I have had some really good discussions this week about engagement. Whilst this might come as a surprise to my wife, defining what engagement is, and what it is in terms of social media is an interesting question.
Thanks go here to Sasha Taylor, Mike Alderson, Nick Keane, Andrew Fielding and Gavin Stephens for the debate on Twitter. The debate started innocently enough with a question from Mike on whether there was an agreed service definition of what social media ‘engagement’ means & what it delivers?
Community engagement has been a key part of policing for many years now, and is tied closely to neighbourhood policing. The best ‘offline’ definition of engagement is probably from a report done by Andy Myhill: (Thanks to Nick for identifying the original source).The process of enabling the participation of citizens and communities in policing at their chosen level, ranging from providing information and reassurance, to empowering them to identify and implement solutions to local problems and influence strategic priorities and decisions. The police, citizens, and communities must have the willingness, capacity and opportunity to participate. The Police Service and partner organisations must have a responsibility to engage and, unless there is a justifiable reason, the presumption is that they must respond to community input. This definition has been picked up and used within the excellent local policing and confidence resource from NPIA. The element that interests me for social media engagement is enabling citizen participation in policing at their chosen level. Social media is excellent for this – people can choose from a number of levels of engagement:
- None – I won’t follow you or read any updates
- Passive – I will receive updates and read them
- Conversation- I will read and respond to your updates online
- Participation – I will interact in the real world in some way
- Activist- I will get involved, and promote your message
- Volunteer – I will use my time in the real world to assist you in some way
- Co-Designer – We can work together to achieve common goals and real world outcomes.
Many of you may recognise that this is a loose interpretation of a model called the ‘Ladder of Citizen Participation‘, which Andrew mentioned in our Twitter discussion. He used a great turn of phrase – “I would look to increase comfyness of public”. This is exactly what the ladder is all about – increasing the comfort of the public at lower levels encourages them to move up the ladder. The question for many public services (including the police) is whether some of those top rungs are as welcoming and available as we might want.
The debate about social media engagement, what it is and what we want from it is a difficult one, but one that goes to the heart of why we do social media. Without a common understanding across police forces, we will end up with 43 different definitions of what we are doing with social media and engagement. As Sasha put it “43 different definitions causes friction, bad feeling, waste of resources/money. Better to do collaborative approach.”
It seems to me that police force engagement with social media itself ranges across a ladder of levels – some are ignoring it, some using it for conversation, others embracing it across a number of areas. I have yet to see much evidence of forces using it for working together with the public and other local agencies to achieve common goals and real world outcomes.