Understanding demand or understanding response?

As part of an ongoing series of free events exploring Understanding Demand, Capacity and Capability, the most recent was held on the 3rd May 2019 at Nottingham Trent University. EMPAC is pleased here to report on progress made so far (please scroll to the end of the feature for previous reports).

Workstream lead Superintendent Mark Housley (Linconshire Police) emphasised the need to actually understand understanding demand, rather than focussing just on reporting on the efficiency of response. The point is surely well made, after all, how can you manage what you don’t understand?

The focus should be more on the community and society, and understanding, as a partnership, where public need is coming from, as a starting point. Then sorting out the best way to make a difference. It’s a bit like drawing a parallel with medical science and conflating Epidemiology with Etiology. Whilst Epidemiology is the analysis of the ‘what’; the distribution of disease, Etiology, by contrast (meaning, from the Greek, aitiología ‘giving a reason for’),  is all about understanding causes and origins – the ‘why’?

If policing responds just to symptoms, the problem goes on, sometimes changing shape or form, but continuing to create a perfect food to nourish the reactive cycle we seem to be stuck in.   Sticking with medical analogies for a moment, consider physician John Snow’s pioneering discoveries in mid-nineteenth century London, which delved into why and where cholera was coming from. The answer lay in water, clean water, yet there were opposing views: some claiming the disease came from polluted air rather than polluted water.

Not understanding the causes means if we had not identified water as the source and had continued with wearing masks, no matter how good the masks got, we’d still be experiencing cholera now – because we wouldn’t understand the cause. So what we’re about here is seeking to avoid doing the wrong thing well but understanding the right thing and then doing it.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

A theme emerged that fundamental conversations such as this, amidst the pressures of Force Management Statements, are pretty rare. Indeed, some are still not seeing the connection between understanding demand and FMS (2). In addition, that is in spite of previous HMICFRS criticism of FMS (1) being too descriptive, not analytical enough and not forward looking enough.

Another enemy is the silo. Since austerity has affected Section 17 Crime and Disorder (1998) partners, there has been a retreat to individual core business and much joined-up working seems to have eroded. There has never been a better time to re-envigorate partnership working – joined up solutions for joined up problems. Within that partnership should be citizens themselves, and that will be part of the ambition of drawing in a joined-up conversation for the future, for what are continuing events.

What came out of the event as a definite ‘what we do know’ is that policing is busy. Really busy. So  busy that standing back just for a little while to think about what and why is a really significant challenge. There was also a powerful list of things that have attracted considerable research attention to validate their worthiness – such as place based approaches – where earlier intervention, together, reduces the escalation of problems and indeed saves a lot of public money. The problem was, in too many instances, what we know not to work – the reactive – was being pursued over that we know does work. But folk were so busy in crisis mode that no-one had time, or inclination, to pull the emergency stop button and seek a different approach.

There was mention that the reactive drive had killed intelligence-led policing. Yet this particular ‘murder’ had occurred under the radar and only been picked up in the current aftermath as a historical crime, with several victims but no-one as yet identified for culpability!

To progress this important conversation, terms of reference were discussed. After all, given how busy everyone was, no-one could afford the time to be involved in anything that did not have a focussed purpose. There was general agreement though that there was much individualised focus on what everyone was doing about ‘it’ but relatively little about what ‘it’ was, or why it was. Everyone had been in many ways ‘doing their own thing’ and were highly conscious of inspection and accountability, maybe to the detriment of actually delving into getting ahead of the reactive cycle and putting the public need at the heart of this. There was a subliminal message in that perhaps also for the inspection bodies: part of the problem or part of the solution?

The agreed terms of reference going forward were:-

To facilitate contacts, which needed to be multi-agency – this was not just about policing

To challenge current professional practice

To commission gaps and reduce duplication

Share good and emerging practice

To influence change at every relevant level

Identified challenges for the forum to tackle:

The volume of data against the relative lack of meaning

The silos that stop joined-up work

The need to stop perverse response to inspection metrics, such as rationing as an efficiency

The need to shift reaction to prevention, including causes and horizon scanning analytics

The need to challenge the presumption that we can’t afford to work together when the truth is we must

The next event is to be held at   on

Partner agencies are encouraged to attend as are Police FMS (2) and Managing Demand strategic leads.

To book a free place contact:

To see previous work on this topic go to: http://www.empac.org.uk/empac-hosting-third-understanding-demand-workshop/