I have been fortunate this week to be involved in some research, discussions and a brain storming session that colleagues in Sussex Police are doing around what the Big Society means to policing (Work led by @DCCGilesYork and @ChiefSuptSmithand involving a range of colleagues including @SC2221 and @Insp_Lyons (check them all out on Twitter)).
Just to refresh minds, the Big Society is the label which describes the Government’s approach to making society fairer and more inclusive and public services more open and responsive. It is described in a recent Young Foundation publication ‘Investing in Social Growth: can the Big Society be more than a slogan?’as ‘a loose and rather baggy concept’ and it’s true that there are almost as many views and definitions of what it is and isn’t as there are people in the room, together with an equal number of views about whether it’s a good thing, a bad thing or just the latest thing!
Discussions about the Big Society currently seem to mainly focus on four areas: power, transparency, volunteering and social inclusion, and information and data.
My belief is that, at the tactical level in policing, this will translate into Forces and BCU’s, maybe unintentionally, focusing their Big Society efforts on granting greater limited citizen access and involvement to their services, data and priority setting. Granting this ‘greater limited access’ will be seen as success and there is merit, in and of itself, to this. Anything which improves community involvement in public service creation and delivery, is to be welcomed. However, this will truly only be limited success and will merely serve to reinforce the unconscious, but widely held, belief that policing is the business of the police and that they should be the arbiters of how far, fast and deep access and involvement can be ‘granted’ by them.
True success, at the strategic level, will come with the realisation that policing is about co- production of desirable societal outcomes, that delivery of the outcome is the goal (not perfection of an internal process or protection of organisational interest) and that the illusion of control is simply that, an illusion.
This will require different skills sets, a recognition of a mixed delivery approach, at all levels, which embraces everything from direct service delivery to commissioning, flexible support, admin and finance systems, and a senior leadership culture which is innovative and entrepreneurial, takes a longer term, caretaker, perspective and is less ‘organisationally nervous’.
Success will come with a bold approach which embraces openness and challenges every shibboleth and sacred cow. Organisational timidity will be the visible hallmark of those who see this agenda as the next thing in a long line of next things and not, as it is, a reflection of a fundamental change in the expectations of the society we serve.
The building blocks of success are already available, albeit potentially tarnished in the eyes of this administration by their association with the previous Government. Total Place provides the focus on location and localism that is inherent in Big Society thinking, and the Compact provides an established framework for partnership working relationships and delivery. Part of the trick for delivering Big Society will be to explore how the police and policing continue to find the best strategic and tactical fit within this framework.
FYI – A good briefing on the themes, policies, structures and people driving Big Society thinking can be found here