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Football and Policing Social Citizens

I was challenged recently to consider how the MutualGain programme (capacity building the police to engage with the public differently) reflected a game of football.  It was important for me to test this metaphor as it came from a participant of the programme: I wanted him to present with me at the Citizens in Policing conference and thought if we could work with how he understood it, he might not be so nervous talking to 140 people! I know nothing about the rules of football but with the help of @ColinBarnes1971, @accgarryshewan, and @thebluelocust I quickly learned.

It’s fair to say there were some reservations about using a football metaphor: for me it not only had a gender bias, and had been the focus of racial abuse and celebrity status which I abhor, but it also rewards a ‘talent’ which pays excessive salaries which, frankly, I believe to be immoral.

That said, I was also mindful that ‘the beautiful game’ hasn’t always been that way, and as a mother of three I can recall many occasions where the game was the universal language of young people who might otherwise be too self conscious to integrate with ease.  Their playfulness and integration led the parents to socialise and so began the start of many friendships.  It is also a feature of many out of hours socialising activities that the police engage in – breaking down the rank and file psychology and putting them all on the same pitch focusing on the same goal irrespective of power or status in the workplace.

Most of all though I felt a obligation to PC Colin Barnes: I wanted to do his learning justice and work with his metaphor of footie to explain the MutualGain programme on his terms to the recent ‘Citizens in Policing conference’.  So I invested some time in learning the game and creating the visual below.

In many ways we shouldn’t have presented at that conference because its focus was as it said in the title – Citizens in Policing ie volunteers such as cadets, specials and police service volunteers (the forwards on the pitch).  Our work is more closely aligned with the forthcoming conference that we are organising here – Policing Social Citizens (in the midfield) – hopefully the metaphor can help explain how we at MutualGain worked with GMP to learn about public sector team formation.

PC Colin Barnes joined the programme with some reluctance and a touch of healthy cynicism: he’d seen community engagement come and go in the force and much of it wasn’t actually tackling the problem he had in his community – open drug dealing, closed community conversations and a reluctance to engage with police partner agencies or neighbours.  How could a different way of engaging make any difference to the seemingly anti social society?

Within six months he was reporting that he and his community achieved a reduction in crime of 58% against a force average of 11%, and almost a year later the reduction was 27% against a force average of 11%.  (nb. We at MutualGain believe the statistics to be largely irrelevant here – not because we don’t have the same goal as those who love to use stats, but because we see an alternative means to the same end, which goes beyond statistics).

Our goal is to improve the social and civic space: we want local people to be at the heart of the decisions that public sector officials make, and we want those officials to see that when the public do influence decision making, better social policy can emerge.

In policing that means ‘policing’ is wider than police, and engagement is wider than the formal structures that the police tend to use.

So here is how it is described in the image of the beautiful game:

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If the pitch is society, I believe the public sector has played a defensive line in recent years.  The formation of their team has been goalie (specialist and response teams), a forward or two (IAG, NHW, CVS lead, faith leaders), and a strained, vulnerable, defensive line (NPT, Council, Housing etc.).

I believe that the absence of mid fielders (the disengaged public) results in the defense ending up lined up in front of the goal when it needn’t be there, and the forwards feeling undervalued and inappropriately utilised.  I often hear stories which describe how they can’t even get a shot at the goal despite turning up for every game and trying to persuade the defense to pass the ball.  Neither can they convince them to play the long ball.

It’s not that the goal is that different now to what it has always been – to protect the public and create strong and safe communities. It’s that with technology the pitch has changed, and the changing nature of society has meant the game has changed.  With that in mind we need a new formation and new tactics. Despite numerous restructures, change programmes and new visions the formation doesn’t really change in practice.  The new formation requires a new coach with a new philosophy, new tactics and new skills.

I believe the new formation is the future of policing (and wider public services): we must allow defenders to defend, and forwards to score. Only when the ball slips through the forwards and the midfield should we call on our defenders.  And if they can’t stop the ball, we need specialist teams to use their skills to keep us safe and strong.  To get that new formation working well we need to firstly identify the skills and talents of the midfielders (our greatest assets), and then coach the team to work better together.

Any good football coach will tell you that a game is won or lost in the mid field.  The new and different game will enable the midfield to feed the forwards and protect the ball from unnecessarily going into the defense.  A strong midfield is the new formation of the team – managers and sponsors out there need to think about how they will change their team so they play a modern game.

The midfielders are not the formal volunteers – they are the ‘Peelian’ version of the eyes and ears of our community: the people that don’t want to go to meetings, or get vetted, or wait to be told what to do for the police.  They don’t generally engage in formal engagement structures either, but without their help we will lose the game.

What formation are you playing?  Come and share your experiences with us at the #policingsocialcitizens camp so that we might collectively develop a better formation.