Last week I was honoured to be part of the Stakeholder Panel in the recruitment process for the next Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police. Whilst not a new idea, it is still a reasonably uncommon occurrence and therefore it is perhaps worthwhile noting my experience and observations. Our panel was made up of six members of the public, representing a variety of organisations. I do think the success of such a panel has much to thank for both the mix of members and the person running the day, who may be required to keep a firm check on direction. In the event, we were a rather professional panel and needed little steering. I suspect this is not always the case.
We had representatives of a variety of groups who work with the community and link or liaise with Lincolnshire Police. We also had a representative of the National Farmers Union and me, a Policing commentator – I’ll let you` imagine the look in each of the candidates’ eyes when I introduced myself as such! Our part of the process was set up as a round table discussion with panel members leading via pre submitted questions. We each asked questions pertinent to our own areas of interest. My questions were centred around Evidence Based Policing and Staff Welfare. Other questions centred around Elder Abuse and engagement of the elderly, Neighbourhood Watch , Volunteers, Rural Crime, work with disadvantaged communities and vulnerable groups. A representative from Lincoln University Student’s Union had been invited but couldn’t make it on the day, which was a pity both for our Panel and for the person who didn’t attend. I think we could have done with a younger perspective and the experience for them would have been valuable.
Whilst three of the four candidates were perhaps a little uncomfortable with the situation to begin with, almost everyone relaxed into it and the discussion time with each one was enjoyable, informative and/or illuminating. We certainly got a feel for the differences in each candidate in a much deeper way than I had expected and this is most definitely one of the strengths of conducting this type of panel as a less formal ‘conversation’. After each candidate, the panel collated their individual impressions which were passed on to the main interview panel. What really surprised me is how much we all agreed on given that we came from quite differing backgrounds and I would recommend the experience to anyone who may be offered the opportunity.
An issue I found several times was that I was the only person on the panel with current (or, I think, any) Policing knowledge and whilst this was probably a good thing in many ways, it did mean that I understood some things a candidate talked about whilst some of the panel did not, or they understood it in a different way. I will go so far as to say that two candidates suggested possible solutions to one panel member’s issue with plans that I knew were impossible, but the panel member could not have known. For this reason, the presence of some kind of Police experience seems valid and even desirable on a Stakeholder Panel. Expanding this thought, are Officers and Staff not stakeholders too? Perhaps a representative from the Staff Associations might have been a useful addition and would give people a feeling that they too have had at least some say in the new Leadership of their Force.
Today, Stephen Greenhaugh of MOPAC tweeted a thought on transparency and the current process to find a new Commissioner for the Met, suggesting a Hustings. I personally think this is a terrible idea as Police Leaders are not elected Politicians (we have PCCs for that) nor are they X Factor style wannabes who need to play for popularity. The public deserve the best person for the job, not necessarily the most charismatic or the one who says what they think they want to hear. After my experience, I would highly recommend the Stakeholder Panel to Mr Greenhaugh as an excellent way to bring the community in to the process whilst not parading candidates like lots at an auction.
Sitting on the panel was exhausting and the weight of responsibility was clear to each of us. We were not asked to sign anything ensuring the privacy of the participants but I think we should have been required to. Candidates must be able to have confidence in the process if we are to see the best of them. I positively advocate the use of such panels in top level recruitment in Public Services but I do think some framework to protect candidates should be in place. My own experience was a positive one largely because of the quality and variety of panel members and the professionalism of Kieran, the recruitment specialist who ran a tight ship and kept us on track more than once.
I’ve manage to write 800 or so words without saying a single thing about any of the candidates and this is how it must remain, except to acknowledge that Lincolnshire Police attracted some good candidates and that although I did not end the day in full agreement with the rest of the panel, I couldn’t fault any of them on their ability to disseminate the information before them. I was relieved that the final decision was to be made elsewhere and I must thank Lincolnshire PCC Marc Jones for giving me and the other panel members the opportunity to be part of something I hope will shape the next few years for Lincolnshire Police in a positive way. It was a very tiring, very enjoyable day that I was very proud to be a part of. Here’s to the future and more public participation.