“Stick Child’s Canterbury Tales”
On Friday 19th September 2014 I gave a lecture on systems thinking and effective performance measurement to MA, MSc and BSc policing degree students from Years 1, 2 and 3 at Canterbury Christ Church University. I really enjoy doing these events, especially where the audience already have an understanding of policing. Talking through some of the traditional knee-jerk reactions to reds and greens (“Let’s write some plans! Let’s have a meeting! Let’s move some resources around!”) always raises a giggle of recognition, and the CCCU crowd was no exception.
My blog character, Stick Child, made the inevitable appearance, demonstrating how some of the alternatives to the traditional management cocktail of binary comparisons, league tables and numerical targets, really can be understood by the Under-10s. It never ceases to amaze me how ingrained some of our traditional police performance management thinking is, as well the widespread ignorance (in the literal sense) of its limitations and associated consequences.
For example, in response to my critique of binary comparisons, I often get the stock response of, “It’s just ‘management information’ / It’s a starting point for asking questions”. Well no, it flippin’ well isn’t! It’s utter rubbish, totally meaningless and spectacularly misleading, as I said during the lecture. So stop it. Toss a coin at least. Have some fun. Oh, and the other classic: ‘It’s not the targets – it’s the way they’re implemented’. No – it’s the target. How do you implement something that’s arbitrary and prone to causing dysfunctional behaviour without it being arbitrary and causing dysfunctional behaviour?
Anger-inducing vignettes aside, there were some great questions and audience interaction. I love it when that happens. There’s nothing worse than frontloading to an audience that might as well be comprised of the mannequins in A-ha’s ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ video (showing my age now). Discussion, debate and challenge make it worthwhile for me. If I can’t back up my arguments with evidence and references then I shouldn’t standing up there at the front at all. It’s good to be tested. I admire those who spoke up during the session, as no doubt they were voicing what many of the others were thinking.
I don’t doubt that many of those present will be the police leaders of the future. I hope the event sparked thought-provoking, mind-contorting, uncomfortable realisations about how we’ve traditionally done police performance management so very, very badly. These realisations are a can of worms, if you like, but a good can of worms nevertheless. You leaders of the future have it within your gift to take something extremely positive and powerful from what we talked about. Be different. Think differently. Challenge convention. Ask ‘why’ a lot.
So, after a session that whizzed by far too quickly, it was all book-signings and medals, before having my arms cruelly twisted to go and support the local licensing establishments. I was happy doing my bit to help boost the economy and enjoyed the night immensely, chatting to all manner of cool people about everything from the evils of numerical targets to the musical genius of Electronic.
My thanks to Emma Williams for organising the event, as well as my various ‘guides’ and companions at various stages of the evening. I hope to be back.