Innovation and Policing
For the past 18 months I’ve been working with the Portland Police Bureau. We’re tasked with helping them use new software technologies to improve internal collaboration, and to bring closer together police officers and the community they serve.
When I started, I saw a chance to unite two worlds – the fast moving world of software development and the highly structured world of the police force – and enable them to learn from each other.
There were lots of good reasons to get involved in my role as citizen, Portland resident, and an old-time community organizer. But as an innovation consultant, what drew me in?
One question we all grapple with is not just the theory, but the practice of innovation. It’s fine to think of new ideas, but often the big challenge is not coming up with ideas for change, but getting people to change their behavior. And organizations only change when behavior changes.
Police departments are notoriously tough places to innovate in. They’re highly unionized paramilitary organizations with entrenched bureaucracies, incredibly slow adoption rates for technology, and ingrained modes of behavior. In fact, if you were asked to create the most difficult environment for innovation possible, it might look a lot like a modern American police department.
And of course, the Bureau gets this. They know that many people within the organization resist change. At the same time, they realize that the increasing complexity of the problems that they face each day require them to become far more agile, collaborative and innovative
So we got to work, and they’ve given us some great support. New ideas are sprouting, new doors opening up.
And that’s part of the attraction for me. The more challenging an environment is, the better proving ground it is for theory. The lessons we learn at the PPB are battle-tested ones that can be replicated in other organizations. By working together successfully, we’re developing new ways to change organizations’ behavior, and thus change people’s lives.
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