‘Citizens in Policing’ or ‘Policing in Citizenship?’

‘Citizens in Policing’ or ‘Policing in Citizenship?’

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How to capture ideas from within the community – start with some good food!

I’ve just seen a great question posed on Twitter about ‘Citizens in Policing’ by a Neighbourhood Police Team supervisor:

‘How do we obtain the feedback and ideas from a more cross representative cross section of our communities? Thoughts?’

Yes, lots of thoughts!

For those of you who follow my blogs (see The Problem with PACT ) you’ll know my thoughts on how the current process of police / community problem solving through the PACT (Police and Communities Together) process does little more then drive up police demand as a result of a focus on ‘things that are broken’ and the ‘can do’ attitude of the police (it’s in their DNA, they want to be helpful!).

During PACT meetings questions are asked of the few community members who turn up (PACT is notorious for low turn out) to try and ascertain what the community priorities are and the causes of the problems behind the priorities. Questions such as:

What are your priorities?

What are you concerns?

What problems are you experiencing?

What do you think the causes of those problems are?

How can we tackle these problems together?

The answer to the last question normally ends up with community telling the police what they should be doing more of, such as: additional CCTV; more visible patrols; ASBO’s; arrests; locked gates; higher fences; barbed wire and diversionary activities for young people.

Following the PACT meeting the police and partners get on with, ‘You Said, We Did’ type activities to deal with those problems so they can demonstrate the results of their efforts at the next PACT meeting.

Sound familiar?

So back to the question posed. I believe there is a more productive and community focused way of, ‘obtaining the feedback and ideas from a more cross representative cross section of our communities.’

For the past decade I’ve been using Appreciative Inquiry and Asset Based Community Development principles as part of an overall approach to problem solving within communities.

Unlike the traditional deficit based approach (a focus on the past and on what is broken) Appreciative Inquiry focuses on the strengths and capabilities that already exist within communities so that a concrete vision for the future can be imagined. From this aspirational future the group concerned (it’s still the Police and Community Together) can work out how they are going to organise themselves to make the vision a reality and start the small steps needed to get there.

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Forget PACT – leave the top table in the past where it belongs

But before any meeting can take place we need to get out of the ‘police meeting’ mindset that invariably consists of formality and agendas? Call it a, ‘Visioning’ or ‘Your Future’ event. Actually, call it whatever the group you initially form to start the Appreciative Inquiry off wants to call it, just forget PACT and its agenda driven top table.

Based on my experience, this is how I would go about finding the answers to the questions posed on Twitter. A way to catalyse the community you are already a part of (as opposed to apart from in the traditional PACT model) to take their own action and where appropriate, take action with service provider’s support:

Start by thinking about what you want from the question, ‘…feedback and ideas from a cross section of the community?’ If you ask for feedback from the community you might find out what you’re doing as a police team that meets their approval. However, this type of questioning might also lead to demand on the police being increased as they proceed to do more to meet the community’s needs?

As for ideas, are you looking for how the community can better support the police in the ‘Citizens in Policing’ agenda?

The problem with these questions is that by their very nature they perpetuate the myth that the police and other service providers are there to meet the needy demands of communities. And if community members are to do any volunteering then it should be in support of the police?

What ABCD and Appreciative Inquiry do is to turn the above principles round. In an asset based approach the police and other service providers are there to support the community in finding ways to resolve problems that they are uniquely placed to manage (they still retain ownership over what they alone can do – their specialist functions, but in a way that is accountable). As opposed to ‘Citizens in Policing,’ think, ‘Policing in Citizenship.’

The first step is to map the assets that exist already in the community, who are the key people from:

Existing community groups

Local businesses

‘Friends’ groups

Faith groups

Schools / Colleges

Politicians: Councillors / MP

Open spaces: parks and allotments


Social Enterprises

Youth groups


Food and refreshments always a good idea to draw people in

Service providers / Institutions (Police, Fire, Housing, Environment, Health, Drug and Alcohol Services, Council, Social Services… Think of all the bodies within your Community Safety Partnership)

And anyone else you can think of that cares about where they live.

My guess is that if you really spent some time doing this exercise you’d have about 40-50 people on your list?

From here decide if you want to invite everyone to the first stage or limit to key people.

The next stage is important as if you don’t get it right you’ll (the ‘you’ being police and other institutions) you might find yourselves sat round a lonely service provider table. I’ve seen this happen recently when the Council for an area I’m involved in invited residents to a planning meeting to capture their thoughts on future cuts to services. Only one resident turned up and they quickly switched off when the chair of the meeting mentioned the word ‘agenda.’

To grab everyone’s attention I’d suggest making the first event you hold quirky and different, and as an incentive to attend you should consider offering food / refreshments. When the same Council re-arranged the event in this way over 20 people turned up.

Informal and relaxed - is this what PACT should really look like?

Informal and relaxed – is this what PACT should really look like?

On the day service providers should turn up without the usual badges and uniforms that unconsciously cause others to defer to their authority (remember the feelings from your first time in a police station before you became a ready for the streets police officer?). Tables should be mixed, otherwise people will tend to gravitate towards people they know. Everyone’s voice is equally valid in this process and the set up needs to reflect this.

From here onwards I’d suggest following the asset based Appreciative Inquiry model I describe here How to run an Appreciative Inquiry.

At the end of the event there will be so many ideas and calls to action that it will take you several hours to make sense of them and develop them into a narrative that makes sense to all who attended.

It’s really important to capture the momentum the Appreciative Inquiry workshop (might be best not call it that though – it can make people think something is being done to them) generates. If you don’t you might find yourself in a situation where your credibility is damaged.

Capturing the vision and calls to action from an Appreciative Inquiry

Capturing the vision and calls to action from an Appreciative Inquiry

There are plenty of actions you can take to catalyse momentum from this process such as: small grant funding, access to practical support; participatory budgeting; promoting the Soup concept; accessing specialist support where required, unravelling / simplifying red tape and really importantly, enabling people to connect.

Isn’t this what the original question is really about? Instead of, ‘How do we obtain the feedback and ideas from a more cross representative cross section of our communities? Thoughts?’

We get:

‘How do we kick start honest and courageous conversations about a vision for our collective future? So that collectively we can enable and catalyse the best of what has been and what is to take the steps towards our aspirational vision of our future?’

Are we not after all just people in a uniform paid to carry out a role that is the responsibility of all citizens?

Time to release your inner citizen and work out how to drive the ‘Policing in Citizenship’ agenda?













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