‘There comes a point where we need to stop pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.’ Bishop Desmond Tutu
I recently spoke at Salford University’s Future of Policing conference in London on the subject of asset based approaches to problem solving in community safety and the paradigm shift from the concept of ‘Public Servant,’ to ‘Citizen Enabler.’ The conference was also a good opportunity to catch up with old colleagues from Greater Manchester Police including Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, who was also there to give a presentation, coincidentally on the same subject.
Fortunately Garry was speaking around the progress GMP are making in adopting an asset based approach to problem solving within communities from a strategic perspective, while my presentation was from a more tactical one (BTW – thanks for the recognition as one of GMP’s early innovators Garry). I’d like to think each presentation complimented each other well as we didn’t appear to duplicate anything except for one point – a common representation from officers that, ‘we don’t have the time for this kind of change in how we work.’
At the end of Garry’s presentation he told a story about his journey to the conference that day and how en route to the railway station he was passed by six marked police vehicles travelling at speed with their blues and twos on – presumably all going to the same incident. He also told the audience about a conversation with police officers the day before about their journey in adopting an asset based approach to problem solving in their communities. They’d indicated how they were supportive of such a paradigm shift – away from focusing on constantly trying to fix what is broken (a deficit based approach), however, they just didn’t have the time to focus on enabling assets within communities to play their part in resolving issues.
Garry ended his presentation by revealing the serious incident that required six police vehicles to attend – it was for a man trying car door handles. He also ended with a call to action for a new style of leadership to enable officers to manage the change required to enable this paradigm shift.
The story of the six police vehicles was a strong message for everyone in the audience. But what really resonated was the representation that I often hear – how an asset based approach, while making sense, is one that, ‘we just don’t have time for.’
The quote that starts this blog alludes to the same issue – that we’re so busy pulling people out of the river that we don’t have the time to get further up river to stop them falling in. But if we examine our conscience and our reason for being in the police (or any other service that has a responsibility for safe communities) is this really true, or have we settled into a cultural norm that will forever prevent us from starting the journey upstream?
The thing is, while many want to make the journey up river to the point where people are falling in, they soon discover how there is no pre-determined riverside pathway that will get them there. Their journey starts with the overgrown brambles of ‘this is the way we have always done things,’ and tributary rivers with names like, ‘established policies and procedures.’ And then there is the challenge of ignoring people already in the river as they pass the point where you had been pulling them out as you try and make your way to the point where they fell in.
These are the organisational challenges and blockages that soon bring officers to a halt. This is a journey beset by problems, Wicked ones at that, which will bring to a halt the most determined of individuals.
Garry was right in his call for a new style of leadership. Our old ways of dealing with problems won’t get us up river where we need to be, to the place where we can prevent demand in the first place and save costs, time and more importantly, to be true to our purpose. Do we not have a moral obligation to enable others to prevent future harm to individuals, families and communities?
Is it time for a new style of leader? Time for our organisations to support and enable the ‘Wicked Thinkers’ that can lead others as they build the riverside pathway that will allow others to travel upstream?
In my next blog I intend to share my thoughts and experiences on how to catalyse and enable this change – it’s been an interesting journey!