What is the role of Organisation Development in the future of policing?

Toby Lindsay, Principal Consultant for Leadership, Management and OD at Skills for Justice

Organisation Development (OD), which is grounded in the reality of modern policing and crime prevention, is a key component to ensuring our future police service is adept at meeting the increasing challenges it will face. Yet, as the College of Policing’s 2020 report Policing in England and Wales: Future Operating Environment 2040 (FOE 2040) considers, these challenges are ever changing, complex and far-reaching. So where do we begin?

I recently launched a new open programme designed specifically to help policing and crime prevention practitioners make this aspiration a reality. Here, I take a brief look, through an Organisation Development (OD) lens, at the long view offered by the FOE 2040, and why reflecting on it is a good place to start.

Technical and social systems

While the future is always fundamentally unknown in its specifics, the act of considering past and current trends, and then identifying the numerous scenarios and potential issues and opportunities which may arise from them, is a well-established method for successfully moving into the future. For this to happen, it is essential that we recognise and understand that the ‘unknowable’ future is born out of our present, and that this is where we have the greatest power and agency.

In looking at change from an OD perspective we often consider the technical system of structure, role, organisation, law, and procedure, as well as the social system of values, behaviours, relationships, and community, as being key. This dual aspect is vital for policing to meet the challenges of the future. A thoroughly modern police service must not only consider how it needs to be structured, shaped, and trained, but how the relationships it has with its communities are represented in its workforce; how it lives the values that promote its acceptance; and the continuation of policing by consent.

Significant considerations

The five future challenges the FOE 2040 identifies cover both technical and social systems, as well as the impact of emergent technology on our social lives and communities. Where policing takes up its role in this, and how, are significant considerations for its leadership to address.

In taking two views of how change occurs, we might look at John Kotter¹ and Ralph Stacey’s² work on the subject. Kotter offers an eight step model for change that gives a clear and useful framework for thinking through and leading change. However, this model suggests a certain predictability to change and a level of control that is rarely evidenced when looking back on change initiatives. Stacey identifies the more unpredictable and emerging nature of change, usefully suggesting that constantly reflecting on the impact of change initiatives and adapting practices are an essential part of successfully achieving it.

While we may want to gain greater control and predictability over the future, a fundamental part of leadership development and the various approaches taken is that we often seek the answers before we have properly understood the questions we need to be asking. In the five future challenges the FOE 2040 identifies, key questions are raised around each challenge, yet taking on board Kotter and Stacey’s views, we would add two more, ‘How will policing create space and time to explore, and shape ways to answer the questions posed, to meet the challenges ahead?’ and ‘How will we create a compelling and engaging vision for communities of change agents to come together to do this work?’

It does seem to be clear that in a difficult time for society, where there is a trend towards rising inequality and social fragmentation, that the trust and relationship between communities and policing is under extreme pressure. We are also living in a time where there is a great sense of loss, lost time, and a pressure to move forward into ‘the new normal’ as quickly as possible. Our technical system: that of Zoom and Teams meetings, enables this relentless pace of work, which is accompanied by high levels of exhaustion and potential burnout.

Wider discussion

Contemplating the implications offered by the FOE 2040, key stakeholders in the future of policing need to be given adequate time and space for frank discussion, reflection and sharing of ideas, to help both identify the questions, and develop the strategies to address the challenges it outlines. This collaborative exploration may be done within policing itself, or, as the model suggests, will become more and more important, across organisational boundaries.

However, we work in a time where the imperative is to act now, and fast; understandably so, as we face incredible pressures and challenges every day. Nevertheless, the voice of the change practitioner in policing and their ability to influence and convene these vital conversations to happen now, on the structures and strategic development plans required, is essential in making the important work of change be most effective in the future.

This is why, at Skills for Justice, we believe that for the sector to adapt and grow to meet the challenges of tomorrow, networks for strategic conversation, relationship development and change practitioner capability development, are important initiatives to offer today. The future of policing starts now.

Join Toby to continue this conversation and be part of the Skills for Justice ‘Police and Crime Prevention OD and Change Practitioner Programme’, which starts on 7 May.

For more information visit www.sfjuk.com/services/open-programmes/police-and-crime-prevention-od-and-change-practitioner-programme.


1. Kotter, JP (1995) Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, 73, 59-67

2. Stacey, RD (2011) Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics: The Challenge of Complexity Sixth Edition. In: Ralph, DS, Ed, Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics, Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, Essex, England.