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Operational Research, Workshops and Events

OR Society Criminal Justice Special Interest Group Meeting 4th March 2013

OR Society logoThe OR Society’s Criminal Justice Special Interest Group met yesterday in Wakefield and we had an interestingly diverse range of presentations.

Amanda Gregory from the Centre for Continuous Improvement in the Public Sector spoke about some of the trends in public sector approaches to CI over the past few years. She described the origins and popularity of Systems Thinking, including the application of Lean. She also proposed that CI depended on three things: Culture/Values, Processes and Structure. Her view was that insufficient attention has been paid to structure and she proposed Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model as a useful framework for organisations to think about structures (as opposed to the ’old’ hierarchy model).

Charlie Lee from the MoJ then spoke about the use of Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) to compare the efficiencies of Courts. He took us through his approach to identifying the input measures and output measures that could be adopted within the DEA technique.

Interestingly, the more factors that are included in the analysis, the more courts end up looking like 100% efficient. No doubt that’s a message that was quite attractive to some of his customers in the project! It was also interesting to see how slight changes in the model could significantly change how efficient an individual court looked.

It seemed to me that perhaps the biggest value of the technique and the analysis was in getting different courts to question why their performance differed from others. It also reminded me of my ’3 levels of Benchmarking’: Metrics – Process – Organisation. Metrics tell you ’what’ performance differences exist; processes explain ’how’ those metrics are achieved and ’organisation’ explains ’why’ the processes and performance differ.

The final morning presentation was Daniel Livingstone from the Home Office who talked about a model he was building to examine the effect of economies of scale on police air operations.

I learned a new word ’endogeneity’ which apparently describes the perverse effect of justifying the use of an asset after it has been purchased. The cynic in me had to ask how many police helicopters were simply bought as an ego trip (my helicopter is bigger and more up-to-date than yours). Obviously, Daniel wasn’t prepared to answer that!

After lunch, Peter Loader from Process Evolution, spoke about the findings of a national survey of police response processes and performance. This used a mixture of performance metrics and perception data gathered from a range of police forces to look at the productivity and efficiency of different operating models.

By some relatively simple analysis, Peter was able to show the impact of shift patterns, crewing policies and incident deployment policies resulted in quite widely differing efficiencies.

Peter is running a series of workshops to help people understand the power of this analysis and to give some significant insights into the levers that can be pulled to improve performance. His presentation clearly showed that it is perfectly feasible to improve performance, reduce cost and increase service levels all at the same time.

Martin Rahman and David Fitzgerald from West Yorkshire Police talked about the changing role of the OR team in the force. Historically, many of their OR projects had been conducted ’in the lab’, with little engagement of the front-line or senior managers who would need to act on their analyses. Consequently, projects risked a lack of ownership and adoption.

Today, their OR projects are shorter and have a far higher degree of staff engagement. So, current projects looking for efficiency savings may only last a month. There’s a high degree of staff involvement and the role of the OR team is much more about facilitation and helping the business to analyse performance and develop viable solutions for implementation.

This seemed to me to be a great example of an OR team that recognised the maturity of its client organisation and worked with them to adopt the best tools for any particular project.

All in all, a very interesting day. Our next event is on 24th June, in London.

We will also be running a Criminal Justice Stream at the OR Conference in September and I’d be pleased to hear from anyone with a paper which they would like to present.  Please e-mail me.

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