posted 1 Mar 2000 in Volume 3 Issue 6
Knowledge on the beat
Despite the strong association of knowledge management with private sector businesses, its principles can easily be translated and applied to organisations in the public domain. In the following article Phil Scutchings explains how SPIKE (Surrey Police Information and Knowledge Environment) has revolutionised the way the Surrey Police Force fights crime.
Knowledge management in the public and private sectors
Most of the well known examples of knowledge management are those found in large multi-national private sector organisations, where the benefits of this activity can be more readily related to improvements in organisational profitability. In the public sector, the justification for investment in knowledge management is more difficult to make because the benefits are harder to quantify, and there is a lack of a single focusing factor such as bottom line profitability. However, with the challenges that face the public sector, (e.g. continuing budget pressures, growing customer expectations and demands, and - particularly within the policing arena - new government legislation such as the Crime and Disorder Act), the ability for organisations to continue functioning in their traditional manner is no longer a viable option in the longer term.
Knowledge and information management becomes an imperative for survival, and the means by which to transform a traditional organisation into a 'virtual' organisation that is able to re-shape itself to respond effectively to future challenges.
At Surrey Police this activity has been underway since 1996, but to understand why a county police force should be at the forefront of knowledge and information management (winning awards from the Smithsonian Institute for Innovation, 1998 eBusiness Award for Collaboration, the IM98 Award for GIS, and the IM99 Award for Mobile Computing), it is necessary to understand something of the nature of the business and how it is undertaken.
The Surrey business model
Surrey Police has a unique policing system that is based upon problem solving, local responsibility and ownership by officers of specific geographic areas of territory, and three levels of policing. The objectives of this system are very simple: to reduce the overall crime rate, and the associated fear of crime, and hence to provide a stable law abiding community. This is achieved not purely by traditional 'level 1/reactive' policing, with the associated flashing blue lights and sirens responding to emergency calls, but also through the use of 'level 2/prevention' activities, using intelligence-led policing, and through 'level 3/reduction' techniques. These latter seek to stop crime occurring in the first place, either through the use of problem-solving policing or by working with partner agencies and local authorities to identify, address and eliminate the causes of crime. Indeed, success at levels 2 and 3 leads to a reduction in activity at level 1, with the consequent fall in resource demands, providing the ability to devote further resources to levels 2 and 3, thus creating a virtuous circle.
That the Surrey policing system is effective is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Surrey currently has the lowest crime rate in England. However, as you move through levels 1, 2 and 3 of the policing model, each becomes more information intensive, and therefore, to continue the development of the policing system in the problem solving arena, it became essential to effectively manage the organisation's information. This requirement, combined with the need to maintain and improve the organisation's performance (and to respond to the budget and legislative pressures that were arising), meant that effective knowledge management was also essential to support the necessary changes in traditional methods of operation and organisational structure.
Knowledge management - basic elements and the 4Ps
The perspective and experiences of Surrey Police have established that there are four elements that interact with each other in the management of knowledge, and four types of knowledge creation and development (the 4Ps). The four key aspects of knowledge management are:
The basic building block of items of structured and unstructured data placed in an appropriate context for the user.
People (skills and experience)
The skills and practical experience that staff have in undertaking the roles in which they are asked to operate, and which they can apply to the information they have obtained or with which they are provided.
The position of the individual in the organisation, both in the hierarchy enabling action to be initiated, and the their ability to influence their peers, juniors, and seniors.
The values and patterns of acceptable behaviour of the organisation; its willingness to encourage or discourage staff to be innovative, and to promulgate best practice based upon collaborative input and practical demonstration.
Of these four elements the ones most amenable to immediate action for knowledge management are information and people (skills & experience). These two form the twin pillars of our knowledge architecture. Personal ability and culture both require long term action. Precisely how much will vary from organisation to organisation depending on the current state of development, but progress with both elements can be accelerated by effective information management and a human resources strategy that is focused on developing competency based job roles.
As well the four elements of knowledge management, there are also the 4 Ps, reflecting the methods of knowledge creation and knowledge types. They are:
This is at the heart of all knowledge creation. It involves the active participation of practitioners of a particular activity and other interested parties (e.g. customers, suppliers, etc.), and uses their experience of the subject to improve, rationalise, change, or eliminate the activity. The participative element feeds to and from the other three Ps, which are constantly interacting, and is analogous to communities of interest.
This is typically the organisation's Policies and Procedures and Standard Operating Practices that would traditionally be documented and made available to all relevant staff. Simply making these accessible electronically to all staff, and structuring and linking them using simple Internet technology provides an invaluable knowledge base that can be continually improved and enhanced when linked to the participative process.
This is the practical experience of knowing that, when a certain set of actions are undertaken, or resources deployed, a given result is the most likely outcome. It is not necessary for the process to be understood for it to be included in the knowledge base. Linked to the participative element, it can be developed and subsequently understood to become part of the procedural or predictive knowledge types.
