The consultation process should aim to maximise the opportunities of local residents and others (e.g. businesses, school children etc.) to make their concerns heard and be taken into account before the organisation makes a final decision. Skilful communication is an essential element of consultation.
Do we just consult on issues that are easy or controversial to the public for us – budget setting, local priorities, station closures – or is it time to look at widening the impact that the public and key partners have on policing?
Which traditional methods still have their place?
The NPIA local policing and confidence guide talks about Access, Influence, Interventions and Answers as the way to build a successful engagement with local communities:
Access – If people can’t access their local police easily, they won’t be engaged, by definition. There needs to be a local understanding of the structure and working relationships within neighbourhood teams. Need for continuity of staff and training for both police staff and for local volunteers.
Influence – Police forces need to understand the impact of issues traditionally seen as ‘low level’ on feelings of public safety. Involving local people in setting priorities will not only improve people’s experience of contact with the police, but also give them influence over what matters locally. Done well it all leads to improved confidence.
Interventions – As the last entry in this series said – stop making all the decisions. Local communities need to arrive at solutions through true joint problem solving. Solving long standing problems will improve confidence in policing. Solving them together is easier and cheaper, builds community skills and sustainable change, and also improves confidence. Finally, once the foundations are laid, there is a need for joint tasking of police and local volunteers and organisations to improve the effectiveness of any actions.
Answers – Feeding back information about action and outcomes to community members is vital so people know what happened. There is a need for marketing and a variety of communication methods, as not everyone will be online (or read the local paper for that matter).
New ways of working using social media are a great way of widening all four areas. Have a look at this video of a Twitter based app by Runnymede beat for one way of giving access and feedback to the public. Virtual ward panels as covered in a previous blog also allow real influence, not just lip service.
Old style drafty village hall consultation still has it’s place…but social media (Twitter, video, online questionnaires and meetings, Facebook etc.) has started to make this seem as outdated as the fax or teletype.