement in our service to the public.  The leadership qualities required in modern public services derive from transformational leadership theories and include the ability to motivate and influence others to produce change, to provide a high standard of service and create a harmonious working environment for all.  Good leadership provides the vision and mobilisation to achieve this goal.

“Sometimes it’s not space.  I’d be more specific and say it’s permission that’s needed.  In a hierarchical organization such as the police, people think they need permission to do anything differently.  They don’t!  Leaders shouldn’t need to give permission!” @ktbg1

In summary, a good leader trusts and empowers their team to make decisions as though they were that leader themselves.  When this is done and it is supported within a just culture the organisation becomes more efficient allowing leaders that moment to actually lead.  This may come at a cost in the short term but a good leader would rather sacrifice the numbers than sacrifice their people. This however takes courage in the leader.

Good leadership may simply be summed up as; know yourself, know your stuff and know your staff.


Leadership also appears to be about capacity.

The capacity of leaders to listen and observe.  The capacity to use their expertise as a starting point to encourage discussion between everyone, at all levels of decision-making.  The capacity to establish processes and transparency in decision-making, and the capacity to articulate their own values and visions clearly, but not impose them.

People buy into what you as a leader believe in, and therefore the actions you take as a leader simply serve as proof of what you believe.  In the police service, this requires a change in our understanding of this as we have a strong culture of deference to rank and authority, as was identified in the Police Leadership Review (2015). Our ability to flex and find a happy balance between both leadership and command depending on the circumstances we face is an important skill for all police leaders.

It is not an easy task to pin down exactly what good leadership is, because often it is felt as much as it is seen.  It is our emotional response to the leader that often determines what we feel is good leadership.  It is also how we remember and perceive leadership.  It is common that we look to our leaders at times of crisis for strong and decisive leadership and therefore leadership can influence trust and confidence between people.  Good leaders allow their people space to develop and grow, yet can step in when more direction or support is needed.

In a modern police service, it appears that the traditional transactional and autocratic style of leadership has begun to be replaced with a more progressive and modern transformational and democratic style.  Management and leadership in the police service is now beginning to look more like that of a traditional company with the Chief Constable as the Chief Executive Officer.  However, even this change in approach may not be enough to keep up with the pace of changing expectations in society.

Rank or authority of position is still important in policing to be able to take direct command in times of stress and crisis but police leaders now lead in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.  New emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, the disruption to the traditional ways of working, and emerging threats are already here or just on the horizon.  The sharing of data is making everything more personal and transparent; and public expectations are changing.

The critical themes of modern policing of innovation, technology, collaboration and community all appear to have the same enabler, effective leadership.  The ability to articulate a personal, organisational and societal meaning of what these changes mean to policing is therefore critically important.  Finding meaning in what is happening around us, allows for it to be explained and for people to embrace it with a common purpose.  This then leads to effective innovation and change.

The ability to step into and out of different styles and to navigate societal changes will likely distinguish the successful police leaders in the 21st century.

In closing, it would appear that effective leaders:-

  1. See the bigger picture. Outstanding leaders recognise the interconnected nature of their organisations and act accordingly.  They are a catalyst to drive innovation. “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


  1. Understanding that talk is work. Outstanding leaders talk to staff to find out what motivates them and how they can boost enthusiasm.  When a leader expresses appreciation for the accomplishments of team members, they are in many ways providing that added incentive for future successes. “What gets recognised and rewarded gets repeated.”


  1. Give time and space to others. Outstanding leaders allow people more freedom and influence over the work they do.  Leaders foster collaboration and build trust by supporting and encouraging their teams to do good work. “Freedom to succeed”.


  1. Grow through performance. Outstanding leaders invest in their workforce and use challenges presented to encourage growth, learning and engagement.  Additionally, a leader must have significant self-confidence to give team members credit for accomplishments and not blame them when shortfalls occur.  “The circle of safety.”


  1. Put ‘we’ before ‘me’. Outstanding leaders work hard on team spirit, shared decision-making, collaborative working and forming strong bonds between teams.  Leaders identify their own values before clarifying team values. A significant level of trust is important for leading teams, and a leader must generate positive opportunities for meaningful team communication and interaction.


