posted 1 Nov 2002 in Volume 6 Issue 3
Enabling rapid reform through KM
The UK government’s crime reduction strategy demands rapid reform and continuous improvement within the police sector. For a central agency supporting 43 locally controlled police forces across England and Wales, this poses a huge challenge. Chris Mould and Adrian Peryer describe how Centrex is tackling the issue head on by building ‘policing knowledge maps’ to help capture best practice direct from the front line.
The now familiar words ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ summarise the UK government’s commitment to making Britain a better place to live in. Central to this is an ambitious police reform programme, articulated in various white papers and empowered through the recent Police Reform Act (24 July 2002).
The Home Office is introducing measures to ensure the police use the most effective policing methods in all forces across the UK. A new Policing Standards Unit is addressing variations in performance between police forces. And Centrex (the Centre for Policing Excellence) is being asked to create a National Centre for Policing Excellence. Knowledge management is in turn being harnessed in this drive for rapid reform, and Centrex is using Knowledge Map technology to provide police officers with access to greater understanding about capabilities, activities and knowledge resources that will help them prevent and tackle crime.
The media frequently criticise the police. More measured reviews also find fault with the lack of rigour in identifying evidence-based practice. But the reality is that British police forces have a strong global reputation for innovation and good practice. Police service leaders are acutely aware that re-shaping our society and changing criminal patterns of behaviour call for a step-change transformation in current practices, followed by continuous improvement in policing methods.
The existence of so many individual police forces (43 in England and Wales) hinders sharing and makes it more difficult to understand best practice, despite the best intentions of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). There are growing calls for structural change and a reduction in the number of forces across the country. While there may be a case for such changes, evidence from other sectors suggests structural change is an often over-rated solution.
Problems of sharing best practice do not just occur between forces. They exist within forces, and with partner agencies within the criminal justice system. A consistent framework is required, together with an initial commitment to knowledge management, where the benefits drive collaborative behaviour. Yet this becomes harder to achieve as workloads increase and opportunities to review and reflect on cases and assimilate learning diminish. In addition, the atmosphere generated in part by the media makes transparency feel dangerous.
In the past, many different initiatives have sought to bring order to the vast array of explicit police knowledge. Connecting such areas as policing policy, guidelines, legislation and agreed processes is an enormous task, involving countless manuals and unconnected online or standalone systems. Just updating and distributing ACPO manuals is a difficult, continuous process, with the reality for many individual officers being that the manuals are difficult to access. Also, police officers, like most people, don’t always know what they don’t know. The challenge is not simply to try to integrate various online systems and ensure they keep pace with changing crime patterns; rather, it is to harvest best practice where it exists – on the ground – and to make this best practice accessible across each of the 43 forces. This means connecting and creating a big picture. It also means working out how an innovation pioneered in Manchester one week can be considered in Kent, North Wales or Devon the next week.
Much policing knowledge is tacit. Treasured by experienced officers, it is often significant, increasing with experience and shared one-to-one, using a familiar apprenticeship model. Some evidence suggests that ‘sitting with Nellie’ is the most effective way for many people to learn, although it is often more difficult to be confident that what Nellie is teaching is right. For the Police Service these are not academic considerations. The sector faces a huge challenge, as many officers are now close to retirement. This potential wave of change follows a recruitment boom in the 1970s. It means that in five-years time, around a third of serving police officers will have less than five-years active service.
In 2002, Centrex expects to train more than 8,000 new officers for police forces in England and Wales (compared to just over 3,000 in 2000). These figures indicate a potentially massive loss of knowledge and a new training challenge. Centrex’s remit covers training, research into effectiveness and operational support. Centrex is home to the police’s own expert-support services. It is the organisation the police call when they have an urgent need for advice and support, or when they have to find an expert to solve a problem. Police forces enable this capability to exist by seconding experts who work in Centrex alongside civilians (over 1,200 staff in all).
Centrex knows it has to be a catalyst for learning and development to support the drive for police professionalism and to enable the police leadership to transform the sector. However, to succeed it needed to find an effective way to consistently identify best practice, so it could underpin its training, research and operational-support activities. In order to be a real catalyst for sector transformation, Centrex needed to be able to provide police forces with the means of giving their staff the knowledge they needed, when they needed it.
The human dynamic
Centrex recognised this was not just a question of bringing in new tools and technology. Supporting transformation in the sector and enabling leaders to create fundamental change would require an entirely new, comprehensive approach. This would need to impact upon culture, police roles and responsibilities, agreed best-practice processes, and the knowledge base.
The human dynamics involved were complex. The existing culture ensures many officers, often with years of service, have a wealth of experience and knowledge that supports a level of performance that newer officers simply cannot replicate. Change this formula and some officers could start to feel vulnerable. If successful in opening knowledge resources up to others, some could advocate a change in individual roles across the board.
