BLOG: Gold standard(s): Policing setting the new standard in research?


As a ‘spin off’ from another blog (about operationalising an EBP approach into tasking) a discussion popped up that seemed to deserve a little blog all of its own. As always, blogs are informal, opinion pieces to promote discussion, so please do throw your view back in! This blog in particular is putting an idea ‘out there’ to see if you think it’s got any merit – so do get involved, your opinion really does matter.

So, in research, in the world of the universities, who just like police forces under HMIC (PEEL), there is assessment and reward. Currently, HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council) distribute money to universities based on the ‘quality’ of research produced and ‘impact’. In the world of research there is the notion of a ‘gold standard’ in research where there have been rigorous random controlled trials carried out to track, test and verify findings of data – to make it trustable and reliable. Certain groups of academics founded the Cochrane Institute and subsequently the Maryland Scale to ‘score’ and quality assure what’s needed.

In policing, we sometimes find HMIC pointing to best or noteworthy practice and of course the ratings of good and outstanding.

So we’re used to having ‘ratings’ – schools have them, hotels have them etc you get the idea.

The thing is, though, where a piece of research may be ‘gold standard’ in its rigour is it ‘useful’? Can it be applied? Is it ‘ready for the streets’? Some in policing have raised the issue of how do we ‘operationalise’ research? Well isn’t there a case that ‘good’ research should be ready for application? Does research ‘impact’ mean just handing it over to the police?

A G.P. relies on rigorous research on the latest medicines and during a fraught 7 minute appointment the busy doctor doesn’t have much opportunity to carry out much research as such. They just need to explore symptoms and diagnose, using solutions ‘good to go’. Policing is busy too so shouldn’t the same apply?

There is a kind of debate amongst researchers of whose job it is to transfer rigorous research into professional, applied practice. But busy professionals in policing, although they can benefit from being ‘research literate’ (understand its processes), maybe shouldn’t have to ‘transform’ research into something usable.

This may simply be a form of ‘professional policing contextual requirement’, for researchers, which spells out the realities and practicalities of the policing world if research aims to influence it in a meaningful way.

You’ll appreciate this blog is to stir up a debate, so let’s hope it’s working!

As an alternative, why not have policing set some ‘gold standards’ of its own, about what it requires, like any professional practice, for being able to receive and accept research – meaning it needs to be applicable and ‘ready’. This puts the ball in the researcher’s corner of course. But just like a pharmaceutical research unit developing that medicine for our busy G.P.?

Such a policing professional ‘gold standard’ would have certain demands all of its own, but then combined with the research gold standard we end up with even more gold or a combined platinum?!

This idea turns the question of how do we ‘operationalise’ research into policing and throws this upside down, pushing the issue back to researchers with the demand that research without application ‘readiness’ is simply not good enough for use in the professional world.

So, what do you think?