  1. Plan and decide effectively. Emotionally intelligent leaders consider how their team members may react to a decision, and then attempt to make decisions that will fit in with the shared values of the team. In the end, this type of flexible decision-making will contribute to the successful implementation of the decision.


  1. Communicate a vision. Communication is among the most difficult challenges to leadership. Emotionally intelligent leaders base their communication efforts “on delivering a message [they] want to deliver and delivering it in such a way that is heard and understood by others”.   Challenge the status quo by asking “If not us, who?  If not now, when?”


  1. Promote change. Leaders challenge the status quo through innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking but identify, empathize with, and acknowledge resistance and then communicate the need for change to lead to successful implementation. Change is unsettling but is the new constant and effective leaders recognise this and support staff through the change. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”


  1. Create effective interpersonal relationships. Effective leaders generate relationships that are healthy and mature enough for members to express honest and tactful reactions with other members.  Being accurately aware of emotions and their meaning provides the emotional intelligent leader with a solid base of understanding of themselves and of others.  Along with understanding and interpreting emotions, it is equally important for leaders to understand the impact of emotions on individual and organisational performance.


  1. Finally, exemplary leaders “Encourage the Hearts” of their teams to help them carry on in the face of challenge, frustration, and discouragement. Leaders know that celebrations and rituals, when done with authenticity and from the heart, build a strong sense of collective identity and community spirit that can carry a group through extraordinarily tough times. “Be the best.”

As Dame Professor Shirley Pearce, Chair of the College of policing commented during the review of police leadership in 2015;

“Everyone working in policing deserves the very best leadership and management at all levels in order to deliver the highest levels of service to the public.”

It is what the Police Leadership Review 2015 articulates and that is what we should all aspire to achieve.



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Difference and Different thinking – guest blog from Steve Lenney Chief Inspector Devon and Cornwall Police..

I recently had a lovely email from a Chief Inspector from Devon and Cornwall Police about my most recent blog and article in Policing Insight. As a result Steve Lenney, the officer involved, sent me this blog which he wrote himself on related issues. It is great and he kindly agreed that I could share it with you on here.

