This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pineapples, PCCs and Innovation

Bernard Rix has recently published the CoPaCC thematic on PCCs and Innovation. You can read the full piece here. Below is my contribution to the thematic.

How do you prepare and eat a fresh pineapple?

For years (decades even), I have chopped off the top & bottom. Then I hack off large portions of the outer layer to avoid any of the spiky bits remaining and then impaling themselves on the back of my throat (is my fear!). But every time I have done this, I have hated throwing away so much of the juicy flesh of the fruit. Then I had an (innovative) thought a few weeks ago: why not eat it like a melon? In other words, having cut out the hard core, eat from the middle out towards the skin. You end up wasting far less of the pineapple.

It is a technique in development, I might add and one I am yet to perfect. And I don’t claim to have invented it: since my ‘discovery’, I have met people who have always eaten pineapples this way. But I did not know. For me, this is an innovation that has been staring me in the face for a very long time. I just did not see it.

So how many other innovations in policing and community justice are also staring us in the face and we are just not seeing them? Or perhaps people are but feel abashed to propose them? Maybe for good reason, people don’t want to suggest that there are better ways to do business? (If you want to know of one classic example, just read the biography of Ignaz Semmelweiss who, as a young doctor in Austria, dared to suggest the innovation that his medical colleagues ought to wash their hands to prevent women in labour and their new born infants from dying…)

I have always contended that the role of the PCC is mainly a leadership not a managerial one. In this respect, PCCs have huge amounts of soft power (as well as the hard powers of budget setting and Chief Constable appointing etc.) The question is: how many PCCs are using this soft leadership to foster greater innovation in the face of criminals who can be rather good at it as well as rising levels of concern about justice, community safety and anti-social behaviour? I hope this thematic put together by CoPaCC, will go some way towards uncovering examples of good leadership practice in this field. In other words, how many PCCs are really using their ‘pineapples’ to drive up citizen value and drive down costs?

Into this debate, let me offer a few suggestions at what I hope this thematic will highlight. It is my hope that Bernard will discover the following:
  • PCCs who are not just talking about innovation, but also doing something about it! And by ‘doing’ I mean taking action and seeing some substantive results come through. Innovation is not a theoretical exercise: it is a practical one.
  • PCCs who understand that innovation is not just about information technology or giving tablets to frontline officers & staff, or all other systems that go ping… Innovation can happen everywhere: even in the kitchen.
  • PCCs who are sponsoring innovation through (perhaps) innovation awards to staff and officers who develop new and fresh ways to beat crime, engage with the public and help people feel more safe. I am envisaging an award ceremony where people are praised and honoured for their ideas and innovations. 
  • PCCs who are paying attention to making suggestion schemes work. I well remember talking to a former Deputy Chief Constable of Durham Police who told me that he considered the time he spent every morning, personally reading and often directly responding to ‘suggestion box’ ideas from colleagues to be the most useful part of his day in achieving a change of culture in the force. 
  • PCCs who are putting in place Small & Medium Sized Enterprise (SME) friendly procurement. I am sure that Stephen Allot, the Crown Representative for SMEs in the Cabinet Office would be able to tell them just how much taxpayer value there is be procured from innovative SMEs. Or maybe PCCs who are self-assessing their procurement strategy against the Cabinet Office’s SME friendly checklist (which I helped to write, as it happens).
  • PCCs who are taking action to hold their Chief Constables to account for making sure that their whistle-blowing policies are up to scratch, that they have robust methods for analysing complaints and feedback from the public and that there is an increasing emphasis on developing organisational cultures which foster creativity and innovation. (I well remember hearing about one police service that was analysing its ‘blame culture’. During one meeting, a senior officer banged the table and said, with a wry grin, “but I want to know: whose fault was this blame culture in the first place…!?”)
  • PCCs who are listening, really listening to what the public needs and wants: and who are prepared to dig into what they are saying in order to find some threads of innovation. The ‘ah hah’ moments can just as easily come from outside as from inside the organisation. (But you won’t get these moments in starchy public meetings with chairs lined up like soldiers.)
  • PCCs who are measuring innovation: recording progress, learning about just what it takes to foster sustainable innovation and broadcasting these lessons. 
PCCs have a huge opportunity to make a difference here. And I really hope that the sterling work being done by CoPaCC to share and promote good practice will be heeded by adaptable PCCs. PCCs themselves are an innovation in leadership and governance.

Are PCCs fulfilling their potential and leading their police services and wider criminal justice systems to achieve even more innovation?

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