Lessons from Community Policing: process, tools and transparency

by Victoria Walker · February 10th, 2014.

I have just returned from Albania, where we undertook a mid-term review of the programme “Swedish support to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) / Albanian State Police (ASP) on Community Policing (SACP)”. This was quite a unique learning experience. We had been intimately involved in the programme design three years previously so had a deeper insight than we might otherwise have managed to get in just a short evaluation mandate.

The programme is based on the notion that the police need to develop trust with the population they serve. One way of achieving this is through the police doing their job better – and the population knowing enough about what the police are doing to see any improvement. Then if trust is increased, the population are more likely to contribute to improving security in their communities by sharing information. This, in turn, will allow the police to better do their job. The programme aims to achieve this virtuous circle through three interlinked projects, dealing respectively with performance management, partnerships (particularly between youth and the police), and domestic violence. 

Although it is too early to assess the impact, there were three exciting aspects that we will be examining in more depth to see whether we can use or promote them elsewhere, and how. First is the extent to which the process for both design and implementation has been participatory. Second is the level of transparency throughout. Third is the use of a small grants scheme as a mechanism.   

1.            Participation in the process: the design phase of the programme included a number of different workshops at two separate stages. The first was to validate the findings of our initial assessment of the issues and explore in more depth the main security concerns that had been identified and obstacles to building trust between the police and the population.  Six workshops took place across the country, with efforts made to ensure a wide range of participants. We gained a huge amount of information from these, which allowed us to put together an options paper for the MoI on areas that the future programme could support. The second round of workshops was to drill down on the three areas chosen by the MoI. So what were some of our key lessons? (And yes, some of these are not new – but they remain ever relevant).

        i.            Get out of the capital city– we found diverging views on what was important, as well as differences in the broad solutions proposed.

       ii.            Adjust your approach to suit the audience – we struggled to get general citizen participation in workshops that were also attended by senior local officials and uniformed personnel. We ended up doing separate focus groups to capture these other views. We ended up having to take a similar approach in some areas to ensure the views of ethnic minorities and women were also captured: they also felt intimidated by the makeup of the workshops. 

      iii.            Provide some form of follow up afterwards – by sending out the subsequent report participants are acknowledged and you can start to encourage ownership of the subsequent programme. The ability to do this of course depends very much on the context.

     iv.            Manage expectations of NGO’s involved in the design phase, who may see their participation as a fast track to securing a contract to implement.

       v.            Finally, although we did not face this issue in Albania, remember not to take for granted that the state institution will want wide participation: this may be quite a political issue that requires a lot of preparatory work up front to build understanding and appreciation on why this is a good thing.

2.            Transparency: Information on a programme is not always shared, for a number of reasons. Issues of national security often predominate. Control of security forces is linked to power and sharing information can be seen as reducing that power. Donors may be reluctant to divulge details on their activities. Yet taking a proactive approach to sharing information on a design or a review process has many benefits. It opens up security actors to the idea that providing information should be the default position, with a decision to be taken to make something unavailable, rather than the other way around. Citizens require knowledge to be able to engage in development activities in their country, so encouraging transparency facilitates participation.

Sharing examples of critical reflection and demonstrating that it is OK to make these public (such as releasing mid-term reviews or evaluations) can help encourage institutions to adopt similar attitudes and move away from the blame culture that often prevails. It also allows for lessons to be extracted for others facing similar dilemmas in design or implementation. Sida (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) and the MoI adopted a very open approach, which is great and has had a positive impact. All the key documents from the design phase, as well as the mid-term review, are available here (go to the "documents" tab).

3.            The small grants scheme: Under the SACP, committees have been set up in five locations in Albania, comprising representatives from local government, regional education directorates, the police, parents’ boards, minority community representatives, Youth Councils etc. These committees can award small grants (up to the value of 5,000 Euro) to individuals, NGOs or consortiums to implement grassroots projects that improve the relationship and cooperation between young people, minority communities and the police. In round one, grants were awarded in each location to the top three applicants, using a very transparent voting mechanism, with support being provided during the application process by the SACP programme management team to applicants to ensure they filled out the necessary documentation accurately.  Round two is currently underway.