Thanks Steve – really grateful

Today’s blog is aimed at being different, to what has gone before, it is about “difference” and its ability to change the world. Why? Because, I was asked to write a blog for a different audience and that to me, is just not efficient, as Brett Mitchel, would say “Steve, you bring LEAN into everything”, well it is just not efficient or effective, to do two, so:
“You will never feel the world, the same way as someone, with impaired vision” what an obvious statement, thought exactly the same principle as “they will never see the world as you, do without the impairment” But “what if” the actual issue is not as simple as a sense? If there are five senses of touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing, what if the difference is not a sensing issue or a physical issue? What if the actual, thinking…. is different?
In the “old days” interviews had guidance that read like this “a good candidate will or may say X” and then extra marks were awarded for ‘trotting out’ the corporate line! Surely, it follows that the candidates are all likely to be thinking and probably be acting the same way? So, would it follow that the actual outcome of their productivity, their reason for being recruited, would be the same or very similar? I have read, that people recruit in the mirror image of how they see themselves? I cannot comment on the validity of that but the 12 lessons that Steve Jobbs taught Joe Kawasaki puts an interesting perspective on “A” players recruiting A+ players but B Players recruit C players and so on! It is just, a perspective.
If you look at the work of Matthew Syedd in Black box thinking or Margaret Heffernan in super chickens and the book “Wilful Blindness” they both comment on the cognitive dissonance of turning a blind eye or interpretation of data, for your own benefit. People feel confident and appear happy when they all “ring the same bell” they all act and think in a similar way and all see the world from a single perspective. It may act as a very comfortable environment but does it actually cause the friction which is needed to light the fire, with causes a step change in how we work, tackle problems or see the world?
Now, what if you do not fit into the mould? What if you cannot be part of that team? Susan Cain’s brilliant Ted talk “the power of introverts”, sheds light on her experience which mirrors that of many introverts but they are not alone.
So, what is the combined outcome in a business? The thinking, acting and perspective, is all likely to be in a similar vein, great, when things are all going well and business is doing well but what about when things are not? What happens then? More of the same solutions, with more gusto? Bring in consultants? What? Remember, “You” recruited a similar approach!
Now to add some “icing on the cake” the business is hierarchical, with a predisposition to a view the world from a perspective, that with rank comes knowledge and just for good measure add in the research that the world’s complex problems, of the 21st century, cannot be addressed by hierarchical, heroic leadership of the past, it needs teams, to address the problems. So are you left with a recruitment process which unintentionally keeps feeding, a similar way of thinking? Which in turn, generates a similar solution to a problem, which should have already been solved by the people who think and act in a similar way to the process, which are already there?
How do those people in the system who “do not feel the world, as many see it” fit in?
An “empathy walk” is the ability to “Put on someone else’s shoes” and see the world how they see it? How does that work when it is the “Hard wired” thinking, which is different? I do not know.
I loved “top trumps” as kid, People who work with me, know I love data, I recite whole films and can watch the same film back to back over and over again, if something “prickles” my interest, I become obsessed in subject, I love cars…so much so, that I have owned 119 of them, I take everything apart to fix things when they are broken (exciting when it’s the boiler!) but you may not do, what I do, YOU have your own way of doing things, which works for YOU.
Now, imagine a world, where huge groups of people, all play together, they all get on, they all communicate with a similar etiquette and rules of correspondence and engagement are followed to the “T” and ‘teeth are sucked’ when anything or anyone, acts outside of the agreed “club” framework. What are you going to do? How are you going to feel, when you do not fit in? Are you working even harder to fit? Is it more or less tiring? At what point will you sit down, shut up and comply or worse still leave?
So, time travel is now required “ We are on the bridge of a ship its 2330 hrs , April the 14th the year, 1912  Captain Smith is speaking with Bruce Issmay” the ship is holed and going to flounder, there are not enough life boats and people are going to die. What if? They did not “take to the life boats”? What if they put the ship into reverse, at full speed? Would a the hole , which was circa 280 feet in length, at its widest part 6cm, actually drain by the water passing 600 feet of undamaged hull, would it actually creating a vortex, which actually stops the ship sinking? Would you say something? Would you pop your head up and say, a single word? And would they listen? Would they see the problem from a different view point? I do not know and I am not sure that it would have worked but conventional thinking says, “Take to the boats, women and children first”. The outcome was not great!
Todays and tomorrows problems will not be solved by heroic leadership, people who believe that “command and Control” will save the day, are likely to disappointed, teams of people with a clear vision and the ability to embrace “difference”, put, around a table or a  problem, people who think and act differently, who can find, common ground, amongst themselves, to “rub and annoy” each other to find a solution, for the greater good, while learning to live with each other and accept each other’s “difference” are the teams, which will genuinely make a difference in the world.
If we do not embrace “difference” internally, how are we ever going to do it externally? We use independent advisory groups to comment on our decisions and process because they think and act differently, yet we have difference, inside as well.  The recruitment of direct access officers at Inspector and Superintendent is based on bringing in new ideas and a fresh perspective before they “go native” and are so influenced by the culture that they do not see it with the same “fresh eyes” perspective but what about the difference within the organisations, we work in? And what are you doing to harness the power of difference, in the things which are in “your gift”?
I am a complete introvert with Asperger’s and dyslexia, I sure as hell, do not spell things in the world, as you do and sure as hell, do not see things as you do. We are just different and that is a really good thing. Try seeing it like this:  You may feel uncomfortable in my ‘pants’ because they are mine, People with a difference can feel uncomfortable in a process which does not accommodate them, comfortably, like “you” wearing my pants! (If you want to try? Please message me!!!) You will never get the best out of people when they are uncomfortable and when you are crying out for things to be different, do not make things  “one size fits all” it is just not effective!
In ‘LEAN’ process terms, the eighth waste is “TEAM knowledge”, we need more difference in the teams, with different knowledge and perspective and the flexibility to allow them in, on their own merit, not just compliance, of the norm!
Till next time…be different or least let people be different, it gives a different view…
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New notions of diversity: Internal bias and the role of leaders – Emma Williams

