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Police Crime Commissioners and the new digital democracy

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Where Obama leads…

Political analysts and pollsters agreed that a key component in President Obama’s successful re-election campaign was the effective use of social media.

I just read an interesting interview with Laura Olin, (@lauraolin) his social media strategist which helpfully shared her three top tips from the campaign:

  1. Hire people who are not just good at their jobs, but who also share the sensibility you’re trying to convey with your organization. Tone is everything on social media.
  2. Images will beat just text or video embeds almost every time.
  3. People are much more likely to share things if you ask them to share them. We did that a lot, because we knew that people getting campaign messages from their friends was so much more powerful than them getting campaign messages directly from us.

Since it was her team which uploaded the most liked image ever on Facebook, it’s fair to say she knows what she’s talking about.


PCCs follow…?

The latest election in this country – for Police & Crime Commissioners – might have suffered low turnout but most of the candidates were active on social media; mainly using Twitter to engage with potential voters and drive them to their websites and Facebook pages.

Some PCCs have already signaled their intention to continue to use social media in their new role, with many setting up new official twitter accounts.

They will be greatly helped in developing their social media strategy by a new guide specially commissioned by the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners who had the good sense to engage Catherine Howe (@curiousc), the Chief Executive of Public-i (@public_i) – don’t miss their blog either.



The guide argues that PCCs are particularly well-placed to develop a new kind of democratic contact with their local electorate by using digital approaches.

The guidance itself is clear and backed up by concrete suggestions and a good set of case studies including an account of the digital engagement work done by @SuptPayneWMP which proved so useful in managing the August 2011 riots in Wolverhampton.

It is well worth a read in full, but I want to highlight the four key principles advocated in the report:

1. Digital by default

At no point does this report suggest that digital engagement is more important than face-to-face contact. It does, however, argue strongly digital should be the first means of communicating.

Simply webcasting or tweeting from a real-world meeting means that you can reach a much wider audience AND create a “digital asset” which can be re-used in many ways over time.

2. Open by default

There is a very strong recommendation that PCCs should routinely share local information about crime and policing openly to engage as many people as possible in the debate about local policing priorities.

[Myself and colleagues at Crest Advisory are already working on developing digital dashboards for a number of PCCs.]

3. Networked

Perhaps the core expectation on new Police & Crime Commissioners is that they will provide leadership which will enable more effective co-ordination across local criminal justice systems.

If PCCs create a key vision of the direction of change, they can use digital networking skills to engage not only different organisations and special interest groups but also local communities in an open dialogue which can develop local answers to local problems.

4. Agile

One of the main criticisms of several of the large agencies making up the criminal justice system is that they are cumbersome bureaucracies which can be slow to change.

By developing an open digital network which acknowledges complexity and encourages whole system thinking, PCCs should be able to take on board new ideas and information much more quickly, rather than having decisions determined by more formal planning and budgetary structures.

Direct contact with the electorate

What I like most about this report is the way it lays down a challenge to newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

It urges them not to abandon the flexibility and directness of digital communication in favour of bureaucratic press releases.

It provides ideas for how in just two hours per week, PCCs can maintain a healthy online presence which delivers a holy grail for most politicians:

“A direct connection with the public without media interpretation.”


I’m aware that Alan Hardwick, the Lincolnshire Police & Crime Commissioner, has already posted  interviews on YouTube to engage with the public and posting their commitment to transparent decision-making on their websites.

Please leave more examples in the comments below.



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Digital Engagement
Transforming the Criminal Justice System

The digital justice system is slowly becoming a reality. Police now transfer more than 90% of case files electronically to the CPS and there are digital Court pilots in Birmingham and Bromley. The next priority is to digitise evidence with police officers’ notebooks being overtaken by tablets and body worn video cameras which should not only streamline but also improve the quality of evidence.

Police Governance – replacing Police and Crime Commissioners

There is a strong emphasis throughout the report on community engagement and neighbourhood policing and there is a specific recommendation to ensure that accountability goes down to the neighbourhood level by establishing “participatory budgeting units” to ensure greater local community involvement in allocating resources.

When Police Commissioners rule the world…

I’ve never really understood why right-wing think tanks have been such strong advocates of Police and Crime Commissioners expanding their powers at such an early stage in their existence. Reform published a report before PCCs were even elected which advocated that they should be in control not only of local police and criminal justice agencies but the fire and rescue and ambulance services too. Yesterday, Policy Exchange published Power Down: A plan for a cheaper, more effective justice system which again placed PCCs at the centre of change.

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