TAPPING INTO THE COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE OF THE POLICE FORCE
Collective intelligence takes many forms and has been shown to outperform individuals' decision making. Axon has devised a process that draws the insights and wisdom of its customers, allowing them to directly feed into product development. This, for example, made Axon's unique evidence sharing capability with the Crown Prosecution Service possible. Here are six prerequisites:
- A well-functioning process and good communications
- Psychological safety and an open floor
- A focus on the greater good
At the heart of it, is an agile set up that allows to quickly act on customers' needs in times of rapid technological and societal changes.
For example, with sky-rocketing amounts of digital evidence, police officers spent a lot of time copying and delivering CDs. The Met currently shares around 5.500 media clips with the Crown Prosecution Service every month – this used to mean that they had to make 3 DVDs per clip and then hand-deliver them, taking up considerable amounts of officers' time.
Axon had set up a user group with representatives of three police forces and when Mike Ashby-Clarke joined as the UK's Axon manager, he wanted to work with this group to find a way how police could share evidence digitally via Axon Evidence. He says, 'Axon managed to deliver this sharing capability of Axon Evidence in only six months, while the government has tried and failed to implement such a move for six years now. We got Greater Manchester Police, the Metropolitan Police Service and the West Midlands Police together to make sure the CPS sharing link was suitable for all those three big forces and for the CPS. West Midlands Police reports that every time an officer uses a photo exhibit around two hours is saved with Axon Evidence over the previous manual based system.'
He believes that it's all down being agile enough to respond to changing demands quickly. He says, 'Our digital products are constantly evolving, ensuring, for example, that our systems can integrate any national programmes as and when they become a reality.'
/ A WELL-FUNCTIONING PROCESS AND GOOD COMMUNICATIONS
At the heart of all collective intelligence is a process that works well. It can be formal, or informal, or a combination of both.
At Axon UK, the initial user group meetings that gave rise to Axon Evidence's sharing capability, have evolved now into a formal process. Now Axon hosts four two-day meetings a year, which are centred around the National Change Request Log.
These meetings start with a closed meeting for representatives of the police force, followed by a session run by Axon. Ashby-Clarke says, 'We normally fly over a couple of key developers in current projects, from the US to answer questions and share our roadmap, which is often driven by previous change requests from the group. We close off with a Q&A session about the latest innovations, as well as anything that is still outstanding from the previous meeting. Between these meetings, the Met (who chair the meetings) and our engineering team meet to assess progress, which we share with all members.'
/ PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY AND AN OPEN FLOOR
An essential prerequisite for collective intelligence to arise is 'psychological safety'. It means that members can contribute without fear of embarrassment. Google, which is known for their focus on collective intelligence uses this principle as the foundation of their teamwork.
In order to give the police complete freedom to gather ideas, Axon is not present during the first day of meetings. Ashby-Clarke says, 'Officers can freely talk about their challenges or what they like or don't like about our products, or what problems they're experiencing. Anybody can put forward an idea, and if it gets verified by the views group, it is put forward and prioritised according to how many voices were in favour of it.'
Collective intelligence thrives with diversity. Interestingly, studies have found diverse groups are more collectively intelligent, than homogenous groupings.
Ashby-Clarke thinks that this is also one of the reasons why the Change Request Log is so successful. He says, 'A wide range of representatives from the police forces attend these meetings – from frontline police officers, through to programme managers and ICT architects, there's a real wide range of kind of expertise,' says Ashby-Clarke, who has also started to invite prospective Axon customers as well.
/ A FOCUS ON THE GREATER GOOD
But beyond the process itself, engaging with groups in this way represents a powerful shift: with collective intelligence, the focus is on the collective and the community, rather than the individual or one organisation.
In order for this to work, Axon is relinquishing some control – the sessions are hosted by Axon, but currently chaired by the Met, which presides over the Change Request Log. Together with other forces, they have some autonomy, working with Axon in a mutually beneficial partnership.
Pierre Lévy, the thinker who coined the term collective intelligence in the 90s, wrote, 'The basis and goal of collective intelligence is mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishised or hypostatised communities.' This is echoed by Ashby-Clarke, who says, 'The police forces who work with us know that we have the best interest of the police forces and the communities they serve at heart. So if senior leaders decide to go with us, it's because they see the benefits to them and the community.'
This process and the UK Change Request Log has already been highly successful and shaped over 100 improvements to Axon's products and Australia and Canada have also set up similar user groups.
But Axon's commitment to do right by the communities they serve doesn't stop here. The company's ethics board follows similar principles, listening to diverse voices about complex and difficult ethical questions. As the public increasingly and urgently demands that corporations act responsibly, Axon leads the way, showing that it's possible for a company to be profitable as well as ethical. In fact, in the near future companies may need to be ethical in order to be profitable.