New notions of diversity: Internal bias and the role of leaders

I recently came across a definition of diversity on the internet that really resonated with me. It broke down the term diversity into three parts and moved beyond the association of the term with race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and sexuality by recognising research conducted with Millennials who define the term differently. The definition made inclusive, factors such as diversity of thought and experience. I am not sure if it is just Millennials that think like this about diversity, indeed I am certainly not one and I, many of my colleagues and friends would consider diversity exactly as this describes it. Such interpretations identify the issues ‘within and between’ demographics that impact on one’s social identity and indeed, the way we see and experience the world around us. The three areas identified in this definition are:

  1. Legacy Diversity – race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and sexuality
  2. Experiential diversity – physical and social identities and the impact those identities have on life histories and experiences
  3. Thought diversity – how neural makeup and lived experiences impact problem solving

Hold that thought….

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend and speak at the Kent Police diversity and inclusion event organised by ACC Jo Shiner. The day was attended by over 400 people: police officers, specials, cadets, IAG members, the PCC and others – all there by choice (there was no mandated expectation of attending) to hear a number of speakers talk on issues of diversity in the workplace. The papers covered leadership, change and staff inclusion within change, intentionality, authenticity and a number of ideas developed in other industries about how to develop inclusion strategies within organisations. The aim being to genuinely encourage flexible working practice, innovative recruitment processes and more. It was a great event and I took a lot away from it, not least because I could link some of the issues discussed to the police environment and some of my own research.

Returning to my statement about diversity above, the paper that I really identified with was on unconscious bias and associated issues. The speaker from @laughology described four layers of unconscious bias that really made me think differently about the concept in the context of policing.

How often do we assume when we hear the term unconscious bias, that it refers to external stereotyping? Stereotypes about race, victims, young people etc. rather than bias internally, within the organisation about policing roles and its’ people. Understanding these layers of bias in the context of police leadership and ‘real’ shared leadership seems central to me when thinking about police leaders. In fact, having delivered a paper myself an hour before @laughology spoke, the cross overs to the development of real learning environments, accepting and encouraging new ideas and innovation was clear.

I could not help, resulting from my own background and identity, but align some of these thoughts up with my professional persona in academia and how such considerations of bias link to the way we view the development and capturing of police knowledge. Therefore, please excuse me for linking some of the next part of this blog into the notion of police ‘professionalisation’ and, subsequently, academia.

The speaker talked through four areas of unconscious bias which I want to try and relate to internal police issues that may impact on effective and successful change within policing. For those of you reading this, you might have already considered these links and if you have please share them with me, comment, email me and let me have your thoughts. However, for what it is worth here are mine.

  1. Affinity bias

 Affinity bias links to decisions we make about working with people we like, those we have commonality with and those that perhaps share our way of seeing the social and working environment within which we operate. How often do we hear in policing, on social media via research etc. that promotion processes favour certain ideas and within a team, favour certain people? How many senior leaders and middle managers align themselves with ‘people like them’ who endorse their own views and opinions as opposed to opening up challenge and new insights.

Policing, for a number of reasons, is a risk averse organisation and often delivers change by attempting to do what it has always done better as opposed to trying something different.  If there really is a genuine commitment to incorporate learning and creativity within policing this bias needs to change. Surrounding yourself with those who agree with you will not improve efficiency, embrace complex thinking or new collaborations and will likely hinder the true development of a culture of enquiry.

Of course there are instances where previous methods of working are successful and such experiences need to be captured. However, the ongoing perception amongst many officers is that ideas are often ‘doomed to succeed’.         This can silence innovators and refute challenge. Leaders at all levels need to embrace their rebels and capture their ideas before their motivations are quashed, they become cynical and / or leave. Hindering the development or inclusion of people and other partners who are diverse in their ideas and knowledge may inhibit the growth of a more energetic team who actually want to question and challenge such normal modes of working.

