Evaluation of police and fire reform: partnership, innovation and prevention year three case study

Findings from a thematic case study from year three of the evaluation focusing on issues of partnership working, innovation and prevention.

Partnership working and innovation

Many of the preventative activities that Police Scotland and SFRS are currently engaged in are set within the wider context of partnership working and of innovative attempts to tackle complex social issues at a local level. This section sketches out the main contours of this landscape of partnership and innovation within which prevention is located, highlighting key themes and issues which emerged from data collection across the four communities.

Summary of findings from the research literature

Before engaging with experiences in Scotland, however, it is important to acknowledge that there is a significant UK and international research literature on partnership working involving the police (fire and rescue have not been subject to the same degree of research scrutiny). [8] This highlights that many early attempts to promote partnership working in 1980s and 1990s were often met with some scepticism by the police and this was attributed to the perceived tensions between an action-orientated culture in policing and the more negotiation-based approach of other agencies. Partnership working was also often associated with 'soft' approaches to policing and given a lower priority to more traditional crime-fighting activities. More recent research suggests a significant shift in police attitudes to partnership working. Among the emerging findings from this research is evidence that:

  • The police increasingly see the advantages of partnership working because it allows for a more effective and pragmatic method of addressing social problems, encouraging longer term preventative work rather than short-term reactive approaches;
  • Partnership working encourages strong inter-professional and inter-personal relationships with individuals from other organisations, building trust between police and other agencies to help address local problems;
  • While the police may often dominate many partnerships in terms of the resources they are able to mobilize, they increasingly engage in negotiation and compromise with other agencies as they learn to work together to adopt a problem-solving approach.

Summary of findings on partnership working from Year 2 Report

Many of these positive findings regarding partnership working were evident across all four geographical areas studied for the Year 2 report. Partnership working was embraced as a concept and operationally by police officers, firefighters, councillors and third sector organisations. In terms of policing, it was seen as being given a high priority and of strategic importance and was well supported by the attendance of senior officers at partnership meetings. Where there was co-location of police and council staff, there were particular benefits in terms of joint working on community safety issues. In relation to fire and rescue, there was similar evidence of a high level of commitment to partnership activity which was seen as a clear priority coming from the top of the organisation that was being embraced at a local level.

For both services, however, partnership working also presented particular internal and external challenges:

  • Internally, local officers and firefighters felt there was scope for improved internal communication between those attending partnership meetings (typically more senior officers) and those working in communities.
  • Externally, the ability of local police officers and fire fighters to work effectively in their day-to-day duties with partner agencies was being affected by the resource pressures felt by all services. There was a perception that financial cutbacks in partner services and their increased workloads had had an impact on working relationships. Data sharing and negotiating boundaries of responsibility in a context of limited resources were also issues identified by both services.

The partnership and innovation landscape

Building on the work undertaken in Year 2, the research carried out for this thematic case study has provided a range of additional contextual insights into how partnership working involving Police Scotland and SFRS is perceived across Scotland since reform, what forms it takes, and how it links into innovation. This section summarises these high-level findings.

'A collaborative ethos': Across all four case study areas interviewees observed that there is a shared focus on partnership-working by all partner organisations and that it is now regarded as 'business as usual' and 'the way forward' for police, fire and other partners to work together. Although this 'collaborative ethos' pre-dates police and fire reform (one interviewee observed, "it's been years since I've been at meetings where I haven't seen individuals, other partner agencies not buying in (A10 Fire)), the sense from interviewees was that there was now much wider and deeper exposure to partnership working in their organisations. For those people across organisations who did not engage in partnership working in the past, it is now seen as routine. Where partnerships were central to their roles in the past, they identify as now having a deeper exposure to partnership working. This growing breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in partnership working, contributed to what one interviewee described as an increasing 'maturity' in partnership working. That maturity could be seen reflected in a practical and pragmatic understanding of the inevitable problems and issues that are inherent to partnership working, and the respective challenges faced by partners - of 'knowing where they come from'.

