In my last post on standards, I quoted an email I had received from a previous commenter, H. Carvey. One of his lines stuck out at me:
“Create a sense of ownership and build confidence in the standard.”
When most standards come from the top down, what’s the best way for administrators to help officers feel “ownership” in determining their own conduct? Quite possibly, by allowing them input. Not just a token focus-group or special-committee type of input, but department-wide involvement.
Determining policy in the U.S. Army
The “bottom up” policy-making model is a matter of experimentation in the U.S. Army, where Human Resource Executive reports that seven training manuals are up for revision:
A lot of eyebrows went up recently when the Army announced its 90-day “wiki” program, which invites about 140,000 soldiers of all ranks to make real-time wiki updates to the Army’s tactics, techniques and procedures.
Using Wikipedia software MediaWiki, the soldiers make changes and sign them for review. If the experiment works, 200 more manuals will be revised and reviewed under the wiki approach. The value? The Army will be able to (as the project director was quoted as saying), “stay more current with best practices being used in the field.” Thus far, this has been exactly the case.
Collaborative conduct policy
Just as Neighborhood Watch encourages civilians to take responsibility for their own crime prevention strategies, a policy wiki may encourage officers to think critically about their own conduct both online and off, and how it affects their fellow officers. Supervisors still have final say, but as in the Army, the idea is to help guide leaders in the decisions they make and thus, the orders they give.
Command staff may in fact find they need to offer less guidance than they may think. Social networking is in use by officers across generations and levels of experience. Thus those who have been around long enough to know the effect of misconduct on morale can help guide the less experienced officers.
In addition, as my colleague Dave Hubbard notes, being “low on the totem pole” is more bearable when individuals feel valued for all the contributions they can make, not just those deemed important by superiors. It makes officers want to speak proudly of working at their agency.
Accredited agencies may need to take more oversight to ensure that “crowdsourced” policies adhere to CALEA requirements. Yet even these in themselves seem to align with social media values and culture.
Internal social tools
Overall, law enforcement agencies not yet ready to jump into public engagement may find internal social networking easier to manage. Policy and training manual wikis are one option. Internal blogging is another. Its benefits:
- It cuts down on the number of e-mails and paper memos that must be sent.
- It helps better prepare staff for meetings, and in some cases can reduce the need for meetings.
- More “open” internal blogs can help cut down on damaging misunderstandings between bureaus.
- Knowing what other bureaus do for work can help patrol officers decide where their next career step may lie.
Not yet ready for Twitter or Facebook? Internal microblogging tools like Yammer, Present.ly, and others can help. Restricted to organization members who sign up for them, these tools allow short bursts of information to be shared among the entire agency.
Choose the right goals
As with all social media, however, it’s important to have solid goals to govern usage. Not so much “develop a conduct policy,” but “Allow employees to use their experience to develop a conduct policy”—using language, in other words, that defines the tool’s appropriate level of openness or closing off.
Otherwise, misuse is a threat. An internal blog goal may be something like, “Allow command staff to brainstorm action items prior to weekly meetings” or “Allow officers to discuss challenges with community relations activities.” Vague goals discourage lack of use, because employees will err on the side of caution when it comes to underlying supervisor motivations.
For one thing, supervisors must take care not to use these internal tools as a way to “check up on” employees. No one likes to be micromanaged, and it will be counterproductive for employees to contribute anything when they feel they’re being watched.
There are other concerns with internal communication, too, many similar to those involving e-mail; but some unique as well.
Overall, however, encouraging officer feedback based on their own experiences can be a positive step toward encouraging community feedback. It can help both officers and administrators learn how to give and receive criticism, how to open up and when to step back.
What are the pros and cons you see with internal social media policy-making and overall use for law enforcement?
Image: paintMonkey via Flickr