Against a backdrop of ongoing budget cuts and reductions in staff numbers, discovering and implementing efficiency savings and new ideas has never been more important for UK Police Forces. In this interview, Rob Flanagan and Owen Hunnam highlight how some forces are using technology to help.
In this episode of Innovation Insights from Idea Drop, Rob also speaks about different types of innovation and a healthy balance between disruptive change and incremental innovation, as well as an agile innovation approach. He also shares the story of how he came up with an Amazon Alexa idea and what impact it had on the police force.
Below you can find a transcript of this episode of Innovation Insights with Rob Flanagan, where he discusses the importance of implementing different types of innovation and the impact of some of the ideas put into practice at Lanchashire Constabulary.
Owen Hunnam: I’m delighted to be joined by Rob Flanagan who’s an Innovation Manager from Lancashire Constabulary, talking to us about the power and importance of innovation in UK policing.
Rob Flanagan: I was working as a police officer for 16 years with Lancashire, I then started working within the innovation arena. As my work progressed, I moved on to becoming the innovation manager which is now an appointed civilian role within the organisation.
O. H: Right now, innovation is such a hot topic certainly within the industry and in the commercial world. But, I think most people would probably agree less so in policing?
R. F: Looking back five years ago, the concept of an innovation manager or a head of innovation in policing perhaps didn’t exist. if these roles did exist, perhaps they were not as prevalent.
O. H: Why do you think there is more importance put on innovation now within the policing sector? And how will this change in the coming years?
R. F: I think innovation is a great vehicle for change. I’ve been able to use it as a driver for change within policing and public service generally. There’s a real push for change particularly in areas such as technology and organizational development. Innovation helps in bringing these areas together and forecast what changes can be made.
Often, we focus on how change can be implemented into organisations at this current moment or within the next year or two. Innovation, however, has that ability to forecast a strategic longer-term view of what we need to do and where we need to be in 10-15 years. We also need to establish what tools, skills and expertise we currently have and are they going to help us with those longer-term strategic goals. If not, how do we start bringing those into the organisation?
O. H: What does your role entail at Lancashire? Tell us a bit more about your day-to-day or any projects you’re currently working on.
R. F: The beauty of working in innovation within policing is that it’s so new, it is essentially a blank canvas. This enables us to figure out how we can drive innovation within the organisation and what areas of the business we can get the most results out of. For us, you would look at aspects such as the front line meaning police officers, PCSO’s, our staff and the areas where we want to improve.
I started to look at things such as business model change to enable more innovation. For example, there are many back-office functions that we have within policing that drive the frontline. Then long-term being able to communicate that back onto the frontline and say: “Look at the changes which we can do, look what can be improved through innovation”. It’s then their turn to tell us what they want, once we have an infrastructure in place how we can generate more rapid innovation within the organisation.
O. H: You’ve talked about different types of innovation such as disruptive innovation, continuous improvement and business model change. Which ones are you focusing most on? And where have you seen the greatest results so far?
R. F: When we started out with innovation in Lancashire I was a lone ranger in the organisation. I would push out innovation wherever I could, that was seen as disruptive innovation. Disruption is good, but we can’t have disruption everywhere all the time. We’ve got to balance it out. In this new role as Innovation Manager, I‘ve been able to take a strategic look at what we need to do to create a healthy balance between change and innovation across the organisation. This involves parts of it being incremental some more disruptive.
O. H: Can you share with our audience some of the successes you’ve had at Lancashire as well as some of the wild card projects that perhaps seemed a bit wacky at first but turned out to be really successful.
R. F: Yes, the first project was the Amazon Alexa program. I got an Amazon Alexa for Father’s Day and whilst playing around with it, I realised there is all this information provided by voice-enabling technology and it is being used a lot more. I went to a conference with Amazon who informed us that last year 10 to 15 % of all internet search came from voice technology, this made me think why we are not engaging with our communities via this type of technology?
We developed the Lancashire Police Alexa skill. This gave people information about our news, information on missing and wanted people and it is geographically ring-fenced to Lancashire. The project became a success, we were very lucky to have some national news coverage. We got to work with Amazon themselves and now we are looking at how we can take this initiative even further. This is an example of a very simple idea, however, if you have the infrastructure in place you can push ideas through a pipeline quickly.
O. H: Does the power of collaboration and sponsorship from a senior level management help in terms of being able to move projects through?
R. F: Senior sponsorship definitely helps. It depends on how that sponsorship is also guided when it comes to certain projects. With the Amazon Alexa project it was a case of let them get on with it, give them that time, the environment and the space to develop this idea and let’s see where it goes. However, projects such as the Lancashire Forensic Science Academy was a whole business model change for the organisation. This took much more involvement from the senior management around contracting, law, the requirements around procurement and other areas that really impact on what is a disruptive change to an area of our business.
O. H: We’ve seen in recent years this concept of setting up innovation labs, having the ability to be very agile and quick, learn and fail fast. It’s really exciting to see that you are bringing that to policing in the UK. Would you agree that this is a new approach in policing where perhaps historically things have been a bit more structured?
R. F: There will always be structured and governance within policing. Again, it comes back to having a balance. We can’t do what some of the private companies and enterprises are able to do which is fail fast and take on more risks. We come from a sector that is very risk-averse, meaning, if we get it wrong people’s lives are impacted massively.
O. H: Something that’s interesting is how you measure innovation. In some cases, it can be very metric based, and you do cost-benefit analysis on ideas that are implemented and start to measure the delivery it has on the force. Other ideas, as you mention are much more difficult to measure. How do you measure ideas and what emphasis is put on the importance of that?
R. F: Yes, the first thing that we do is make sure that anything regarding innovation is aligned to our strategy as an organization. I worked with Cranfield University and they use the pentathlon framework which is designed by their senior lecturer Keith Goffin. For me, this was a very useful tool to take that step towards innovation and how we strategize it to make sure that it fits with our organisation.
Therefore, when an idea comes in, we’ll look back at the Amazon Alexa Project and ask ourselves ‘what did we do well?’. We are constantly looking for improved ways to communicate and engage with our public, and this may not have an instant impact tomorrow. However, if this grows to the expected market potential, as a police force, we’re going to be the first to engage with our people and community in this way. Going back to strategizing, this falls through everything that we do meaning when a person comes up with an idea we will always start with ‘why did we do that?’.
For example, the Lancashire Forensic Science Academy came about because we were going through a period of austerity. We were looking for ways to both save money and improve our services. The academy allowed us to do exactly that by collaborating with partners outside of policing. Furthermore, enabling our staff to remain with us to continue providing high-level services within forensic science without having to make any cuts. This was an innovation in itself, as we did not have to save money, we ended up investing in something that resulted in us generating an income within the area of forensic science.
O.H: Rob the projects you’re working on sound very exciting. I am really interested to see how they play out in the future. Thanks for joining us on innovation insights!
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