Prof. Jean Hartley Blog: Windy City Blues- Academics and practitioners learning together in Chicago

My visit to Chicago, along with Matt Jones of The Open University and Ian Hesketh of the College of Policing - all three of us associated with the OU’s Centre for Policing Research and Learning - was primarily to participate in the Academy of Management Annual Conference, through running a workshop and going to myriad conference sessions, mainly on leadership but also on organizational change and social impact.  In addition, we also were hosted magnificently by the Chicago Police Department for one day. 

Chicago Police Department

The visit to Chicago Police provided much food for thought – and reflections on UK policing by comparison and by contrast.  Chicago is on the larger size of the US’s 18,000 or so police forces.  Many are tiny by UK standards, policing small towns and districts, but Chicago itself has around 13,000 officers and 5,000 staff, organised in 22 districts.  Initially we went to visit the employee assistance programme, and learnt about some of the pressures on working officers, noting the long hours they all work, in comparison with the UK. 

The visit moved to the Police Academy (mainly recruit training when we were there) and was fascinating.  Recruits can only join the police force after at least 2 years of college (roughly equivalent to the first two years of university in the UK) and there was a strong view that this level of educational achievement was necessary to encourage critical skills and problem solving approaches.  The curriculum is set by the state of Illinois with a mandated 500 hours of training, but Chicago has taken the decision to double the hours to 1000 (quite similar to UK currently).  There is then about 12 or so weeks out with a field training officer (cf. the UK’s tutor constables).  We had a complete tour of the facilities.  The Academy was very proud of its simulation suite, provided by VirTra, and offering a range of realistic interactive scenarios with film projected 300 degrees around the learner (and I was very much a learner as I tried this!  I could hear lots of chuckles in the background from the real police) and the operator, able to modify the scenario according to how the learner behaves.  With voice, body and brain (and gun in hand – this is America, after all - though it only fires lasers at the screens) you have to try to deal with the unexpected in front of (and perhaps behind) you.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdgIQkm7qZk for the promo video. 

Is there something equivalent in the UK?  (Hydra is quite different). It spurred me to think about this.  It also provides some useful thinking as apprenticeship and DHEP curriculum is developed at the OU, because visual, aural and kinaesthetic learning is important in policing.

With grateful thanks to Commander Marc Buslik of District 19 who was our host for the day, and also to Commander Dan Godsel and Lieutenant Jack Benigno of the Academy, who gave enthusiastic time to show us round their academy. 

Academic-practitioner workshop

Very early the next morning, our team assembled for the workshop we were giving.  We were a seven-person strong team – three of us from the UK and four from Australia – Profs Debbie Blackman and Michael O’Donnell from the University of New South Wales (confusingly in Canberra), along with practitioners Rebecca Woods and Natalie Ashdown. Our focus was “Making it work: Capability for research partnerships that improve lives” and we used two case studies, about research with the Australian Public Service, and research with the Centre for Policing Research and Learning.  One goal was to identify and profile exemplar initiatives that bridge the gap between theory and practice and engage practitioners and academics in the co-creation of knowledge.   The second was to identify key skills and capabilities to make such collaborations work.  This has been under-explored in academic research, though we are confident that such capabilities can be learnt, often by working alongside more experienced colleagues, by reflecting on theory and practice, and by ensuring that tensions and difficulties are explored and harnessed productively rather than suppressed or ignored.  We had some excellent theoretical and practical discussion on these issues.

As well as really enjoying our time together, the team is now embarking on writing a paper about collaborative skills. Watch this space!  The powerpoint slides are available on the Centre for Policing website http://centre-for-policing.open.ac.uk  

Attending other conference sessions

With over 11,000 participants (yes, you read that right) and more than 2,000 sessions (ditto), making choices about which sessions to go to was not easy.  I went to interactive sessions about multi-level change, and on assessing social impact, I attended the President’s breakfast and speech and much more.  I was pleased to be able to go to the reflections on the Tavistock Institute past and present, and see common threads over 70 years, with thoughtful sessions from Cliff Oswick and from the OU’s Richard Holti.  I loved going to sessions to see in the flesh people whose writings had shaped my own thinking.  I went to some sessions which, quite frankly, were not that exciting, but even sitting in boring sessions prompted me to think how this topic could be better, and enabled me to drift off into valuable thoughts prompted by the hapless presenter.  I browsed books and used the discount code once I had returned home.  I had coffee with colleagues, plotted an article with one, and chewed over ideas and caught up with people.  In formal talks, I hoovered up references to interesting papers relevant to my ongoing research projects.  I relished the architecture of Chicago as I walked to the conference reception at the Art Institute of Chicago (and saw paintings by van Gogh, Seurat, Cezanne, Hopper, Grant and Kahlo). 

I will just pick out a couple of sessions which I found particularly interesting from the many I went to on leadership, followership, collective leadership.

Joanne Ciulla, Professor Emerita at the Jepson School of Leadership, gave a fascinating talk reflecting on her career and how a philosopher came to get entangled in leadership studies, working alongside James McGregor Burns, Thomas Wren and others. She has recently become interested in the problems of populist leadership, arguing that academics should become public intellectuals, tackling difficult and contentious issues of the day.  She plans to write about leadership such as that of President Trump, possibly using the lens in the book called “Leadership by Resentment: From ressentiment to redemption” by Ruth Capriles. Joanne argues this is one of the most interesting current books on leadership, as it explores resentment, particularly found in societies which are meant to be equal.  Resentment can build up where people feel that they are not able to achieve, leaving a deep hole in the psyche, and an inversion of values (in Aesop’s fable the fox strives for sweet grapes but when they become unattainable he says they are sour). In such situations, people are often prepared to do things which harms themselves in order to do harm to something they dislike -  and to support a leadership which brings this situation about.  Sound familiar? I am going to keep an eye out for Joanne’s work, and also I have ordered the Capriles book. 

A session on leadership for organizational adaptability, led by Professor Mary Uhl-Bien, was also valuable.  She set out the results of a literature review across several disciplines, which had looked at how leadership had to manage the tensions between the need to produce (which requires order, rules, systems, predictable processes often) and the need to innovate (which requires imagination, experimentation, risk-taking often).  Leadership, argues Mary, has to enable both conflict and connection.  This was followed by a session from Profesor Steven Poelmans from Antwerp Management School, Belgium, on the paradox theory of leadership: a neuroscience-based theory of integral leadership.  He drew on a neuroscience-based theory of leaders’ effectiveness in dealing with complexity, arguing that leaders cannot multi-task, but often have to shift, very rapidly and repeatedly, between different foci, such as task and relationship, declaring and inquiring (speaking and asking questions) and other paradoxes of leadership.  Each switch has brain and energy costs.  He then examined how emotional regulation can help people cope with the paradoxes of leadership but also noted that those who are less skilled in emotional regulation find this a task in itself, which can compound problems in dual processing.  Learning how to undertake meta-cognition (thinking about your own thinking) can be helpful in handling paradox he argues.  This has implications not only for leadership but for leader wellbeing and also the wellbeing of staff. 

Summary

A productive time, both academically and in terms of international comparisons of policing.  More to come in terms of an academic publication from the workshop. 

With appreciative thanks for funding from the Open University’s Citizenship and Governance Strategic Research Initiative. 

Professor Jean Hartley

August 2018