Getting Engaged

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.

Engagement Ring - Image by David and Sarah Gasson on Flick'r

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.
Ladder - photo by PHOTO.WORKS on Flick'rThis 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.

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3 Responses to Getting Engaged

  1. An interesting post on microparticipation from Dave Briggs that perhaps goes some way to addressing the point in my last paragraph.

  2. Richard Stratton says:

    Justin, it was an interesting debate to catch up on after the event (does that make me Passive on the ladder? not a position I am used to!). My thoughts on your final two paragraphs.

    Is it not ever the case that across the service there is 43 approaches to the same problem? (An exaggeration I know, but indulge me). And with something as knew and exciting (and worrying and potentially troublesome) as social media I think that, for now, it is right and appropriate for there to be different approached. Indeed, there are probably more than 43 approaches as some forces take a different approach internally across divisions and individuals. For example, I was with an ACC Ops the other day who didn’t know that one of her NHP teams tweeted whilst others didn’t. And I think that, for now, this is fine.

    Moving forward, as social media becomes increasingly prevalent and better understood, will there be a need to conform and agree a single method of use for the service? I sincerely hope not as I think it would increase the “corporatisation” and destroy the closeness and proximity that current police users have with their community. Take for example the more prevalent tweeters and bloggers (gavthecop, SuptPayne, StuHyde, Nick Gargan, your chief, Lincs PA and Kent PA); I feel I know more about their issues and concerns now than would have ever have been possible a year ago. But their approach is entirely individual ranging from highly personal through to business focussed and I would hate to see that level of communication formalised and become hiden behind procedures and policies.

    Therefore, given social media’s infancy and the varying approaches to its adoption and use it will be hard to show how it is used at a local level to engage with communities (especially when not all of the community are tuned in). However, there are some good local examples, take for instance my local ward councillor Lynne Sparks who treats Twitter and Facebook as alternative access points to her front desk.

  3. Roger Nield says:

    Hmm only 43 definitions? With the onset of ultra-local blogging and engagement opportunities we may discover there are thousands of ways of understanding engagement especially if organisations are reaching out to and supporting community run websites, being re-tweeted or Facebooked.

    This is a very useful and timely debate! Thank you.

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