A diversity of organisational arrangements 'Partnership working' tends to be used as a catch-all term that in practice refers to a wide variety of ways of 'working together'. Interviewees describe a continuum which ranged from quite informal activities involving keeping each other up-to-date ('in the loop') about their respective activities to more formal arrangements that included cooperation between partners and coordination of their respective activities to highly integrated joint-approaches aimed towards shared outcomes. A basic typology of organisational arrangements for partnership working would therefore include:

  • Highly structured and formalised arrangements created by statutory requirements to work in partnership: For example, CPPs and Local Resilience Partnerships.
  • Locally developed, formal arrangements which bring multiple partners together operationally on a regular basis: Examples of this kind of organisational arrangement include Multi-Agency Tasking and Coordinating ( MATAC) groups operating locally to tackle community safety and 'hubs' bringing partners together to identify early interventions with vulnerable and 'at risk' members of the community (see Vignette II). Co-location & secondments (in and out) were two (related) organisational arrangements that were viewed as helpful in developing personal relationships and sense of collective 'team'. Such arrangements provide the opportunity to get 'beyond the uniform' and for people to get to know each other personally and the ability to work less formally. In one of the case study areas, for example, a police officer had been seconded into the local authority to work as part of the community planning team. This was a strategic decision by the senior management in that division and was replicated in each of the constituent local authorities it worked with, as part of deliberate provision of resource under the Community Empowerment Act.
  • Local partnerships to deliver a particular initiative: In addition to generic partnerships operating as community safety hubs and addressing broad issues of vulnerability, there are also more specific partnerships focused on particular risks. Two examples examined in this study were the mental health triage ( Vignette I) and a road safety education initiative ( Vignette III).
  • Day-to-day joint working with little formal arrangements: This would include local community policing activities involving regular contact between agencies with a community or neighbourhood focus, such as youth workers, anti-social behaviour workers, community wardens and schools.

Impact of police and fire reform on partnership working The nature and extent to which police and fire reform were seen as directly impacting on partnership working was quite variable. In relation to some formal partnership settings, such as Local Resilience Partnerships, the view was that these continued to perform effectively throughout the period of reform because they had maintained stable representation from the different agencies. By contrast, community policing was described as being negatively affected by a combination of resource redeployment from local policing teams to specialist services and a shift in priorities towards more enforcement focused activity. The combined effect of these changes was to send a signal that community policing and partnership working were of low priority for the new force. Although engagement rather than a narrow focus on enforcement is now a much more important part of Police Scotland's approach, the perception of interviewees was that a legacy of negative experiences can continue to be significant in shaping perceptions of partners long after policies and priorities have changed.

More positively, some police and fire interviewees pointed to the benefits of reform on the consistency and coordination of approaches in partnership settings. National guidance and support was particularly welcomed and exemplified by the Prevention and Protection (P&P) agenda in SFRS with national meetings of P&P managers being viewed as a valuable forum for information-sharing. The creation of national organisations was also seen positively in terms of the ability and opportunity to share and learn from the experiences of local areas, although there was also a perception that national consistency of approach should not be at the expense of a diversity of local activity.

The meaning of innovation Interviewees were also asked to identify examples of innovation and typically described it in relation to seeking a new local solution to a problem, or being creative in the use of existing resources. Some also described it as doing something already practiced but in a different way, such as fire service engagement with young people, or delivering a Fireskills course to a new audience of young offenders.

The following interview extracts illustrate how interviewees defined innovation:

'So it's looking at the wide range of activities that you can offer, or giving people opportunities to do something different, and film making was quite different, so it certainly in [Area D] it was innovative. We hadn't done that before.' (D01 Police)

'Youth engagement has always been there between the Fire Service and youth groups. But it was just a different way of delivery because normally they would attend from schools and they'd do a one week course at a fire station…having longer contact with them over the summer with one day per week.' (B13 Fire)

The drivers of partnership working and innovation At a strategic level, the commitment to partnership working and innovation is clearly in line with the Christie principles set out in the introduction to this report but there are also more immediate drivers of partnership activity and innovation:

  • Reduced organisational budgets and growing demand: Interviewees reflected on the continuing reduction in real-terms funding for public services as a shared pressure which was giving further impetus for partnerships to make better collective use of their resources to tackle issues more effectively and efficiently (see Vignette IV).