This involves using the organisation's information and analysis experience to predict that certain events or actions are likely to occur, and subsequently informing the person(s) occupying the appropriate role(s), for them to take action. This can be developed and enhanced from any of the participative, practical, or procedural types
SPIKE (Surrey Police Information and Knowledge Environment)
SPIKE was created to address the immediate business requirements, as outlined earlier, and to ensure future organisational flexibility. The name is not just a useful acronym, it actually incorporates the fundamentals of what is being provided. The focus is on information and knowledge, each being a separate entity to be addressed in the most appropriate manner. It is an environment, not a system or a piece of technology. Rather, it is a holistic enterprise-wide environment that is the means by which all staff access and use the organisation's information and knowledge.
In simple terms SPIKE has the objective of providing the right information for the right person in the right place, at the right time. In practical terms it comprises the following components:
From the user perspective SPIKE appears as an intranet presented through a browser interface. The front page of SPIKE provides a standard template for all information presentation, designed to make navigation simple and consistent. What is actually presented to each user will depend upon who they are and where they are. As these two items of information are known by the system whenever a user logs on to SPIKE, it is possible to tailor and personalise the functions they undertake, and the information they access.
Primary sources of information presented through SPIKE are:
- Operational, which will be covered in more detail later
- Support, which provides the simple tasks that all staff undertake
themselves, e.g. expenses
- News, which provides access to all internal and external news sources,
e.g. press releases, in house magazines
- Divisions and Departments, reflecting the organisational structure with
each business unit publishing and maintaining its own information
- Publications, which is an electronic library of the organisation's
- The Telephone Directory, which provides dynamic searching on a wide range of information sets besides simply telephone numbers. Each member of staff is responsible for maintaining their own set of information.
Each business unit is responsible for producing and maintaining its own set of information on the Intranet, using the standard templates for presentation and tool sets for publishing, which are provided as part of SPIKE. Overall control and maintenance of information on the intranet is exercised by a small central team that ensures the quality of presentation of the information and its currency.
One of the fundamental objectives of SPIKE was to deliver to front-line operational officers the ability to access relevant information in real time, which has been achieved through the creation of an operational page. This page, only available through the security system to operational officers, provides a number of tasks that they can undertake as part of their everyday activities. Typically this would be:
- Accessing incident information in response to a 999 call
- Checking on name and address details via the voters register of an
individual stopped when on patrol
- Checking firearms registration details for an address or individual prior
to visiting premises
- Checking on the duties rota for their own duties in the future, or the
availability of staff on duty with particular skills
- Accessing the Police National Legal Database for validating a potential
charge, or seeking case law examples
- Accessing briefing sheets at the start of each duty to inform themselves
about individuals or vehicles under investigation, or about whom information
is required, and about incidents and crimes that have occurred since they were
last on duty
- Accessing the Problem Solving Policing database to update the tasks they have been allocated as part of a problem solving initiative, and checking on new tasks they have been allocated.
The incident, voters, firearms, and duties tasks all directly access the live operational systems to provide the information, while the briefing sheets are continuously maintained by intelligence officers across the organisation.
Impact of SPIKE
It is undeniable that SPIKE has achieved its original objective. It has seen significant changes in the way that our staff approach their work. It has also exceeded expectations in empowering staff through easy access to information, and the ability for them to develop new ways of working based upon their own practical experience, and using the features and facilities provided by SPIKE. It has, as expected, acted as a catalyst for organisational change. For example, it has presenting new challenges to the HR function. There is now a need to move towards a competency based approach to job roles, and to middle management who now find that their traditional ways of working are being challenged. This challenge comes both from customers of the service, and staff providing the service, who can now see many alternative ways of undertaking the work.
We already have two knowledge applications developed by users. The first is a Problem Solving Policing database (the practical knowledge type) which was produced and piloted over a period of six months, and is now deployed enterprise wide as an essential part of the policing system. The second is an analytical system (the predictive knowledge type) for identifying the probability of a known individual perpetrating a crime. This application is already being used in its initial form and is currently being produced as a set of components to be integrated into a number of investigatory activities.
The potential for SPIKE in the future is enormous. The only limiting factor will be the organisation's imagination and vision of the way in which it can be used. There is much work to be done in developing the skills and experience of our staff in a planned and co-ordinated way; in changing the organisational structures and culture so that all staff are comfortable with the empowerment that knowledge and information management brings. We must also integrate more closely with our partners, suppliers and the community, in order to capitalise fully on the capabilities that 'virtualisation' brings with it.
In practical terms, SPIKE will see many enhancements over the next 12 months. Multimedia capabilities will provide access to operational radio channels through the browser, to voice mail integrated into messaging, to telephony, and to video conferencing. SPIKE will move out of the office (in the form of ROVER -Remote Office and VEhicle Environment) into vehicles, staff homes, partners offices, residents' homes, and to the street, as the second stage of virtualisation to deliver information to the place where our staff are most effective.
The last three years have been an exciting and exhilarating time in putting down the foundations for the future, and have in the process provided significant benefits to the organisation. Having done this, the speed at which new developments can be produced and deployed promises further excitement and benefits with a clear path forward for the future.
Phil Scutchings is Director of Information Services at Surrey Police. He can be contacted at:email@example.com