Yesterday saw the first EVER police TEDx event held at the Park Plaza Hotel in Leeds. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have attended such a brilliant event and actually I could write all day on what I learnt and thought about on reflection after the day. The event, I am very proud to say was organised by one of our very own MSc scholarship students @dedicatedpeeler, and strongly supported by the very progressive, Lancashire Police.
The entire day was inspiring, motivational, innovative, refreshing, forward thinking, supportive and entirely grounded in the ethos of the Red Button Project (hence #oldbillrebuilt) which was put together over a few direct messages between @nathanconstable, @dedicatedpeeler and to a small extent myself. I have written about the aims of the project before but the basic notion of the RBP is that senior leaders engage with, listen to and encourage innovation from the ground floor and, furthermore develop and use it. The importance of this in terms of the subsequent positive outcomes are firmly grounded in research on organisational justice and staff engagement. Furthermore, pretty much all employee satisfaction surveys in policing and beyond, suggest that an engaged organisational workforce will be more productive, act as advocates for their company, have a better sense of well-being, treat customers more positively and just generally be more smiley at work! And that is surely what we all want for the police isn’t it? As someone said yesterday the biggest reputational risk is the staff themselves!
Yesterday bought together around sixty people of all ranks and roles. I was lucky enough to be one of the very few academics in the room. It was rightly aimed at officers – many of who are compulsive tweeters – with excellent ideas and a passion for change. Indeed, the event clearly showed the power of social media both as a forum to bring relevant people together (a tweeters even turned up with a bag over their head to avoid recognition! (@sgtTCS)) and also as an excellent method for getting the information out there quickly to the Twitter community. As a result the coverage of the day was extensive and in general very well received by the wider Twitter fold.
When I teach my students in their final year I always repeat to them time and time again the need to find a tread to pull their narrative together. A common theme if you like, which pulls together the context of the wider paper. Yesterday’s theme was people, humans, staff – real live walking beings with voices, opinions, experience and ideas that are so very critical to any organisation – yes the assets.
It was pitched perfectly – very broadly the morning was filled with some brilliant and very engaging speakers who covered issues around the importance of bottom up thinking, recognising experience, staff wellbeing and some of the negative impacts of performance measurements. The afternoon was aimed at operationalising this knowledge and removing the barriers to its effectiveness. The speakers covered some innovative schemes which focus on assisting offenders in recovery to devise their own solutions, make choices and encourage bottom up thinking in their own plans and speakers described how this positively impacts on the gaining of self-worth and long term recovery. To sum up, the amazing and inspirational James from the violence reduction unit (VRU) in Scotland, voiced “plans of action are futile without relationships’. James eloquently talked about the importance of ‘experience’ in the VRU – his experience as an ex-offender in reducing violence in the city in collaboration with the police.
The key message coming out of the day was clear and cleverly planned – the vital nature of the human voice in plans that affect individuals directly, their lives and/or their work place PERSONALLY is absolutely essential. As I reflected on the content on the way home I realised that in my limited experience I could think of very few police plans, reforms and initiatives which were devised by, driven by or fully inclusive of officers’ voices in the current climate. The negative consequences of this are clear if we look at the evidence presented by yesterday’s speakers. There is probably no need to go into too much depth here about the low level of morale, retention issues, and general health issues within the police at the moment as I and many other police commentators have written on this already.
The day was opened by Professor Nick Tilley, one of the original writers on the use of research in policing and crime reduction. Nick also co-authored a book published in 1997 called ‘Realistic Evaluation’ which as a young researcher in the Metropolitan Police Service in 2002 became my research bible. The reason that I liked it was because ….. It clearly promoted a holistic approach to evaluating police programmes including ‘dare I say it’ the experience of the human beings within the process. Exploring the perceptions and thoughts of the human being involved in any process of change or implementation was the book stated, imperative.
The paper presented yesterday by Nick was grounded in these ideas – he talked a lot about the limitations to a purist evidence based approach to policing using the health care environment as an example. Professional judgement and expertise, he stated, is vital in a truly collaborative knowledge informed approach. He talked about the inflexibility of rigid policy and standardised approaches to policing which can smother innovation and inhibit bottom up work. Plus they can ignore the context of the situation being dealt with. In fact so much that is done to police officers is mechanical and prescriptive and can force officers into behaving in such particular ways that it can avoid the recognition of ‘good work’ by the very procedures in place to ensure officers behave in a uniformed way. Those of you that follow my blogs will know how much this rang true with me.
Standardisation does not work, it fits people into categories and boxes even when they don’t fit and focuses so much on officers behaving in a particular way that it fails to recognise difference and professional judgement. This is relevant to nearly every area of police work and failing to recognise the experience officers have in being able to recognise the important context of a situation negates the opportunity to learn about the nuances and the differences so vital to human beings.
Yesterday only proved more to me how much we need as academics to work with, to listen to, to find solutions with, to build programmes in collaboration WITH officers not as standalone researchers conducting Randomised Control Trials in a sterile environment. Just as leaders need to engage with their staff (as the research states) it seems paradoxical that sometimes researchers themselves don’t listen to this knowledge too. If we want the police organisation and culture to change and become more willing to accept learning where making mistakes is accepted then we also, in the academic community, need to recognise this in our research. Being inclusive of officers’ voices and opinions via mixed methods in research activity, as opposed to purely quantitative styles will potential have a more positive outcome on embedding change. Indeed as Nita Clarke so succinctly put it yesterday ‘it’s the people stupid!’ they are our assets.
Loud and clear the day gave us this message – higher staff engagement will give better outcomes – both for the staff and the customers. As was termed so articulately yesterday by one of the speakers ‘GOYA’ (Get off Your Arses) people. The last thing I would want to do as a police lecturer and researcher would be to develop research outputs that disempower, suffocate and stifle officers’ thoughts, ideas and craft knowledge. If we really want change to happen then we perhaps need to listen and change too.
What a great quote to sum this up… “We wanted to hire ‘workers’ but human beings got in the way”