  1. Confirmation bias

How often is stereotyping and bias used in decision making? Usually related to those demographics and characteristics of diversity – what if we relate this to knowledge, embedded forms of practice and / or decisions based on previous experiences. These may include issues around certain categories of, for example, victims or people with mental ill health. An unwillingness to expose ourselves to new forms of knowledge that might help move beyond such confirmation bias is of course something that I associate with as an academic, particularly one who writes about police investigation of rape.

Research in this area of policing is extensive, particularly on victim typologies that leave the system (Stanko and Williams, 2009). Yet capturing the experience and voices of officers in this space both in terms of academic literature and internal change programmes is a rarity (plug here publications coming). Actually using simple metrics to consider whether something works or is improving can perpetuate the use of such stereotypes in police work as officers rely on what might produce ‘the result’. Interestingly officers I spoke to for my research knew very well that this was not really dealing with the problems that attrition research had revealed about vulnerable victims and outcomes. Unless leaders and those developing change use the voices of their officers to examine the problem rather than simply review the metrics. If they do not there is a chance that stereotypes linked to certain outcomes will confirm the very bias that the police are seeking to dispel through the concept of reflective practice and professionalisation.

  1. Insider – outsider bias

Many researchers operating ‘outside’ of the organisation they are researching reflect to other academics about how they feel when researching the police. The academic community are encouraged in their writing to use reflection and discuss this in the context of their research findings and analysis. However, how often do those operating within and alongside the police share their feelings about how someone has really made them feel with those that made them feel it? Yesterday’s conference featured a very poignant video developed by Deloitte about fair treatment at work and the masks we might put on featured heavily. How many times are we expected to except something as healthy banter and ‘a joke’ when in reality that might be silencing someone, effecting their well-being, productivity and life outside of work. Group dynamics are difficult in policing and this can relate to not just physical diversity but also to those that think a little differently within their working context.

Just in my experience of listening to officers about their learning, their opportunity to use that knowledge, their desire to change things and their new ideas I have heard the word silenced, not interested, too many times. A little like the notion of the dialogue of the deaf we hear in my world it also operates within the police as well as with the police and ‘outsiders’. Police officers can also be made to feel like outsiders if within a group dynamic they are seen as different, quirky and too challenging. Leaders need to hold people accountable for this. Whilst healthy banter is seen by officers as a coping mechanism, reflecting on how it is making everyone within that group dynamic feel is important for the purposes of true inclusion in any given group relationship.

  1. Systemic bias

How many internal systems and processes can confirm a certain set of working rules that might favour certain groups and ways of thinking. Notions of what constitutes good police work have been debated over many years. However, if there really is a serious commitment to changing the way policing is done and really addressing quality work in performance frameworks seriously, surely leaders need to authenticate their ideas and vision through the systems operating within the organisation. Much has been written about the way systemic bias can limit opportunities and inclusion to certain police roles but it can also limit certain roles being seen as credible within the police hierarchy.

Change to systems underpin the effective delivery of a mission within organisations. Unless they reflect the changes legitimately they will compound limitations of change and real inclusion. Techniques of evaluation which focus on only quantity numbers cannot be achieved in certain police roles such as victim care. This can undermine the importance of such roles and limit learning, what might be good practice and perhaps promotion as those in these roles struggle to prove credibility as a result of their working choices. I am sure there are a number of examples of this but the implications of not reviewing these systems will clearly further limit the opportunity to try new things, capture good ideas and most importantly develop police knowledge from those doing the job.

I am quite sure the information written here is not new but it is worth considering in the changing world of police professionalism. Embracing experiential difference and diversity of thought in definitional terms is not enough. Such words and terminology needs legitimising through actions and a change to behaviour at all levels. Culture can be a considered excuse but people and their actions influence culture.

