Social media success in policing in Surrey, UK
The demonstrator we built in Surrey is successful in every respect against its original aims and confirms that downloads of applications for mobile phones considerably increase engagement between the police and the public in our communities far beyond the technical social media savvy user.
"There has been a lot of bad publicity recently about Twitter and policing and today we can turn all that on its head. What we are trying to do with Surrey Police Beat is to make visible what their local officers are doing for them on a day to day basis. It also allows the public to comment, so it is a two-way flow and it is more dynamic that anything we have had before." Mark Rowley, Chief Constable, Surrey Police
Furthermore we have found that the adoption of the technology has been much easier at the more junior levels and at the most senior levels where there is no resistance to the technologies once the benefits (listed below) to their job role or to overall capability is understood.
- Engagement provides Access and opportunity to Influence and Intervene at low cost
- Answers provide value
- Engagement saves officer time and reinforces presence
- Answers are amplified inexpensively online in real-time
- Governance is automatic, officers cannot send inappropriate updates
- Gives local officers access to the same tools that the public already take for granted
The rollout we are undertaking in Surrey allows us to take the learning from the demonstrator and expand its capability with much more engaging material and functionality.
Why then, is it difficult to extend this success beyond one police force in the UK? Some tweets and social interactions by the police still show breathtaking naivety and lack of governance and comprehension so there is clearly a need unless the police really truly believe that crowing about numbers of followers post riots shows best use of social? Or that pushing outbound only messages engages with an audience?
Institutional resistance to new technology and change in UK policing
An answer perhaps comes from the unique experience we have had in the last 18 months as we talk to police force staff of all ranks all over the country. We have learned a huge amount that is of great value in taking the agenda of the pervasive use of social media agenda forward and it has become clear that the underlying approach that has been successfully demonstrated should be extended beyond community engagement to other aspects of operational policing including real-time intelligence, the policing of protests and after the fact investigations.
We have had meetings with many key forces across the UK to offer our low cost platform for just such capabilities and repeatedly hear that they think that they have already cracked the effective use of social media or that they think it is not relevant to them but in reality we believe this is not the case.
Outside of Surrey Police we have mostly encountered what we can only describe as institutional resistance in middle and senior management in denial about the fundamental change in two way engagement that social media demands from communicators and management. These managers either do not seem to have the capability and understanding in place to accept inevitable change or are unable to get beyond their own local environments and issues and see that they must.
A major issue appears on the surface to be cost. The mobile devices we used for Surrey Police are now about £50. Cost of hardware is simply not an issue. Cost of software is not an issue either given the proven return on investment for using the software that we have established in business cases we have helped police forces to write. We simply do not believe that cost is an issue. Yes there is a cost to having a profesisonally suported software solution. No it is not exorbitant. It is excellent value for money from a small UK startup. Cost is being used as a defensive issue avoidance technique.
Another major resistor is 'DIY' - We have people who can do this, I am often told. In the world of the web it has often been the case that hobbyists have been able to deliver impressive solutions. But this is not the original web. This is a fusion of cloud compuing, mobile devices and social collaboration and media. It affects peoples job roles and their interaction with the community. There is a lot at stake. We happen to be experts in the technology and a track record in building professional mobile applications. We are now also experts in how it can be successfully adopted in policing. The question I ask people who say they can do this themselves is 'Why would you write your own Word Processor or build your own car?' There are a lot of good reasons why you might but cost is never near the top. Self gratification and sense of purpose might be important but in budget constrained times there is no room for that. If ost is an issue then DIY rules itself out right away.
Lastly and hopefully subject to change given the positive reaction from the Home Office and others to our solution for neighbourhood engagement. There has been a lack of endorsement for change and technology from stakeholder organisations like The Home Office, HMIC, ACPO, CEOP and the NPIA is making it extremely difficult to get past this blockage. Police forces all over the UK seem to be unable to take any kind of decisions about using this technology. Surrey Police again being the welcome exception.
We happen to think that there is no more imporant imperative for UK policing than to get good at social engagement now using mobile phones and social media.
In order to get good however the first steps need to be taken.
You can't get good at something until you get better at it.
You can't get better unless you embrace and adopt it.
You can't adopt it if you are in denial about the benefits across the whole of the workforce.
We urge other forces to follow Surrey's lead.
You dont want to be struggling to understand what is going on in the online community when the community is discussing you and your actions and their outcomes.