'If I was being entirely honest, I do think lower budgets has... it's no forced us in to partnership working, but it's made it far more important than it's been in the past.' (DO2 Police)

'We're all trying to do more wi' less. So we're all subject to austerity. All the.. the sort o' the Local Authorities and, you know, all your public sector workers, you know, we've less money, less resources, so we're trying to do the same job .. In fact, probably the problem's larger, and there's more people demanding our time. How do we do that? Well, the only way we can do that is by sharing our resources, getting our collective heads together.' (B02 Police)

Interviewees also identified that the environment of reduced budgets by necessity could also act as an incentive for creativity and innovation. The following interviewee illustrates how partners made collective use of their staff resource, identifying how to work together better, without the need for additional financial commitment.

'Having less money...certainly in small scale stuff its encouraged us to be more creative in how we work. Doing more with less and certainly a lot of the small partnership projects that I've been involved in didn't involve any money, just involved partners coming together and doing things slightly differently and trying things. I think we're being...I've certainly been actively encouraged and supported to be a bit innovative.' (D03 Police)

Innovation and creativity were also identified as necessary to maintain and sustain current levels of service and impact, given reduced resources.

'We need to think more creatively and innovatively about how we create the same impact and achieve the same outcomes … We need to think far more creatively around that, and try and get that investment from all the partners.' (C02 Police)

  • The 2017 Community Empowerment Act ( CEA): The CEA has placed new statutory imperatives on partnership working. This includes new requirements for coordinated planning (in the form of Local Outcome Improvement Plans and Locality Plans) and widening the set of bodies with statutory responsibility for leading community planning- which now includes the police and fire and rescue service. The impact of the CEA was identified by interviewees as another common driver for partnership working:

'But between the focus through the local outcome improvement plan and the financial situation in public services, that, you know, that's the new reality.' (C20 Partner)

At the same time, interviewees reflected on the need to be more judicious about when and how to work in partnership. They emphasised the time, effort and resources it involved, particularly in the context of shrinking resource and increasing demand. This increasingly required a greater focus on where partnerships were necessary, and could be most effective so being clear about the 'collaborative advantage' [9] that partnerships can deliver.

The new Local Outcome Improvement Plans ( LOIPs) that Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs) must produce under the CEA was identified as an example that encouraged greater focus on partnership working. The development of LOIPs was explicitly focused on the local issues on which partnership was necessary to make progress (so-called 'cross-cutting' or 'wicked' issues). LOIPs sought not to include those activities and issues that individual CPP organisations rightly focused on alone. This more focused approach to LOIPs was compared favourably with the breadth of the prior CPP Single Outcome Agreements which had tended to include the priority activities of each partner (described as a more aspirational but unrealistic 'sunshine and apple pie' approach by one partner). A partner interviewee described it in this way:

'It's easy for everybody to pile everything in because they want to showcase what they're doing, but the criteria for getting in to the LOIP is about 'it must be done in partnership'. So I think there's been quite a recognition in the last few years – particularly on a budgetary position – that there's things now we will have to do in partnership because we can't do them on our own.' (B21 Partner)

Facilitators and barriers to partnership working and innovation: the importance of organisational contexts, leadership and personal experiences

The analysis of partnership working and innovation across the four case study areas provided important insights into factors which can either facilitate or hinder these activities. Some of these factors relate to the organisational and structural contexts within which Police Scotland, SFRS and partner agencies operate. However, there are also 'softer' elements relating to the skills, attitudes and personal attributes individuals bring to partnership working and innovation, either through their leadership roles or, more generally, as participants in collaborative activities.

Organisational impacts on local partnership working: Interviewees spoke of several examples where national organisational changes had affected local partnership working in a negative way, such as the rapid withdrawal of police funding for traffic wardens in some areas of Scotland following reform. However, there were other cases of national level changes where the process of communication with local areas was seen as being good. For example, changes to the fire inspection regimes of houses of multiple occupancy involving a reduction in fire service input but increased local authority responsibility were introduced over a period of several months, allowing time for the change to be communicated, understood, and for its implications to be taken into account.

