Change management in policing – the time is now

The headlines on policing are getting clearer. Less money, less police and more crime. There seems to be a good understanding of the problem but a degree of inertia when it comes to identifying a course of action that will properly address the wider issues.

Martin Wilson
by Martin Wilson

It could be that we need a far more ambitious transformation of the strategic landscape but there is a resistance to challenge existing structures. Leaders will understandably reflect on the difficulties experienced with the development of Police Scotland as well as other high-profile mergers and alliances that have failed to fully deliver.

The recent Home Affairs Select Committee report on the future of policing sets out some of the clear challenges:

  • Police funding has been cut by 20% since 2010
  • In some areas local neighbourhood policing team numbers have been cut by two thirds
  • Crime is up 32% in the last three years
  • Only a small proportion of online fraud investigated
  • The police are often the sole response to people in a mental health crisis
  • The Home Office has failed to demonstrate adequate leadership for policing
  • Officers and their forces are in many areas badly overstretched
  • Investment in, and adoption of, new technology is an utter mess

Reductions to funding have clearly had an impact but the landscape also hampers attempts to coordinate change management initiatives and transformation. For a start, it is difficult to identify a single leader for policing. At the top we have the Home Secretary, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the Head of the National Police Chief’s Council, the Head of the National Crime Agency and the Chief Executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.

Part of the difficulty is that there are 41 police forces and 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (or Mayors). Within this landscape we also have the College of Policing, the Police ICT Company and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service. So, one of the biggest challenges may, in fact, be not just too many cooks in the kitchen but too many kitchens altogether! If there is at times some confusion about who is in charge, then it follows that it is also unlikely that we know who is fully responsible.

As the cracks start to show, now may be a very good time to comprehensively review the options. There has been talk of a Royal Commission into policing, but this idea has not been welcomed by the government and many commentators feel such a vehicle would be too costly and take too long. However something is needed – we may not need further review to tell us about the state of policing but there is certainly merit in a review of the way policing is structured, funded and governed.

It seems unlikely that there will be more money for policing in the near future and funding is only part of the problem anyway. London and other metropolitan cities have seen a sharp increase in knife crime and the murder of young people. Overall, crime is rising and at the same time there are growing threats for the police like cyber-crime, fraud, terrorism and online exploitation all of which neither respect force or national boundaries.

In the last few years we have seen more encouragement within policing to innovate and to collaborate with incentive through funding streams. Perhaps the next step is to develop far greater resourcing and orchestration of transformation at a national level. This requires clear governance structures and funding that can fully deliver change management initiatives on a national scale.

To be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating a national police force, but I am closer to that idea than I am to the existing structures. Local independence and force level budgets offer the opportunity to be different and with that comes the chance to excel and to develop best practice. On the flip side, the risk of mandating single approaches and national systems is that this will almost certainly stifle innovation. However, the problem with doing things in 41 different ways is also self-evident.

In relation to technology, the police are still failing to keep up with the pace of change in the rest of society. It follows that this sometimes means failing to keep up with the criminals. Looking to the future of policing we need a clear vision of the capability we seek to deliver. In fairness, many of these capabilities are already ably expressed in national strategic plans. The difficulty remains is how such efforts can be led and coordinated with such a complex strategic backdrop. Perhaps each initiative should be seen as a component of a larger national infrastructure. It might actually help to see this as a ‘national police infrastructure’. Through the use of collaborations, open APIs and common data standards it should be the absolute intention of every procurement exercise that what is bought becomes part of a bigger picture. As the capabilities get delivered the processes and the actual systems should be integrated and able to share data seamlessly.

To compound the challenge further it is quite clear that many of the demands on public sector organisations are better addressed when tackled together. At the front-line individual staff need the equipment and structures to enable them to collaborate, to prevent and to problem solve.

But how do we learn from each other about what works? It’s hard enough to identify effective practice across organisational boundaries in the same sector. It’s almost impossible to learn lessons from other public sector organisations.

Idea Drop have established themselves as industry leaders in software that captures, distils and collates innovative thinking. It provides leaders with the opportunity to present challenges to staff and to effectively harness the collective problem-solving power of an organisation. The solution allows users to like, rate and comment on ideas and it applies an algorithm to distil the more popular thinking to the top. This has been proven to work and now the company are developing an ‘open innovation tool’ that allows for the sharing of ideas from one organisation to another. This means that transformative thinking can be harnessed and shared not just between police forces but with other blue light organisations and the wider landscape of public sector organisations. If you would like to find out more about it, get in touch with one of Idea Drop’s team member.

The reality is that public bodies now need to do more with less. In rising to this challenge there needs to be new thinking and ever closer collaboration between organisations. Idea Drop have hosted two successful Innovation Summits in 2018 and plan to deliver a further six such events in 2019

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