A great blog by @westcoastresponse drove this piece! Thankyou!
Anecdotal and hard evidence from research by the Police Federation / The Police Dependants Trust and the academic community, such as Dr Ian Hesketh, tells us that many police officers are currently suffering from high levels of stress and low levels of mental health and personal wellbeing. For a number of reasons this can go unnoticed by officialdom and can result in officers taking annual leave (termed leavism) to recover and having less working will to put in that extra mile for their organisation. Last year Canterbury Christ Church University ran a one and a half day conference on policing under stress and the issues raised and discussed at the event by a number of the speakers indicated that officers, nationally, feel disengaged from change processes, uninvolved and indeed not considered in the development of policy and new practices aimed at them, their operational practice and decision making.
I get quite repetitive about my desire for officer voice in research production and outputs plus of course the necessary feedback on the way such deliverables are operationalised by the workforce. Research assessing the impact of anything aimed at delivering certain objectives in policing should always involve some kind of process evaluation, how this impacts on people and perceptions of the outcomes. Whilst the ethos of my own working environment at the Canterbury Police Research Centre is always to capture officer voice, there is an abundance of research published on this within organisational change literature as well as specifically in the Policing literature.
Organisational justice theory for example offers some very practical insights into how organisations can do staff relations better and how they might consider the staff in change processes and policy development. The potential to miss out on such rich information from those doing the job is noteworthy and therefore the expertise of the rank and file is lost, not considered and results in staff feeling that their view is worthless, their organisation and its leaders do not really value their opinion and ultimately well being at work is negatively affected.
I was fascinated a few weeks ago by a blog I read on Twitter about the idea of introducing a frontline impact assessment which could offer a method to capture the views of officers on the frontline quite quickly and provide their feedback on planned change and policy development (https://westcoastresponse.wordpress.com/2016/11/05/dispatches-from-the-front/). The blog stated, and I quote from it here that:
“If officers know that their feedback can positively shape policy they are more likely to contribute. Just like we do with partner consultations, it’s important to provide feedback to the teams consulted directly, as well as the wider force to show that they have had an impact on policy development”.
What an excellent statement. The police go all out to assess the impact on communities via equality impact assessments but rarely do they consider the impact on staff. Given the research findings about what drives positive behaviour at work, the research on the current state of stress inside the job and the sense of disengagement officers feel, such an idea seems like a no brainer as a method to help increase inclusivity, engage staff and learn.
As a researcher I can get quite frustrated when we here the term implementation failure. That trusty term to excuse a failed initiative or project – sometimes to justify failure perhaps and sometimes to absolve responsibility from the idea provider and quickly move on. The issue for me is the need to learn from such failures and change the practice next time. Rarely in policing now do we here of process evaluations which actively explore the drivers and mechanisms of change – key failures, challenges or indeed success stories – all of which we can learn from. We tend to focus on the impact of x,y or z which focus on quantifiable data over the views, voice and context. Therefore this blog by West Coast Response really raised my interest levels.
Considering the impact of a policy, a process change, a restructure on the frontline might be a very quick method to learn, to facilitate a smoother implementation which officers feel engaged in (because they have been included) and potentially to minimise any potential negativity by listening to any perceived issues prior to roll out. It seems remarkable that we gather information on the potential impact in the public sphere and then ignore the very people who are fundamental to any further implementation. Surely the threat to the successful delivery of any programme is compromised if we consider all of the research that has been done on the impact of non-engagement with those doing the job.
As West Coast Responses blog stated:
“Developing an efficient process to gain up to date and relevant frontline information to inform policing policy is a potentially a huge source of qualitative data that can have a positive impact on policy development. It comes at very little cost in time and effort and shows frontline officers that policy makers care about their role and value their advice”.
This is an innovative idea which I would like to help share more widely. At a time when leaders in policing need to think more and more about their staff and engagement with them this might provide a very viable tangible way of listening and, as a further positive consequence, a method to smooth delivery of policy and get buy in from those expected to operationalise the concepts.