A number of police and fire interviewees that contributed to CPPs held some concerns about the relationship between their CPPs and the local scrutiny committee that they reported to. They were regarded as partnership settings that might potentially (or in some instances actually) create competing priorities. There was a question for some local leaders of how better to reflect the local experience of partnership within these local scrutiny arrangements. More specifically, there was consideration of how to integrate the policing plans developed for the purposes of reporting and accountability to the scrutiny committee with the police contribution in LOIPs for the CPP. One interviewee reflected positively on the ability to work in partnership to make a single coordinated report to the local area committees.

Data and information sharing: Interviewees working in community policing/ community safety hub partnership settings highlighted the ability routinely to share information quickly and easily about common issues and problems. There was a recognition that partners held different information about people (such as those identified as at risk or vulnerable), or on local issues and that the sharing of that information allowed for partners to work from, and provide a service that reflected, a better (three dimensional) picture. The requirements of data protection were understood but not identified, or presented, as an insurmountable barrier to the ability to share and use information collectively.

Practical challenges associated with different IT systems and the nature of data protection protocols between organisations were identified by some interviewees. In the following extract an interviewee articulates the importance of information sharing as a central element of partnership working. They highlight the significant impact of instances where one organisation feels unable to share information. This can have negative implications not simply for practical communication, but also for the quality of the relationship and the trust and mutual understanding on which it depends.

'[Information sharing] can make or break partnerships. It causes frustration sometimes when one organisation thinks information should be shared, and the other organisation thinks it shouldn't be shared…

the main source of friction within a partnership can be that side of things, it's "Look. Why are you no telling us that? We're partners. I thought we understood each other."' (B02 Police)

Leadership: The interviews highlighted the importance of leadership in partnerships, both within the police and fire services to encourage, support and stimulate partnership working, but also within partnerships themselves as a way of contributing a sense of collaborative leadership.

'I've heard all of the different Chief Execs speak at different times, it comes very much from the top of the tree this very strong commitment to partnership working and if you like we're enabled and empowered our own levels in the organisation. I think particularly about X where I've got a lot of experience because I worked as a Local Authority Liaison Officer, you're empowered to build these partnerships and these relationships and encouraged to do and expected to do so. I know it will be the same in the other areas, but X where I was very immersed in that, from the top of the tree down there's a strong vision and commitment around working together to improve outcomes for people.' (D03 Police)

Some interviewees spoke of a culture of partnership being created when leaders provide a strong and consistent message within their organisation that then gets picked up at different levels of the organisational hierarchy.

'It's very much about the Chief Execs, but then you look at the teams they have built round about them who are all of a similar mind... er... and it feeds right down through the organisation, so that at an operational level … There'll be examples of partnership working, you know, at an operational level that we're not even aware of, because that's the culture of their organisation and that's how they're used to working.'

Some interviewees reflected on the different leadership role they play in certain partnership settings, where they seek not simply to reflect their organisations' narrower perspective and priorities:

'As the partnership Strategic Board member I try to go into that room and to a certain degree take my fire service head off and see myself as a Strategic Board member making decisions on direction around about strategy for the partnership. But it's difficult to do that sometimes when I know as I've just pointed out that the needs of the community in their eyes maybe dinnae match the needs of my organisation's eyes.' (B12 Fire)

Police and fire interviewees recognised the importance of actively and tangibly demonstrating their commitment to partnership working. The following interviewee describes their efforts to be visibly present in different local partnership settings, particularly in demonstrating this in a new role:

'Think I'm out 4 nights next week, and it's all partnership-based, and I have no hesitation about turning up to any of them, and, again, relatively new guy in town, I'm .. I'm keen to be as visible as I can.' (D02 Police)

Sometimes this leadership could take a more directive form. Examples described by interviewees included the police placing pressure on partners to respond to issues that included demands that were specifically experienced by the police, and to which they could respond alone only in limited ways ( e.g. emergency calls to instances of mental health crisis; youth anti-social behaviour in local communities). As the following interviewee reflects, active police leadership of this kind can contribute a constructive dynamic and lessen the risk of 'collaborative inertia' [10] . But it can risk alienating partners if not applied in a moderated and modulated way.

