Partnerships, People and Systems…

Emma Williams – Policing
Next year the Canterbury Centre for Policing Research will focus its annual conference on partnerships and the need for the police to work together with partners to understand and manage the demands they face. How we define partnerships and who we consider as important partners for inclusion within this debate at the conference is complicated. It may, therefore, challenge traditional conceptions of what a partnership is and who they involve. However, we believe that the anyone involved in the development, implementation and delivery of a partnership initiative needs to be engaged in that process. Consequently, this involves police at all levels (so internal partnerships) as well as the partner agency involved – whether that be an academic partner or another agency.
The conference will include a focus on academic partnerships in relation to the use of evidence, to both define and subsequently solve ‘wicked’ police problems. However, there is also a need to talk to other public sector agencies who have involvement in the many complex issues that the police face. Perhaps as a result of austerity and budget cuts, agencies such as the social services and the NHS are increasingly lacking the capacity to cope with the cyclic issues that are emerging in the current climate. Increasingly, we witness the need for agencies to move away from their silo approach to working, to collaborate and come together to more effectively deal with the type of social problems that we face today in the UK. Such issues seem to increasingly end up, if not culminating in a ‘criminal matter’, at least in the hands of those that are meant to be dealing with ‘criminal matters’. This presents a range of risks for all involved including the chance of ‘policification’ of all of these very complex social problems.
It often occurs to me that when partnership or silo working is discussed (at least this is my perception in the policing world) that we ultimately end up referring to partnerships with ‘other’ agencies and ‘internal’ silo working. I wonder however, if we can also observe silo working between agencies and a lack of partnership working within our own organisations. What seems to happen is that despite, what seems to be, the majority, advocating a more joined up ‘system’ approach, some seem to remain most comfortable when focused on life as seen through their own individual lens and work area. Internally, this can end up with micro systems operating to meet their own individual / team and department ends and outcomes without the effective consideration of the macro system approach as is required in thorough problem solving and more strategic processes. Sadly, there is enough evidence to suggest that this is also reinforced by performance methods and the over reliance on numbers.
In policing I could give a number of examples of where I have seen this happen, in fact many of these issues came up in a recent @wecops debate which was hosted by Ian Wiggett. It is a complex area at the current time particularly with the growth in evidence based policing which some have concluded can reinforce this sense of silo working as teams of officers focus on crime reduction figures and short term methods which serve as a reaction to a long term problem which requires longer term partnership working. Anecdotal evidence suggests that officers involved in hotspot tasking for example, are driven by crime reduction outputs and that this can negatively impact on more proactive activity. This can hinder and create an obsession with numerical performance targets over long term outcomes and this is critical for developing an understanding about what inhibits good partnership working.
Much of this comes down to leadership. I have always liked Grint’s discussion of wicked problems in the context of policing and the understanding that when it comes to more complex problems, often an easily applied scientific solution does not work – other than as a quick sticking plaster approach to a problem. Often a more collaborative and thoughtful approach is required. When considering dealing with these wicked problems Grint articulates that both leadership and decision making is present across all ranks and it is particularly at this stage of problem solving that engagement with the frontline is required. The application of a collaborative style is often applied in society (all be it not always effectively) to deal with wicked problems however this is also highly relevant in the context of supervisors and their relations with their staff (staff capital). Quick fix – what works evidence is the easy option for some. “Oh this must work – it has somewhere else”. This idea suits an organisation with a command and control style of leadership but it will not work effectively for complex problems that require longer term outcomes that all partners engage with and work towards as an end goal.
Carrie Jackson – Director, England Centre for Practice Development
Faculty of Health and Well Being, Canterbury Christ Church University
Culture in Public Services
Such important points that Emma raises here. Organisations that are able to respond flexibly to wicked social problems have systems that enable continual learning at top, middle and end. These must be connected through a shared vision and a core drive for improvement and innovation. Ultimately in public sector organisations there is a preoccupation with top down approaches to managing complexity which are rarely sustainable or successful and in fact do not take advantage of the immense skills set that organisations hold in their pockets – their people. In order to improve, adapt and innovate, organisations have to invest in the capacity and capability of its workforce at all levels and this requires a different set of leadership skills than what we have seen previously in public sector services.
In order to manage complexity, we need systems leaders who are capable of co-creating a compelling shared vision with others, who understand the impact of workplace culture on well being of staff as well as clients or service users.
Attending to macro, meso and micro systems within an organisation requires the ability to have a helicopter view, political influencing skills as well as an accurate understanding of what it is like on the shop floor. It is at the micro system level of an organisation where we can really further understand the power and impact of relationships between care or service provider and recipient. It is the culture of the workplace that impacts on the quality of a service, the safety of that service, the well being of people involved and ultimately on whether strategies work or fail. Indeed, as Peter Druker points out “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”. Positive human relationships enable people ultimately to flourish and, if people flourish, our services flourish. The added and most important bonus is that they then meet the needs of the public.
This requires the ability to engage a wide range of stakeholders in meaningful dialogue and conversations about how to shape our services differently to tackle some of the silo’s we currently face. And yet the silos are the very barriers that are impeding our ability to transform in a holistic way that pitches public sector services against each other rather than working in true partnership.
The most current example I can give you is my experience over the weekend as a service user in a local A & E department. I had to accompany my elderly frail mother to hospital by ambulance on Saturday because she was suffering from dehydration following surgery and a bout of laryngitis. She is living with dementia and so any changes to her ability to swallow ultimately adversely affect her cognitive functioning. What we needed was a hospital at home service with a GP or health professional administering an intravenous drip to rehydrate her, and some intravenous antibiotics with plenty of rest at home. What we got instead was a 22 hour wait in A & E in an environment that was chaotic noisy, uncoordinated, and at times unsafe. I saw a wide variety of public sector workers trying to do their best but with no coordination- Paramedics and ambulances backed up and waiting with patients to be triaged by a front line system that wasn’t working, police colleagues accompanying patients who were a danger to themselves or others, bed managers trying to find beds in a hospital that had none, locum doctors running around assessing patients with very little insight into who should take priority. The net effect of our experience was that my mother ended up on a ward 23 hours later and became delirious because the environment was so noisy and confusing for her.
I ended up with hospital acquired bronchitis and exhaustion because I felt I could not leave her. All of this was completely unnecessary if the right services had been in place in the community and working in a coordinated manner around the needs of people living in the local population. It was a microcosm for me of everything that stops our public services working together to be more effective in managing the safety of our local communities. We hear all the time in the media that the system is broken and the multiple reasons for this. Yet the people who have the skill set to truly transform it are on the shop floor not in the corridors or Whitehall or in public policy think tanks.
Surely effective problem definition and a subsequent, effective problem solving process involving paramedics, police and health care professionals in the community with social services could prevent people ever needlessly getting to the front door of the hospital or indeed being dealt with by the police. Such a coordinated approach would require us to invest our money differently in a health and welfare budget much like many of our European partners.

A community hub and bespoke model aimed at community wellbeing as opposed to illness and crime, has a far healthier philosophical foundation than a deficit model that has to meet waiting time targets or crime numbers within a defined budget. Working together to tackle some of our wicked social problems would enable us to collectively collaborate to find solutions that are more sustainable and pool our resources and expertise so that we are co creating our future together. There are already great examples of this happening across the UK through some of the city devolution projects and by community groups coming together to pool their resources lets learn from this and all see things through a different lens.

 

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