Thursday, 06 November 2008

Confidence, engagement, and services Last night to an Ipsos MORI event on 'Building confidence in the fight against crime', where I found myself surrounded by representatives of the criminal justice system (or the 'public justice system' as Louise Casey, the government adviser on All Things A Bit Dodgy, suggested it should be called). MORI's messages about communication with residents, and the need for cultural change in police forces and local authorities to engage with people at neighbourhood level, seemed to be well-received. But unfortunately, the discussion seemed entirely based on an assumption that confidence is a rational, mechanical and linear process: ask people what concerns them, give them some information, do something about what they've asked for, tell them you've done it, and bingo, problem solved. If that were so, expression of confidence in a service could be a reliable indicator and we'd have been using it for years. But confidence is a fluid emotional process influenced by a wide range of factors, including health, mobility, housing, the quality of the public realm, family relationships, personal social networks, and so on. My level of confidence in the authorities' handling of anti-social behaviour could be influenced variably by any of these factors from one day to the next. We know this, which is why we talk about joined-up services. There's a related point which helps us understand the limits of this approach. People are still talking about demonstrably unsuccessful traditional approaches to 'engagement' - door-knocking, newsletters, surveys, formal meetings called by the police or local authorities. And having had a conversation with the police authority in my county (noticeably absent last night) I have some sense of how shallow the understanding of community engagement can be. It seems to me that few authorities think about finding ways to contribute through the existing processes and structures of local groups, to which residents are already committing time and energy. Nor, I suspect, is there much recognition of the barriers to informal communication between residents which would help information to circulate. Once again, police and local authorities are talking about certain tasks purely on their own terms - we organise the meeting, we run the meeting, you turn up, you tell us stuff when we ask you to. Community engagement is a process whereby people who have something in common are involved collectively, together with a responsible agency, in influencing what happens to or around them. It is not a bureaucratic process and should not be approached with a bureaucratic mindset. MORI: Closing the gaps: crime and public perceptions Engaging communities: a review by Louise Casey Postscript: JRF this morning has published a study of Public officials and community involvement in local services.
Encounters with strangers Here's today's social capital topic. I went to the station this morning for a train to London and the service was disrupted with cancellations and delays. A few others milled around mulling the options - alternative routes, waiting around for a surprise train appearance, trudging back home? As I chatted with Joe in the ticket office, a man came up and asked if I'd been planning on going to London - 'I was,' he said, 'and I went home to get the car to drive in, just thought I'd stop by and see if anyone else was stuck here... Can I give you a lift?' (NB it's not like this is remote outback: just 15 miles from central London). I thanked him for his generosity but had already taken the decision to abandon my attempt to get to a meeting. Questions for students of social capital: Was his offer (and presumably his diversion via the station) a moral adjustment sparked by guilt at using unsustainable transport? Would he have made the same offer to a woman? To a hoodied youngster? If I had accepted, should he in turn have accepted my offer to contribute to fuel costs? How much would I have offered, and would I have seemed sincere? Would he have felt obliged to discuss options for liaising on the return journey? What do you talk about to a stranger cocooned in a car with the prospect of a traffic-harassed 90 minutes on a miserable day? Meself, I don't take a sceptical view, I thought it was a generous and considerate gesture, and partly I regret not celebrating that by having taken it up.

Recent Comments