Locally identified solutions and practices: a critical realist investigation into the geographies of social innovation in the context of neighbourhood policing

Locally identified solutions and practices: a critical realist investigation into the geographies of social innovation in the context of neighbourhood policing
Timothy Curtis

ESCP-7EMES-04 | Timothy Peter Curtis 2019


In 2012, in response to a request from a senior officer of Northamptonshire Police to learn how to ‘do intensive engagement better ’, the author rapidly developed a toolkit of activities, a consistent and repeatable set of tasks for PCSOs and their supporting team to gather a group of interested and engaged members of the public, understand the crime and contributing social problems and develop sustainable interventions to improve public safety. This toolkit (Curtis and Bowkett, 2014) was developed over six months with PCSOs and all the PCSOs in the county were given a day’s training in its use. Thereafter, the PCSOs were given the opportunity to field test the toolkit in a variety of situations in the county.

The purpose of this PhD research is to refine the toolkit, from being rapidly ‘cobbled together’ from professional experience, to a more substantive and authoritative method of social innovation through:

  • Investigating the background of development of the tool, working back into the theoretical antecedents of the work
  • Reviewing the pilots of the toolkit that the PCSOs developed
  • Reviewing a wider set of theoretical tools and empirical evidence.

The primary focus of social innovation theory and literature has been the evaluation of the social innovation, with limited work undertake on developing ‘theories of change’ and ‘design-thinking’. In social policy too, it seems that most of the focus of academic research and professional consulting is on the evaluation of the social policy intervention rather than the design of the intervention itself. An outcome of this research could be to flip the evaluation of this toolkit for police officers into a toolkit for the design of social innovation design, and into supporting improvements in the design of public policy interventions. The generalizability of this toolkit, designed and tested in the community safety environment, could be in the design of any social intervention, from a social enterprise, to an international development project to a public policy.

At a time when local authorities, health trusts and development agencies, who are partners to the Police in any given locality, have experienced severe spending cuts, the complexity of reducing crime and the causes of crime become ever more ‘wicked’. The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners and Panels in 2012 as elected representatives in policing at a regional level also highlighted the challenges of providing locally sensitive police services. This research project was conducted through the University of Northampton in conjunction with Northamptonshire Police that primarily aimed to specifically target and reduce crime rates within specific areas (identified through the Jill Dando Institute Vulnerable Localities Index (Tompson, 2012) through more effective and sustainable policing methods.

The Police were once viewed as the only authoritative group that should or could tackle crime and promote safety in the community. Today however, this has changed as the whole public sector is increasingly developing a new partnership culture between groups and organisations. It is also becoming increasingly clear that community citizens themselves are a crucial part in reducing crime (Myhill and Quinton, 2011). Effective community action can best be achieved through greater levels of ‘citizen control’ which involves residents and the police working together along with other groups involved in that community. (Garland, 1996) recognises that preventing and controlling crime is difficult for the government alone, instead others must be made more aware that they also hold the responsibilities in order to persuade people to change their behaviour and practices, with what he calls the ‘responsibilization’ strategy. This therefore involves a comprehensive process of community engagement through the local residents of the area. This is essential as it allows residents to become actively engaged so that they can develop their awareness and better understand the issues affecting their community in order to better communicate and develop new opinions, perceptions and skills that will assist the police.
Ledwith (Ledwith, 2011) suggests that practitioners are attempting community engagement but they still have little understanding of why they are doing it and how to do this effectively. The Police however need to be guided on the processes that they must undertake for successful results thus a toolkit was devised that contained a step-by-step guide along with definitions and analysis that explains the way through each process individually. This toolkit outlines a set of activities that can be led by PCSOs to shift away from locally identified priorities to developing, in collaboration with community members, Locally Identified Solutions and Practices (LISPs). This approach is a response to the observation that there continues to be a mismatch between the community’s perceptions of crime, and actual crime incidents. It also further reinforces the Peelian principle that the police are citizens in uniform and therefore their decision-making processes within localities should be made with all groupings of residents, rather than ‘on behalf of’. The activities outlined in the toolkit are designed to help the PCSO investigate and thoroughly analyse problems in the locality, with the active involvement of residents and other community stakeholders, in order to arrive at mutually agreed solutions and practices that reduce the conditions for crime. The objective of the toolkit was to equip PCSOs and members of the public to work together towards mutual solutions. It is not a process owned by the Police, but rather a way for the Police to help organise other stakeholders to help achieve their goals. It is built around a core strategy of ‘rich picturing’, which allows communities of which PCSOs are a part to explore how each other perceive a community problem and develop joint solutions for the challenges neighbourhoods experience. The toolkit was a fundamental part of this research project as it not only acted as a tool for the Police to better understand their role and their community, and how to combine these two, but it is something that they can refer to so that this project can be sustainable once the research project is completed.

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