When pay and working conditions are such important considerations in a highly demarcated sector, change is often difficult to achieve. The challenge for Centrex was to move towards a knowledge-based culture without creating an overwhelming threat to those it represents. The method of capturing the dispersed tacit knowledge and best practice also had to be consultative, supported by both police leadership and officers on the front line.
In the past, new police officers have been immersed in intense initial training. They were expected to retain a large part of this information, building and developing on this with practical experience to develop their own tacit knowledge bank, backing this up with the available explicit knowledge as required. The reality is that the volume of knowledge required by police officers today is vast, complex and continually growing. This is due not just to the volume of crime, but to a whole range of factors including: changing demographics; breakdown in our society; new crimes – from identity theft to internet pornography – and increasing legislation and case law; technological advancements; and, breakthroughs in forensic science.
One example of how a senior officer was personally managing the potential information overload came to light in an early collaborative workshop. This experienced officer arrived at an early workshop with a packed pilot’s bag. When asked to divulge the contents, he was reluctant. He was happy to extract individual pieces of paper but did not want to disturb the order of things, as he ‘knew where everything was’. This personal, organised knowledge bank consisted of an array of highlighted documents, ranging from various sections of legislation to policing policy documents from different manuals, along with personal notes.
A transformation method and tool
Centrex occupied an excellent position from which to build consistent knowledge resources that would work across all the country’s police forces. Yet from the outset, Centrex knew it would not be possible to impose a new knowledge management system that was intrusive or required significant investment before those contributing saw any results. It was essential that the method and tools themselves:
- Involved and engaged police officers at every level;
- Encouraged collaboration across forces from day one;
- Put ownership of the required transformation in the hands of the police officers themselves, on the basis that you can’t change people – people have to change themselves.
Salamander had been selected to work with Centrex on the centre’s own process of transformation, and the company’s Knowledge Map methodology, and associated toolset, met these criteria. The method was shown to be highly iterative and capable of producing rapid results. This was important to create an immediate sense of momentum and empowerment, so essential when creating a climate for change.
As expected, the project delivered early results. Some six months later, after two initial pilots programmes, Centrex went public with a ministerial launch of its first ‘policing knowledge map’ on 12 June 2002.
Policing knowledge maps
The starting point, and the continual reference point, for the project was the overall policing purpose: to protect the public and keep the peace. As an extension of this, it was important to identify the specific knowledge and capabilities needed to realise this goal.
Take the initial requirement – to focus on street robbery. In essence, Centrex started with a blank sheet, bringing together police officers from different forces in a series of collaborative workshops.
The aim was to get these officers to describe how they were tackling street robbery and to share experience of current good practice. As the officers described what they did, they were asked to identify the paper-based resources and/or electronic resources they accessed (or required, but were unable to access) at key points during the process.
Different people naturally had different perspectives, and those with specific roles often had unique requirements. For example, the first officer on the scene of the crime would always see things differently to the secondary investigator. Each view was respected, and differences were captured and then considered.
An informal but structured approach to such workshops is essential to gather anecdotal stories, as these usually produce the most useful material. Expert facilitation is also critical to stimulate as wide an input of knowledge and experience as possible. The supporting technology enables the contributions to be keyed in as live during the workshop. This is an essential part of the process of building policing knowledge maps. The technology also allows the results to be web-published. The series of workshops, followed by review, reflection and feedback, thus allowed the initial maps to be quickly challenged, revised and improved. For Centrex, this process culminated with the Street Robbery Policing Knowledge Map initially being deployed in ten metropolitan forces.
Describing the initiative at its launch on 12 June 2002, UK Home Office Minister John Denham said: “Policing knowledge maps are a great, practical example of police reform in action. The maps will give police easy access to up-to-the-minute best practice guidance on a whole range of crime fighting issues, beginning with street robbery. This simple but effective, web-based tool works so well because it has been designed with the needs of the police officer in mind. The Street Robbery Policing Knowledge Map demonstrates how better use of new technology, combined with better support of police officers underpins the reform of the police.”
Policing knowledge maps are live, and therefore continue to be improved and updated with feedback from the front line. The maps are statements of the current shared understanding of best practice. Feedback is the key process for ensuring they remain current. Centrex continues to work on developing new policing knowledge maps covering other crimes and policing capabilities.
Knowledge as a transformational resource
The user sees Policing Knowledge Maps as online illustrative guides providing step-by-step guidance on the most efficient processes and latest technological advancements across the nation for a particular crime, together with access to knowledge on demand. Behind each policing knowledge map is a knowledge transformation lifecycle, as shown in figure 1. This in turn enables the service to move from extracting tacit knowledge and creating an initial shared vision to a reliable re-useable knowledge resource.
While these steps are shown in sequence, the speed with which the cycle is completed and repeated means that work is often happening in parallel, with different teams of people working on different steps. The Knowledge Map technology enables and co-ordinates these activities, providing a common language and structure, and ensuring linkages can be made between developments. Each step can also be revisited at any point without negating what has already been achieved.