There is perhaps a developed culture of acceptance about the way things just are. Normalising actions and behaviour through certain leadership styles and an unwillingness to change behaviour more legitimately excludes. It excludes not just certain groups and individuals within the service but also certain forms of new ideas coming into the police and the knowledge being created by the most important people within this conversation – the officers themselves.  As other working environments have discovered simply delivering training on these forms of bias rarely works effectively. It is only by actually listening to staff, changing and challenging behaviours, holding people accountable, establishing systems that support these requirements and realising the benefits of doing so that things will really change and leadership will become authenticated.

Well done and thankyou to Kent Police for organising a great day! It certainly got my small brain cells ticking along :0)




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The Matrix Reloaded?  Why we should improve the MPS ‘Gang Violence Matrix’, not dismantle it – Professor Robin Bryant and Dr Roger Arditti (MPS)


The Matrix Reloaded?  Why we should improve the MPS ‘Gang Violence Matrix’, not dismantle it


Dr Roger Arditti (MPS) & Professor Robin Bryant (Canterbury Christ Church University)

The views expressed in this article represent the authors’ and not necessarily those of their employers.

The MPS ‘Gang Violence Matrix’ is a database of Greater London individuals that the Met have reason to suspect belong to urban street gangs.  Each person is graded according to his or her risk of either becoming a victim or committing a violent offence. The risk from, or to, ‘gang members’ is assessed with numerical scales, estimates combined together using weightings (for those gang members posing a threat, suspected homicide is given one the highest weightings) and the result of the calculation places each individual into one of three broad categories: ‘Red’, ‘Amber’ or ‘Green’. The categorisation is used as part of the effort to mitigate the risk posed by, or to, each suspect or potential victim. Policing tactics might take the form of prevention, diversion, disruption or prosecution. For example, disrupting the criminal activities and influence of ‘red-flagged’ individuals might provide the opportunity for other members of an urban street gang to reduce ties with the rest of the group.

For many of our readers, utilising and maintaining a London urban street gangs’ database may seem a self-evidently worthwhile undertaking and especially important given the recent upsurge in knife crime and homicides in London. However, earlier this month Amnesty International UK released a highly critical report (Trapped in the Matrix) arguing that the MPS Gang Violence Matrix is ‘racialised’, counterproductive, and not compliant with human rights law.  The report also claims that the Matrix was largely the result of a political will to tackle ‘gangs and gang culture’ in the aftermath of the 2011 riots (in the words of the report, ‘a direct response to a new political priority’).  Amnesty recommends that the Matrix should be dismantled unless it can be brought into line with international human rights law and ‘in particular the right to non-discrimination’.

At the outset we wish acknowledge that the report makes a number of valid and important points about the Matrix.  Amnesty highlights problems in maintaining the currency of the database, particularly in terms of removing from the Matrix those individuals no longer deemed to be a risk, or at risk (although we understand the MPS is addressing this problem). The two examples they cite of young men whose lives have been apparently adversely and unfairly affected because their names remained on the Matrix are clearly cause for regret. We believe that the Met have sought to ascertain the veracity of these reports and if substantiated then no doubt an appropriate course of action will follow.

More generally, Amnesty are right to highlight the difficulties in defining a ‘gang’ and especially fluid ‘urban street gangs’, and to criticise the definition adopted by the Met. The report quotes from police and young people who cast doubt on the validity of claiming that a particular person belongs to an urban street gang, arguing that “young people’s identity affiliations with the ‘gang’ were porous, fluid and often ‘for show’; they did not necessarily correspond with criminal activity.”

Amnesty report that in October 2017, 87% of the people listed in the Matrix were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds; 80% were aged between 12 and 24 and 99% were male. These proportions obviously do not reflect the demographics of the population of Greater London. However, the crux of Amnesty’s argument that BAME people are over-identified as gang members  concerns two BCUs with similar volumes of ‘serious youth violence’ (incidentally, a measure not currently used by MPS), one a ‘BAME borough’ (Hackney) and the other a ‘majority white borough’ (Bromley). In the case of the BAME borough, a large number of gang-flagged crimes were recorded whilst only a very small number were recorded over the same period in the majority white BCU. The report then links the issue with disproportionate use of stop and search.

