Further back than I dare to really admit, I studied Russian politics where we learned about glasnost or, more simply, being open and transparent about public life. We need to be able to understand and discuss what public bodies and services do for those same bodies to secure public confidence and support. One of the aims of independent custody visiting is to bring a hidden area of policing into public view. It makes sense ICVA reflects on our work to ensure that we are transparent too.
We have been thinking about how we do this lately, it’s been part of an ongoing journey for us. Our Chief Operating Officer and I started this journey on social media. We eagerly report on what we are up to and converse with our stakeholders on Twitter. We’ve developed a new website including our blog and distribute a newsletter each week. Moreover, we have spent a lot of time meeting our scheme managers, visiting different areas and suites and building ICVA’s reputation. ICVA’s Board of Directors has grown, developed and done the same.
But there is transparency and there is transparency. We cannot rest of what we’ve done to date and our Chair rightly pointed out that it is now the right time to have a formal review of what we are up to. CoPaCC assist Police and Crime Commissioners by advising on what information that should publish to deliver public confidence that they are running their organisations effectively and efficiently and are fulfilling their role. We were therefore pleased to explore what transparency should look like for us, using the PCC model as guidance and OPCCs comprise the majority of our members. It seemed to make sense.
ICVA is quick to challenge the police and should be open to challenge ourselves. More than this, though, we are pleased to be working on transparency. We will be developing and adding to our website to should you what we are working on and expect this to bring a range of benefits:
We want to share our strategic vision and direction with you. We spend a lot of time thinking about the role of our organisation and how we can be effective and are pleased to be able to share our thinking with you. Whilst ICVA has two paid members of staff, much of our work relies on good will. As staff, we like to live and breathe the values of the organisation and we spend a lot of our own time discussing it, honing our ideas and building relationships. Furthermore, any work by our directors, regional representatives and stakeholders tends to be driven by good will and shared values. Our brilliant colleagues do pro bono work or generally bend over backwards to support us and work with us, as we do for them. We will delight in sharing this spirit of collaboration and doing what is right.
It is crucial that ICVA maintains credibility. As mentioned already, we regularly challenge police forces on their work. Police will, rightly, want to ensure that all of our challenges are based on robust and reliable information. We work hard to ensure that we are clear about our findings and the evidence we base them on. Our transparency work will supplement this. Our findings will be in regular public view, as will our workplans and methods. Our feel is that the more open we can be, the more credible we will be.
ICVA is accountable to a number of bodies and ideas. As members of the UKNPM we must uphold the spirit and requirements of our international obligations. We are funded by the Home Office and our members (Police and Crime Commissioners and other policing authorities) and need to deliver our agreed objectives. As we add more information to our website, how we balance these demands will be more visible. It will help us to explain why we do what we do. Moreover, when we know that we must account for our decisions, we will constantly reflect on how we are balancing competing demands. This can only be a good thing.
Moreover, transparency is just useful. We can explain our relationship with the inspectorates, with the UKNPM, with other partners like the Home Office, National Appropriate Adult Network and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. This is helpful and a nice side benefit.
Alas, it is not all good news. There are some downsides of transparency, the biggest of which is the cost of being transparent. ICVA has just two members of staff. We have very limited capacity to meet the needs of a number of stakeholders and deliver an ambitious business plan. We need to ensure that we are slick, that we do not repeat work and that anything that we do adds value. Transparency is, of course, valuable, but it is not free.
We also need to be thoughtful about what we do share. Independent custody visiting presents a snapshot of what volunteers see on the ground in their visits. This can mean that we start to look into a topic or issue and find that things aren’t as they first seemed. What can seem like a problem was, in fact, a misunderstanding or somebody learning on the job. We need to make sure that anything that we do publish is robust. Anything else risks the credibility of both the police and our volunteers.
Communication isn’t easy – we like to inspire others to promote our messages. This can be via local scheme videos, hashtags that promote key messages, blogs, radio, newspapers. It can even be by making our statements and work as instagram friendly as possible (I loved seeing mobile phones taking films at our recent conference). Dare I say it, we may also think about taking part in the odd meme.
However, we want to share with you. We will be adding a lot of information to our website over coming months. This may be key documents for independent custody visiting, our business plans, our budget, how we spend our money. It will also include regular updates on key issues on the ground and promote the work that schemes are doing. It will be somewhat gradual and it will take some time, but we hope that it will be interesting to you and we know that it will be an investment so that we can continue to make an impact.