Policing knowledge maps, developed through this cycle, link appropriate explicit knowledge resources with the map, providing a guide to an individual policing capability or activity, for example relevant legislation or essential information on preserving forensic evidence. Building a policing knowledge map not only changes tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, it creates a series of contexts in which this is available, allowing the provision of knowledge as needed. This infrastructure ensures officers can get what they need, where and when they need it. It helps ensure that they are not hindered by irrelevant information or by having to search for what they need.
Policing knowledge maps are each designed to be accessed by specific users, in particular front-line practitioners (where the highest volume and range of activities are likely to occur). However, the complexity and diversity of policing today means that other perspectives and requirements cannot be ignored.
Centrex defines these different user views by asking the development team to identify the ‘orientation’ they are taking. For street robbery, these different orientations include: capabilities for tackling street robbery; key priorities for tackling street robbery; specific policing roles in responding to street robbery (such as telephone operators handling a call reporting a street robbery); partnerships for tackling street robbery; and, legislation relevant to street robbery. Each orientation determines the starting point and type of journey the respective users will take as they navigate through the content. Some maps incorporate local knowledge resources, added to by individual police forces when the maps are published on their intranet.
A significant principle underlying the policing knowledge maps is the re-use of common components. These range from core capabilities – for example investigation, dealing with victims, interviewing witnesses – to common knowledge resources such as how to effectively calibrate CCTV footage to ensure accurate timing. These core components are re-used in different domains. For instance, the CCTV example is as relevant to street robbery as it is to rape.
The iterative process of building each policing knowledge map means the core components are constantly being used, reviewed and updated. An underpinning relational database ensures that at publication everything is automatically updated in each map wherever it is used. As just a single step in a policing process could either destroy or help build a case leading to a successful conviction – from the correct handling of forensic evidence to the way a witness is interviewed and managed – it is important to continuously improve each component. A feedback button also enables users to pass back ideas for improvement within their force. These are sent to a collator, or directly to the policing knowledge map team at Centrex, who acknowledges and acts on these suggestions as appropriate.
Centrex is able to ensure policing knowledge maps represent the current state of shared understanding about specific aspects of policing. Working with police forces, and in partnership with the Police Information Technology Organisation, it is able to make the maps easily available, either at the crime scene itself, in the station office or in the control room.
Seeing the impact
For those using policing knowledge maps, there is an immediate operational impact of providing access to shared understanding and knowledge as needed. Forces using the maps are able to explore how they might free themselves from traditional roles, in turn broadening responsibilities, re-assigning activities and creating new roles. Officers can be informed and trained more effectively as the core capabilities and knowledge related to their jobs are readily accessible by browsing the policing knowledge maps. This should also lead to greater personal understanding, job enrichment and more opportunities for people to specialise.
Since policing knowledge maps capture the current shared understanding of what works, where and when, they are an opportunity to identify new sustainable strategies and tactics for policing crimes. Forces can share their learning, building on their instinct to innovate, avoiding the need for reinvention.
The impact can also be seen on those individuals involved in developing the maps and facilitating workshops, particularly as individuals contribute their ideas in collaborative sessions with colleagues from across the police service and its partner agencies. The process of engaging officers and specialists with leading consultants in a collaborative process, sharing and building current understanding of policing excellence has meant new learning and the development of a wide range of skills, from facilitation to knowledge processing.
Policing knowledge maps will also be at the heart of the future development of evidence-based practice in policing. By providing a clear framework of re-useable components and applying these in specific contexts, policing knowledge maps create a research framework for identifying evidence. The maps will enable ongoing evaluation and comparison right down to the level of exploring which specific types of behaviour work best.
The UK government is charging Centrex with undertaking the necessary consultative development work to shape codes of practice for policing. In the future, ministers may drive a strong programme to create centrally defined regulations. The policing knowledge map programme of work is critical both in ensuring future codes are evidence-based and in providing ministers with the evidence that a collaborative initiative to define and disseminate excellence can protect the public by providing first-class policing services. If it succeeds, it will show that knowledge management can help reduce the need to increase central regulation.
Chris Mould is chief executive of Centrex. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Adrian Peryer is a transformation consultant at the Salamander Organization. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Centrex, the Centre for Policing Excellence, is the working name of the Central Police Training and Development Authority, an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office and launched in March 2002 to replace the National Police Training organisation. Centrex provides training, operational support, and research and development services to police forces across England and Wales. Centrex is also a major supplier of products and services to law enforcement organisations in more than 60 countries. Chris Mould was appointed chief executive in 2000.
Factfile: The Salamander Organization
The Salamander Organization is a British-based company formed in 1996, with its head office in York, England. The company invented the Knowledge Map concept, and utilised the methods and technology to support Centrex’s development of the policing knowledge maps. Adrian Peryer is a transformation consultant specialising in public services.