Monday, 29 April 2013

All in the mind? (Is social media helping reduce the fear of crime, or not?)

What I want to focus on in this blog is whether social media (in all of its forms) is helping to reduce the problem of the fear of crime. But first some background:

While the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 was in committee stages, I mounted a one-man campaign to have reducing not just actual crime & disorder as the aim for local community safety partnerships but also the fear of crime & disorder written in as a statutory aim. I did not succeed but I still wonder how the UK would be different had my campaign been successful.

For we still have a significant gap between the public’s experience of crime and their fear of it. As an excellent article in the Guardian last week pointed out:
Two thirds of respondents to the British Crime Survey (now the Crime Survey for England and Wales, or CSEW) consistently say that they believe crime has increased a little or a lot over the past decade.
Do read the whole article. It has some excellent references and asks some important questions.

Fear of crime is a large problem, in my view, for several reasons including making some people reluctant to leave their homes, the way it twists the debates around policing & crime, and the ways in which certain groups of people are demonised.

But to return to the question: is social media is helping this situation or not. (I guess I fear that it could be making things worse.) I posed this question last Saturday to a the BlueLightCamp unconference (hastag #ukblc13) and a most useful discussion was had.

(FYI: the camp was a collection of people involved with the emergency services who came together to talk about the use of social media in these areas. It was a great day, by the way! And big thanks to those who came along to the session I ran.)

With that discussion on social media and the fear of crime, I was left with a series of questions:
  • How can we design the social media space to reduce the opportunities for fear of crime to be made worse and increase the chances that people will feel safer instead?
  • In other words: are there principles from the ‘designing out crime’ practices in the real world that could be imported into the social media space?
  • Can the idea that people generally feel more assured, confident and safe if they see a uniformed officer in their community (and I know this is up for hot debate), be applied to social media – a sort of virtual 'hi-vis' police presence?
  • How much is known about the full impact of police tweeting, blogging etc: are people now better informed and assured or are the public now even more fearful? (Has any research been done on this?)
  • Are there ways of putting messages out there that will narrow the gap between the perceived and actual incidence of crime and disorder (and ways that make the gap bigger?)
  • Is some policing social media unwittingly making things worse for the public?
  • If we take the view that much of the mainstream traditional media still focus on crime reporting that magnifies fear, how should the social media protagonists in the policing world respond?
  • Although I am not suggesting that the fear of crime can drive people to suicide (can it?), in the ‘real world’ there are signs put up on (say) Clifton Suspension Bridge and at the ends of station platforms offering people help. Is there a social media equivalent that could help people reduce any distress about the fear of crime?
  • Should Neighbourhood Watch organise a social media branch? 
  • What do you think might be done? (All ideas welcome!)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

It is performance management Jim, but not as we know it

I have read two rather excellent pieces this morning about managing and improving performance in the public services.

First I came across this piece by Mike Ledwidge entitled "Why has it all gone wrong within our public services". It is a bit of a polemical rant containing some ideas that I would not support* but its main thrust that the public services have been failed dismally by politicians and managers who think performance can be managed by measuring outputs is well made. To cite one paragraph (but do read the whole article):
You CANNOT performance measure a ‘complex system’ by outputs. Now if you do not understand EXACTLY what that sentence means let us hope you are not involved in anything to do with the management of our public services. Sadly we now have thousands of senior public servants who think they do know what they are doing with targets and measurement, and clearly they don’t. Complex systems have more than one purpose. If you measure the police on arrests and detections, any prevention they do will muck that up. If you ‘performance measure’ on crime reduction, officers will find ways to not record crimes. The awful tale of the rape unit in Southwark trying to improve their stats is an example of the result of government pressure and targets. 
And then later, @TheCustodySgt pointed me towards an excellent piece by @SimonJGuilfoyle entitled "Panic!"  In his article, Simon uses his long experience of such matters to highlight how managers often lurch into action based on an erroneous understanding of performance variation. Again, please read the piece as it contains a delightful cartoon which makes the point very clearly:
The post is about the unintended consequences that can occur when managers draw erroneous conclusions about data
As regular readers know, this is a subject I have mentioned before in several places. I wrote this recently on another blog which has many links.

So for the uninitiated politician and manager charged with the responsibility of improving public service performance and getting quarts out of pint pots... here are some pointers:
  • Achieving social outcomes (the improvements in society that we pay the public services to produce) is mighty complex: don't even think you can boil things to simple linear or transactional 'customer' relationships!
  • Everything varies: the weather, leaves in the forest, need for social care and disturbances on drunk Saturday nights...
  • But, there are patterns in these variations which need to and can be understood (well mostly): public services need to be resourced and organised around these variations
  • Measurements & targets change that which they are measuring and targeting (and not just in the way that a watched pot never boils!)
  • As Deming famously said "drive out fear": if your system of performance management contains even a wisp of fear, people will do weird and unexpected things that are not what you intended
I could go on...

But please, just read some work by DemingChecklandOhno or Seddon. And please (please!) stop wasting precious public resources on fluffy, vanity systems of performance management that are mostly "sound and fury signifying nothing!"

e.g. the comment "At one stage we were 20,000 teachers short, and some have been replaced by people who, like some doctors, are not easy to understand" which is an unnecessary xenophobic swipe, it seems to me