Policing can’t tackle the complex challenge of managing public safety alone. An ecosystem of organisations including health, social care, charities, mental health and housing associations, all play a part in either supporting us away from vulnerability or deterring others from offending. Successful public safety eco-systems provide a seamless network of assets which citizens can harness early to avoid more acute interventions later down the line.
Community policing approaches have been a key driver in the promotion of public safety eco-systems, often frontline officers most heavily feel the impact of a failure to intervene early. Between 2014 and 2018 police forces on average saw the number of incidents they attend related to mental health rise by 28% (BBC News, September 2019). In addition, while children in care account for less than 1% of the population, one in four of the prison population are care leavers (HM Prison and Probation Service, August 2019).
Over the past few years, there have been genuine and concerted efforts to establish closer working between police forces and partner agencies, and small pockets of best practice have emerged. However, in the context of more seemingly urgent internal priorities, a lack of sustained funding for collaborative efforts, and territorial or cultural disputes at organisational boundaries, we are at an impasse. The challenge is how to embed collaboration more systematically and sustainably, and leverage technology to do so.
Based on our experience with working across organisational boundaries within local and central government, we have suggested five steps:
Take an agile approach, and beware of super-users
An ecosystem or service takes time to establish, and buy-in can be lost if too much is tackled too quickly. Take an agile approach to designing and implementing greater collaboration between one or two organisations first to generate success stories. A word of caution around prioritisation: it can seem logical to focus multi-agency efforts on the individuals who represent the most intensive demand (i.e. repeat re-offenders), however individuals with complex problems tend to require intensive (and expensive) long term interventions to observe improvements. Closing gaps in inter-agency processes (e.g. handover between professionals, sharing information to expedite the assessment of eligibility for services) so that people do not fall through the gaps and are able to more readily access services can be both impactful and relatively straightforward to implement.
Leverage data and analytics to map demand and shared cohorts across the system
While the holy grail remains to link individual level data using a shared unique identifier, we aren’t there yet and it will take some time before something along that vein is established within the public sector. Meanwhile, there are practical ways to use anonymised and aggregated data to understand and track demand across criminal justice, health, and social care boundaries. For instance, we can identify the % of offenders with healthcare needs, and the % of children whose parents are ex-offenders within Children’s Services without needing to link data sets at an individual level. This provides an initial view of where collaboration and multi-agency working could be most impactful and can be triangulated with deeper insights obtained from other research methods, including interviews and focus groups with service users.
Share information and develop the required analytical capability with the specific intention of driving early identification and intervention
Since the introduction of GDPR there has been an increased nervousness about organisations sharing information. Publicly sector bodies are and have been collaborating through multi-agency (MARAC) meetings, but such methods place a time constraint on information sharing. Organisations should explore the use of data sharing arrangements, to facilitate live-time data views and specifically to facilitate the identification of early warning signs to support earlier intervention. Data matching capability can help to facilitate a person centric view, allowing organisations to better join the dots and provide a clarity on the most appropriate intervention. As always, don’t forget intelligence is only as valuable as the action or inaction that derives from it. Analytical outputs should be presented in a way that allows operational staff to make decisions quickly.
Exploit big data and AI opportunities through collaboration
There are significant opportunities for AI and machine learning algorithms to become more accurate as they are fed multiple data sets across public sector organisations, as they establish correlations amongst disparate data points. There is only so much data a single police force has at its disposal. Taking into consideration data privacy legislation and the imperative of anonymisation, there is an opportunity to pool and combine vast numbers of data sets across criminal justice, local government, and healthcare, to test and validate connections between spatial, demographic, and economic variables.
Harness the one public estate to drive co-location
Whilst the power of multi-agency combined data and analytics provides the basis for early intervention, the power of co-location should not be forgotten. Agencies should explore the option for co-locating to foster natural and seamless collaboration between staff. Trusted relationships between professionals are the lifeblood of true collaboration, and a shared physical space underlines the sense of shared mission and objective.