Perceptions of policing: the management of change within the police service

Annette Crisp, De Montfort University Leicester

A PhD study into managing change in the police service using complexity theory as a research tool

Disciplinary background(s) Criminology, Business/Management studies, Psychology

When did the research take place? I am currently analysing my data. As a part time PhD student my research has so far taken nearly 5 years.

Aims of research To more clearly plot and understand the problems inherent in managing change in an already complex area; as exemplified by the deployment of the role of the Police Community Support Officer.

Description of creative research method

a)    Data was collected from 3 subject groups:

  • Members of the Public
  • Police Senior Officers/Managers
  • Front line ranks of Sergeant, Police Constable and Police Community Support Officer.

b)    Numbers of Respondents Involved

  • Police Managers: 6
  • Members of the Public: 20

Front Line Police Staff:

  • Sergeants: 7
  • Police Constables: 12
  • PCSOs: 17

c)    Method

Each group were asked a selection of questions based on scenarios describing a potential crime and their possible response.

Police Managers were asked what actions they thought their officers would take in response; Members of the Public were asked if they would call the police under these circumstances and what they would expect the police response to be; and, Front Line Ranks were asked what they would do in response to the crime or potential crime described.

Whilst this is a fairly straightforward data collection element of a research process my analysis of the qualitative subject responses has been creative.

As a result of the data collection I have around 400 pieces of information which describe anticipatory activities. These have been plotted or mapped onto a basic schematic which highlights, at the fundamental level, a catalyst for activity centred in a ‘basin of attraction’ and the possible alternative attractants and shadow systems at work which draw out or pull individuals in alternative directions resulting in their choice of different methods of resolving the same event.

Diagram 1: Basic Response to Robbery based on National Occupational Standards and Training Procedures Showing the Basin of Attraction and Potential Shadow Systems.

Diagram 1

The following maps show a consolidated response from the study groups to a question based on a potential street robbery.   Differences between the expectations of each groups questioned are immediately identified by the mapping process and can be compared to the basic requirement with some surprising results.

Diagram 2: The Public Expectation of the Police Response

Diagram 2

Diagram 3: The Police Managers’ Expectations of their Officers

Diagram 3

Diagrams 4, 5 and 6: Potential Responses of Front Line Staff

Diagram 4: Sergeants

Diagram 4

Diagram 5: Police Constables

Diagram 5

Diagram 6: Police Community Support Officers

Diagram 6

The previous maps represent the consolidated actions of 50 of the research respondents and suggest that from the police perspective that the closer agents of the law become to an event the more detailed or complex is their perceived response.  This mapped response consequently appears different to that expected by their line managers, the public and the basic National Occupational Standard expected but reflects the need to respond appropriately to the dynamic nature of crime. The maps expose the added complexities of human choices when perceptions, possible prejudices, expectations of role and occupational culture work as shadow systems to pull decisions and consequent actions away from occupational requirements. They also show the dangers of reducing opportunities for the use of discretion within complex systems.

Why did you choose to use this method? I am a visual learner/teacher and find that I am able to describe and interpret my research work best with the help of images.

What did you learn from the research process? The adoption of images and maps to represent the subject responses I feel shows the dynamic and complex nature of the research more clearly and immediately than just a written description might.  In the final submission for my thesis, however, I will be submitting both.


Byrne, D. (1998) Complexity theory and the social sciences: an introduction. London: Routledge.

Mitleton-Kelly, E. (2003) ‘Complexity research – approaches and methods: The LSE complexity group integrated methodology’. In: Keskinen, A., Aaltonen, M., Mitleton-Kelly, E. Organisational complexity. Foreword by Stuart Kauffman. Scientific Papers 1/2003, TUTU Publications, Finland Futures Research Centre, Helsinki, 2003. PDF document [accessed 16/8/13]

Spencer, S. (2011) Visual research methods in the social sciences. Oxon: Routledge.