'We are very 'can do'. We tend to drive agendas, and push on things. Sometimes we do that a bit too much, and forget to take people with us.' (A04 Police)

This could be seen as reflective of the experience of the police service as the agency of 'last resort' for a broad range of issues. These issues are regularly experienced as routine demand on the police service, and about which other partners may be unsighted or organisationally 'blind'. Taking a problem-solving, preventative and more long-term approach arguably requires the police to take these issues to other partners with different capacity and capability to take 'upstream', earlier interventions.

A number of interviewees reflected on the role of supportive, empowering leadership in encouraging innovation. For example, all partners involved in the community mental health triage work, acknowledged the support and backing from local senior leadership in the police, council and NHS:

'That was very very clear throughout. So we knew that, as we were going along, we had their backing in terms of taking this forward and developing it, and that definitely helped I think, you know.' (FGD)

This support does not simply involve encouraging people, or giving 'permission', to be creative. There is inevitably an aspect of risk to innovation, from the uncertainty about whether a new approach or way of working will achieve the expected improvement. Support and encouragement from leaders to be innovative thus also involves some degree of an acceptance of that risk, of the possibility that the innovation may in practice not deliver the anticipated benefits. Providing leadership support to instil creative confidence in individuals and teams to 'go for it', to take risks in a 'safe' environment and not fear failure or blame is an important aspect.

A police interviewee described how as a member of the local command team they sought to create the opportunity and culture for creativity and ideas from anyone.

'We've had very much an open door policy that, as a command team, we will listen to ideas, thoughts, processes, whatever, you know, if there's improvements that can be made. So I guess through the process of that form of engagement… that space to contribute ideas around creativity and innovation are kind of I guess highlighted at those meetings.' (C02 Police)

Personal experiences and qualities: Many of the interviewees reflected on their personal experiences of partnership working. They highlighted the importance of building personal trust, respect, credibility, mutual understanding of respective roles and organisations, and getting over technical language/jargon to a shared understanding. The worth and benefit that comes from high quality relationships has been described as 'relational capital' [11] . As such, it can serve as an important resource which can be drawn on to sustain partnership working, as the bond to collaboration, particularly at times when it is placed under strain by wider organisational or cross-organisational challenges.

Some interviewees pointed to partnership working requiring particular skills, abilities [12] . Some also pointed to the importance of personality traits and characteristics.

'I can work on my own, I can use my own initiative, I can liaise wi' people. If I'm no sure how to do something, I'm not scared to go and ask. I think you're either suited to this kinda Police role, or you're not.' (B03 Police)

Strong personal commitment to partnership working was also expressed by some interviewees, and was recognised and valued by partners.

'I would say personally I absolutely live, eat and breathe partnership working.' (D03 Police)

Building strong inter-personal relationships was not just important in its own right. Interviewees also reflected that building wider and deeper networks with partners was a significant and important resource on which they could draw. Relationships are a key foundation for better communication and information sharing. Interviewees in police and fire commonly expressed a sense of being empowered and supported to pursue partnerships. Some went further and expressed it as a responsibility.

'In terms o' like fostering those relationships, and driving forward initiatives in line wi' our agenda and our priorities, and the CPP's, I'm kinda absolutely feel empowered and responsible if you like for it.' (B10 Fire)

Despite this personal support and encouragement, interviewees reflected on the competing demands they had to cope with to meet organisational requirements alongside those of partnership. Constraints on resources were also mentioned, both in terms of available funding to support partnership activity, but also in certain partnership settings the number of staff available to work on partnership activity.

'The biggest issue is that, you know, there is a lot of pressure put on people because of workloads, as opposed to difficulty. It's down to, to, again, just back to capacity again.' (C01 Police)

Individuals identified the need to play a range of different roles working in partnerships. Those who worked across different local authority areas recognised the need to 'navigate' through different structural arrangements.


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