This blog is a summary of my talk at the recent policing social citizens unconference – you can see the webcasts here and catch up with other blogposts as well and I really recommend going to take a look – lots of great presentations but Prof. John Grieve and Peter O’Reilly from GMFRS were stand out for me. This was an event about community engagement and wanted to put on an event which properly blended online and offline participation. Thanks to huge amounts of work by @huxley06 @thebluelocust and @Mutual_gain – plus great support from @sashataylor of @Bluelightcamp I think we really showed what can be done to bring online and offline together. I think it was also how a demonstration of how good use of digital creates more not less community. Finally – it helped massively that we also had a great venue thanks to sponsorship from the marvellous Greater Manchester fire team.
One intention for the event was to explore what a shift to more ‘social’ behaviours online, shifting boundaries around privacy and the way in which our media creation and consumption behaviours have changed with the advent of digital and networked technologies and what this might mean for Police and other Bluelight services. There are two other effects which need to be considered as well – a move towards networked rather than hierarchal systems or organisation and also the openness and transparency that is increasingly an expectation of life online.
This is a very timely debate. Alex Marshall from the College of Policing recently asserted that over half of the calls passed to front line officers originated from social media and this is only going to increase if we don’t take action in some way.
Rather than being a debate about more efficient processes I think this raises the question as to what kind of society we want to have online. How do we want to treat each other, how do we want to behave and how do we police our own behaviours on the basis of our values so that the police don’t have to do this for us? I think there is a real question as to how the police, local councillors and citizens work together to create the kind of culture and behaviours online that we feel reflect our values. The question then is how can we work to shape this collectively rather than simply reacting to it?
There are other reasons for thinking about how we police social citizens and why we can’t simply translate offline behaviours to the online world. These are context collapse and co-production.
In the physical world we present different views of our selves to different audiences in different places. It is not actually that difficult to keep these separate and anyway, as a society we are accepting of the fact that our behaviour in the pub is (or should be!) different from our behaviour in a formal setting. Online we confront two issues; firstly its extremely difficult to separate from different personas and secondly we don’t all agree what kind of spaces we are in – is Facebook the pub or the tearoom? What we get is a collapse of context and persona in one noisy space and we lose the ability to judge what behaviour is appropriate and inappropriate – we need to relearn this skill.
Co-production can mean many things but I define it as finding solutions with people – not just codesigning process but actually working together to addresses an issue. In many ways community policing can be seen as co-productive but in a more transparent and open world – and that is another quality of a digital and networked society – this is not enough. We need to open up the underlying model and blur the boundaries between organisations and processes if we are to get the best out of more networked behaviours.
The networked individual
What does this mean? If we accept these two points then what are talking about is reflecting the fact that we will both have an operational – perhaps a surveillance based relationship with the same people who we are reaching out to via community engagement and in the middle trying to create more co-productive relationships. Its not new but it is messy as all of the ambiguities which have previously been kept separate and managed through process are now colliding. Good things can come of this but we can’t control it with hierarchal ways of working. I am thinking about this in terms of a continuum of relationship which looks a bit like this:
People move back and forth between different personas and states and our way of working needs to be networked to reflect the networked individuals who make up our communities.
Its not normal
Nationally, police forces have embraced social media. We have tweeting PCs, police dogs, and helicopters. We have Chief Constables like Lynne Owens, Giles York and Simon Coles engaging authentically online and we have a huge range of officers opening up what they are doing to a digital audience. My fear is that we are still try and to treat social media as another, albeit more effective, communication channel and this means we are not addressing how our societal values translate into behaviours and community online. I am asking that we dig a little deeper and consider how you need to change the underlying operating model in order to take advantage of the disruptive change brought by digital and networked technologies and the networked individuals who are emerging.