There was a significant change in communication that took place last week and it went relatively unnoticed. Greater Manchester Police took its first community reporter on patrol with local officers on Friday 8 March. It was a chance for the local resident to experience policing first hand and to see all elements both good and bad. But more than just experiencing it we wanted them to talk about it, to tell us and their community what they found, what it meant and how it made them feel. The individual was encouraged to use social networks to share their experiences. All this was done with no control over what they would say.
It is a risky venture but seen as extremely important if we are to really understand what matters to people and how they will judge whether the organisation has been successful in dealing with issues in their communities. As well as the potential risks to reputation in allowing this level of access, there was also all kinds of legal issues that had to be overcome. They would have been enough to put many businesses off doing it, and probably us as well if we had not been so determined to make it happen.
The result of the first patrol can be seen on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpbvDKT0Pl4&list=UU2nzRhf7x6_-ShxGo39rzKg&index=2 and also in the community reporter’s own words here http://www.netmums.com/coffeehouse/general-coffeehouse-chat-514/news-current-affairs-topical-discussion-12/900733-community-reporter-harriet-blake-went-out-patrol-her-local-officers.html
This was her views and thoughts, and the role for the communication team was just to gather the information and then share it through social networks. For me this is similar to the user-generated content that the media have been so keen on in recent years. It is people’s perspective and views but given from a more knowledgeable position. There has already been an overwhelming response from people wanting to get involved.
It might not seem particularly radical but for me it marks a significant change in the way we develop communication and engagement activity. This is not about sending out corporate messages but rather truly understanding the customer perspective and more than that it is demonstrating a level of transparency that many would be concerned about. It takes a mature organisation to be able to undertake such activity and deal with the possible negative comments. I am hopeful that we will continue to listen and consider all comments rather than worry about trying to ‘spin’ our way out.
This is the first of what we hope will be a whole series of patrols developing a group of community reporters who can tell their neighbourhoods what they have experienced and provide invaluable feedback on the service. There are so many opportunities that this approach presents once we accept that it is going to be a high risk venture. In a recent communication survey people overwhelmingly said they valued trust more than anything else in the conversations they have. And this initiative will surely help to build that, or at least I hope it will.
Social networks have played a huge part in helping the organisation connect with people as individuals and as communities. Without the arrival and impact of social networks this latest initiative would never have been possible. I want this to be the start of a new phase of communication as we move to be a more social organisation. To see how this initiative develops watch this space.