In addition to the benefits from the actual projects, the committees get local stakeholders interacting on security issues and this can be seen as a first step towards jointly identifying priorities. This is actually quite an important step, as although the development of joint priorities at a local level had been envisaged in the 2007 Law on State Police, there had been very little progress.

It is not difficult to see how this could be used elsewhere. There may already be local security committees established that could serve as selection committees, or the idea could be used as a way of bringing local parties together. Any sort of framework could be used for the selection criteria. In the case of Albania, grants were linked to achieving the planned results of a donor-supported programme. However, grants could be awarded for projects that support the implementation of a local community policing action plan (which in itself would encourage wide dissemination of the action plan, increase transparency, and improve knowledge of developments that affect local citizens). Or they may be more generic, but have tighter criteria of civil society working in partnership with the police to develop the projects. The options are endless and really allow the nuances of local context to be taken into account.

We have been very lucky to have been involved in the process this way, as well as having had a significant amount of leeway to shape that process, and as I said, it has given us a unique perspective. There are of course many other lessons that emerged from the two mandates we had. You can read the lessons identified report from the design phase here and the full lessons from the mid-term review will be going up soon!


Victoria Walker
13 Feb 2014, 11:59:38

Hi Ishaq

Thanks for your comments. Local ownership was something that we really tried to support and promote during the design phase - and this is something that has clearly been taken forward by the implementation team. That is not to say that there have not been difficulties - and in particular there was a great divide between ownership at the grassroots level (good) and the strategic level (not so good). This whole issue also brings out questions of how to manage the politics. 

I would definitely encourage you to have a read through of the mid-term review report, as this already highlights a lot of lessons. We will be doing an After Action review from the mandate in due course, which will bring others out - as much on the process we used to carry out the review as the substantive issues.

As I mentioned, it is a great example by Sida to allow the review to be posted online for others to read, and it would be interesting to know if anyone has experience from similar challenges elsewhere (and how these were tackled)

Victoria Walker
13 Feb 2014, 11:53:44

Hi Tim, 

You hit the nail on the head there about keeping it "real" - the Small Grants Scheme does just that and it definitely took me by surprise the level of engagement the team has helped achieve. 

Your points on needing to modify the programme are well taken on board. I think a great example of this is how the SACP programme management team introduced a strong consideration of gender and minorities into the programme. (For those not familiar with the programme, you can refer to the observations made under Evaluation Questions 8 and 9 in the mid-term review - page 27/28).  

I'm really interested to see how things progress there for the remainder of the programme duration: any success yet in bringing in the private sector to the Small Grants Scheme process?

Ishaq Ibrahim
12 Feb 2014, 11:09:02

Hi Victoria,

Thanks for this post. It brings light on a very important aspect of police reforms: Local Ownership. Hoping to read the full lessons from the mid-term review.

Tim Del Vecchio
11 Feb 2014, 09:40:57

I enjoyed reading your comments Victoria. As you have noted there are many aspects of this programme that appear to be highly effective. It really helped that the design process included significant input from the community. I think it's critical however that the right people get invited to be part of the design process. Whoever is steering the process should know how to make a good "cocktail". Quality ingredients are a must!

It's also important to keep it "real". There have been way too many programmes in Albania which cruised along in the stratosphere. The Swedish programme is very much directed at the street level. It's the difference between the Space Shuttle and a crop duster.

It's also critical that a programme be provided with the flexibility to adapt. While the basic design was very good things had to be modified somewhat to tackle issues that had popped up after the programme got started.

I'm confident that many of the programme's activities will be sustainable. The various working groups have already forged effective networks and relationships. When we take the "training wheels" off the locals should have all of the skills and experience necessary to keep things rolling. Funding, of course, is another issue.

Thanks for your support and I appreciate being invited into ISSAT's virtual community.