Trapped in the Matrix highlights that approximately 40% of the individuals on the database have a total risk score of zero, indicating that they have no record of criminal charges or police intelligence linking them to violence in the past two years. However, the report does also explain that this is designed to show individuals affiliated to a gang but who have not been drawn into gang violence.

A further point of discussion in Trapped in the Matrix is about how Matrix data is shared with non-police agencies and their staff who sit on multi-agency bodies, such as Gangs Units, Youth Offending Teams and the Gangs Multi-Agency Partnership (GMAP).  Amnesty makes some concerning allegations (albeit largely based on a single interview) about how data is shared and used with Police partners in the GMAP. The report also highlights problems if data from the Matrix is shared in relation to immigration, housing, education, and employment, for given the ‘uncertain veracity and accuracy of the Matrix data, not to mention its racially biased nature’ the sharing of the data ‘could harm people’s rights’.

However, despite raising some critical points that warrant the Met and the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC)’s attention, the Amnesty report has a number of limitations. Most obviously, the methodology is weak. The report’s authors explain that it is based on interviews ‘with more than 30 professionals who use the Gangs Matrix, or are familiar with it, working in the police, voluntary sector, and local authorities in seven London boroughs’.  Exactly, how many more than 30 is not specified. It appears that only six police officers working on Gangs Units and two senior officers were consulted, but their rank or role are not specified. It also appears that representatives of the Home Office, CPS, Probation, Prison Service or Ministry of Justice were either not consulted, or perhaps declined to be interviewed. Further, the evidence base to support some claims is limited to single, often uncorroborated sources.

The report is also based on a number of implicit but unacknowledged assumptions –  for instance that the concept of an urban street gang is either an artificial construct or one that is impossible to define for any practical utility; and that tracking those at the margins of such gangs would have few practical benefits. It is true that the word ‘gang’ is now more frequently used when the police encounter groups who associate together and commit street-level crimes than it would have been in the past. It is less often applied to more organised and less visible criminal associations such as ‘gangs of armed robbers’, or indeed to a conspiracy of individuals committing organised ‘insider trading’.  We accept that this is important, as it will affect the way that data that is collected, categorised and collated. However, the ability to identify, monitor and deal with those that pose a serious threat must take precedent over debates about taxonomy.

The report also makes a number of unsubstantiated assertions. These include claiming that the Matrix was politically initiated, with a genesis in the riots of August 2011 (when in fact it was being trialled by a number of London BCUs before that event); that the Matrix in ineffective for tackling violent crime (although the authors of the report did not define or attempt to measure ‘effectiveness’); and that it is fuelling a disproportionate use of stop and search (an understandable assertion, but one which the report simply fails to evidence).

As noted earlier, the report’s argument that the Matrix is inherently ‘racially biased’ is based on a comparison between the two London boroughs of Hackney (a ‘BAME’ majority population) and Bromley (a ‘white’ majority). Amnesty analysed publically-available data for August 2017, pointing out that although these two boroughs have similar profiles in terms of ‘serious youth violence’ Hackney has a much higher number of gang-flagged crimes.  However, a comparison between two London boroughs for a single month in 2017 does not constitute firm evidence that the Matrix is racially biased.

As a counter illustration, in the following month (September 2017) there were 149 gang-flagged crimes in Hackney but 196 gang-flagged crimes in Greenwich (a ‘majority white’ borough in London which during September 2017 had about the same level of serious youth violence as Hackney). This comparison does not support the ‘racial disparity’ which Amnesty claim. Clearly further research is needed.   The report also does not take into sufficient consideration that the MPS also monitors, investigates and collates intelligence about suspects which the Met differentiates from urban street gangs (for example, Organised Crime Groups, OCGs). The MPS investigates OCGs in a different way to urban street gangs – in simple terms different Business Groups have responsibility for OCNs (SCO7) and street gangs (SCO8) and run separate databases. It is possible that non-BAME individuals are being ‘under-represented’ on the Matrix as a result of being included on other databases.  We simply do not know until (or if) the separate databases are combined in some way.

