Modern Slavery Multi-Agency Working

EMPAC is supporting the development of a new regional Police and Crime Research and Development Plan, led by PCC Hardyal Dhindsa and DCC Craig Naylor (see more about that plan here  Within that, the idea is to have regional thematic workstreams that are targeting risk, threat and harm (and the helping deliver the 2025 Policing Vision).

EMPAC is grateful for a submission here from Professor Dave Walsh and doctoral researcher Laura Pajon at De Montfort University, which offers a detailed model for thematic working, in this instance all about better joint working to combat modern slavery – and includes a call for others to join in. So, over to Dave and Laura!

Modern Slavery (MS) is one of the most complex crimes to investigate. As such, it is well accepted that police forces, on their own, cannot tackle the problem. Instead, a comprehensive approach that includes different agencies and organisations is necessary to implement an effective 4Ps strategy (i.e. Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare). While most police forces have followed the advice and recommendations for multi-agency partnership implementation (e.g. Hyland, 2017), latest official reports (e.g. HMICFRS, 2017) continue to highlight failures still regarding intelligence sharing and joint action plans, when implementing multi-agency partnerships across the UK. On the other hand, a small number of publications have provided practitioners with potential solutions to these problems.

The new research proposes a strategic multi-agency response that combines previous academic literature on facilitators and barriers for multi-agency partnerships while, at the same time, involving principles based on cybernetic models that are focused on enhancing intelligence sharing and innovative and comprehensive responses to complex problems. The approach, already being implemented within the East Midlands, aims to (i) promote information sharing; and (ii) develop action plans focused on dealing with common areas of concern among the members of the partnership. Pajón and Walsh propose a strategic multi-agency approach focused on getting different member agencies to work together under common aims by promoting constant multi-disciplinary interactions that enhance informal communication flows and continuous feedback, while including evaluation of actions that have been taken. The structure of the proposed strategic partnership is composed of three core elements; 1. A co-ordination team; 2. Multi-agency meetings; and 3. Sub-team projects.  Whereas each element serves for a specific purpose, all three are interconnected and dependent upon each other. An explanation is now provided of these three core elements.

The coordination team will have the specific duty of organising multi-agency meetings and securing coordination between team projects (that is, updating members of the partnership, keep record of the members and their contact details, etc.), as well as identifying opportunities to further develop the partnership by identifying new potential relevant partners, securing formal channels of communication, and serving as point of contact/reference for the multi-agency partnership. The role of the coordination team will exclusively be facilitative, but has no power over decision making and action taken by the partnership itself. Rather, the strategy aims to allow members of the partnership flexibility and autonomy, when developing and implementing action plans as well as when exchanging information.  As such, the second core element, Multi-agency meetings, aims to be an opportunity to get all agencies and members of the partnership together in order to create a multi-disciplinary discussion and so reach agreement of common aims and priorities (e.g. training, awareness raising, victims’ safeguarding, etc.). It is important that all members can participate and express their views in order to arrive at a joint decision of the main areas of interest. It is also important, that the coordination team organise multi-agency meetings regularly, not only to serve as an opportunity to get agencies together, but also to provide an opportunity to revise and re-evaluate the agreed common topics of interest.

Once there is an agreement around the topics of interest, for each of them, a separate sub-team will be created to deal with each topic. The composition of the sub-team members will be based on the preferences of each individual related to the topic of their primary interest. That is, after the joint discussion, members from the partnership will be asked to select their main topic of interest and they will be allocated to a specific team according to their preferences. As a result, such sub-teams will be composed by members from different agencies and professional backgrounds working on a topic that they all consider as a main priority. Such an approach will likely enhance trust and cohesion among members of the team, as well as willingness to share knowledge and resources to achieve a common goal. Once sub-teams are created they will work autonomously in the third core element, Team projects.

Teams will have much leeway to decide their objectives, routes of actions, and agenda (i.e. meeting, deadlines, communication, etc.). However, sub-teams will be required to allocate a Single Point of Contact (SPOC). While the researchers recommend the SPOC to also act as a coordinator of each sub-team (i.e. arrange meeting and secure communication and updates between members of the team), the main role of the SPOC is to serve as a point of reference to those other sub-teams in the partnership in order to ensure a communication flow between the other sub- team projects. The sub-teams will be dissolved once the objectives are achieved and outputs and outcomes achieved by the sub-team disseminated.

Whereas the approach detailed so far aims to build trust and cohesion among members as well as development of action plans through the allocation of members in sub-team projects based on members’ priorities, feedback and constant informal communication flow will be achieved through the role of Critical Friends (CFs). The role of CFs will be undertaken by members of the partnership who are also part of another sub-team (Figure 2 is an illustrative example of such arrangements).

To explain further, when conducting various sub-team projects and developing action plans four stages will be undertaken: 1. Decision-making, 2. Action taken, 3. Evaluation and 4. Dissemination. Members of the sub-team, present in all four stages, will be joined by CFs (from the other sub-teams) in, firstly, the Decision-making stage, and, later, in the Evaluation stage (see Figure 3). The benefit of involving CFs within the decision-making stage is that they can bring advice, knowledge and expertise to the discussion (from what is being planned in their originating sub-team), hence enabling the development of more comprehensive and innovative action plans. Similarly, the inclusion of CFs in the Evaluation stage enables feedback from an external point of view (from the experiences of their own sub-team), thus enabling the possibility of them spotting any pitfalls in the actions taken, providing the sub-team opportunity to make amendments before dissemination of that sub-team’s outputs and outcomes (note that any dissemination is undertaken through the overarching partnership).

To enable the CFs to play their full role, it is vitally important that the SPOC of each sub-team communicates to the partnership (and other sub-team SPOCs) when their sub-teams are undertaking the Decision-making and Evaluation stages, to enable the CFs to participate in either of those two stages. Furthermore, because the CF is also a member of another sub-team, this allows constant communication and interaction among sub-teams, enabling the possibility of identifying either when actions are being duplicated (by another sub-team), which might well create potential areas for collaboration between sub-teams.  As such, the role of CFs from differing sub-teams is critical to the success of the model, and indeed, we argue, the partnership. Finally, the coordination team should proactively help on the dissemination of it when possible.

The proposed multi-agency strategy approach aims to achieve a multi-agency response that goes beyond mere discussion of common problems, as it requires the sub-teams to develop action plans to overcome such problems (through the mentioned informal communication flows that involve sub-teams sharing knowledge, expertise  and feedback). As such, the partnership would be expected to deliver more comprehensive, integrated and innovative outcomes and outputs. We are aware that full implementation of this approach will initially be a demanding task (when considering size or dynamics of those already existent partnerships). Nevertheless, we maintain that such an approach enables partnerships to move forward to the generation of ideas to help enable workable solutions. Neither can we emphasise enough the vital role of CFs in the multi-disciplinary sub-teams when they make decisions and, in turn, undertake evaluations. We welcome any enquiries and, indeed, those wishing to consider implementation of the model (or at least accommodating its trial).

Professor Walsh can be contacted at