Government are pushing for greater involvement of communities in the issues that affect them. Whether this is through improved accountability (proposals such as Police and Crime Commissioners elected by local people) or through greater awareness (release of public data such as crime maps or public body’s spending information) or through the public getting more involved (the slightly beleaguered Big Society approach).
One area that shows promise is use of technology – social media in particular has received a large amount of publicity and many public bodies – including police forces and senior police officers – have started to adopt these technologies to improve their communication with the public, and the engagement of the public with them.
There are a number of trends in the technology world at the moment that could be harnessed to improve public services, and within policing there are two main objectives that could be served by improving how these trends are used.
The trends are mainly self explanatory (with one possible exception):
Mobile – technology used to be either powerful (desktop computers or for the really old amongst us mainframes) or portable (mobile phones) but not both. In the past year or so this has changed radically, and smartphones and iPads etc are both powerful and portable. We are just starting to see how this will change people’s use of technology, and their expectations of their public services.
Social – everything has a social context now, Whether it is sharing minute details of every day life on Facebook, applying for jobs via LinkedIn, or breaking news on Twitter by challenging established media outlets, the very concept of friends and professional networks has changed forever.
Data – the government is keen to release public data to the public, but the bigger impact is in the ability for people to take and use the data in ways that the original authors hadn’t considered.
Gamification – there is a growing trend to use social media, data, and mobile technology to create ‘fun’ applications such as Foursquare (checking into real world locations to win badges) and Feckr (an application that allows you to secretly and anonymously “tag” people with messages). Gamification is important as it provides a ‘hook’; a reason for people to use an app, and it can be a very powerful motivator – one offline example is the Japanese urinals that reward ‘careful aimers’ with videos. The serious result is less damage and reduced cleaning costs.
There are two objectives I selected here; you may have others.
Engagement is important for a number of reasons I have blogged about before. In a nutshell a more engaged and confident public is more likely to report crime, provide community intelligence that helps the police solve crime and be a witness to allow the courts to punish criminals. Engagement is anything but ‘pink and fluffy’ as some seem to think!
Behavioural change is important in policing terms as simple measures can often reduce criminal or anti-social behaviour. The changes could be to challenge anti-social behaviour, to pick up the phone and report crimes, to secure property and valuables, to use sites such as immobilise.com to mark property etc. Whilst I would love to live in a society where none of this is necessary, the truth is that we don’t (and such a society probably never existed).
The challenge is how to take these messy emerging trends, and make practical use of them in a policing context. That is how can each of the trends improve engagement, and / or change people’s behaviour to improve community safety (and ultimately reduce crime)?
When I get a chance I will look at how some examples of technology hit (and miss) these trends and objectives, and look at areas for improvement.