Most problematically, the report does not sufficiently recognise the fact that violent urban street gangs are a reality in Greater London and that they pose very real risks to each other and the (often BAME) communities they attempt to intimidate and exploit. The phrase ‘human rights’ is used 39 times in the report, but not once does Amnesty explicitly refer to perhaps the most fundamental basic human right of all, that of the right to life. Although Amnesty International has a remit to call on governments to ‘protect everyone – whoever they are – from violence’ the report fails to make any positive suggestions on how the police should manage intelligence to reduce gang-related knife and gun crime in London. One could argue that this was not one of the reasons for Amnesty conducting its research but we were struck by the fact that all of the four recommendations that the report makes to MOPAC and the MPS concern dismantling the Gang Violence Matrix, unless conditions are met (e.g. ‘brought into line with international human rights law’).

Whilst we earlier acknowledged the problems in defining a ‘gang’, including disentangling the cultural binding that wraps around the term, there is no doubt that urban street gangs exist and some commit very serious crimes.  Whilst incidents of ‘false positives’ (those identified as gang members who pose no risk of offending, or are at no risk of victimisation) are reprehensible it seems to us that ‘false negatives’ (those not on a database but who should be) pose at least equal, if not greater dangers. In our view dismantling a valuable database with the potential to reduce the threats posed by urban street gangs on the basis of Trapped in the Matrix would be a grave error. The answer is not to dismantle the existing Matrix but build a better one.

There a number of ways in which the MPS Gang Violence Matrix could potentially be improved.  For example, the scoring system currently employed assigns numerical values to various sources of information about past arrests, convictions, and intelligence related to violence or access to weapons. Individuals are also given a ‘victim’ score, if applicable.  As noted earlier, the Matrix uses a formula to give aggregated and weighted scores which are then grouped into red, amber or green categories. The score represents an individual’s likelihood of committing, or being subject to, harm. The score is adjusted on a rolling basis according to the previous 12 months data, which has the unintended effect of a ‘stepwise’ change in the grading system (a person might move from red to green ‘overnight’). This suggests to us analysing past data concerning the correlation between grades of individuals at particular times and their subsequent criminal histories, with a view to devising a more reliable scoring system and a better temporal framework (for example, employing aoristic techniques).

It is also interesting that Amnesty did not consider at all the fundamental premise on which the Matrix is based – that past offending is a reliable predictor of future offending (and likewise for past victimisation).  Again, it would be useful if research is conducted to test these premises in the context of the Matrix, not least with growing use of machine learning and the opportunities which that might afford. More fundamentally, it appears that the Amnesty report missed the opportunity to understand in a more detailed and nuanced way exactly how the MPS determine the criteria for inclusion on the Matrix.

Further, although we speak of the Gang Violence Matrix each BCU owns its section of the database and is responsible for its population, grading, ‘housekeeping’, and dissemination of data. That clearly has the inherent danger of different BCUs operating in different ways, not least in deciding which individuals should be removed from the Matrix. This is something which the Met might choose to review.

Finally, as noted earlier, the MPS holds and analyses a number of databases that include individuals that group together in some way, if only loosely and from time-to-time and who commit crime, including acts of violence. Can we improve the way that these databases are able to ‘communicate’ with each other? More fundamentally, does having separate databases for urban street gangs, OCGs and similar provide the best way of managing criminality?

It is beyond doubt that policing London in 2018 presents some very significant challenges, not least in terms of gang-related crime, including preventing serious injuries and deaths caused by knives and guns. It is clear to us that that Amnesty International has failed to produce sufficiently compelling evidence that the MPS Gang Violence Matrix is ineffective, discriminatory, or counter-productive. It is important, however, to acknowledge some of the difficult issues to which alludes. The challenge for the Met, amongst the many others, is to assess how best it can retain, adapt and revise the Matrix to maximise its utility in the struggle against gang-related violent crime in London whilst meeting the more well-founded concerns expressed in Trapped in the Matrix.

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