The importance of taking risks in training

Some
issues call for radical action to get the message across. This is just what the
Metropolitan Police took on board to hammer home its vital examination of
entrenched attitudes to racism. Nic Paton asks if other organisations would
ever be prepared to be so bold

How
often would a bank, say, draft in customers from off the street to tell its
staff face-to-face where they were going wrong, or an engineering firm do the
same thing with its key customers? Not often? Too risky?

Well,
taking risks is what it all comes down to if you really want to make an impact
and create training that is both memorable and effective, argues Detective
Chief Inspector Terry Devoil, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Community and
Race Relations (CRR) training programme.

The
CRR has been the Met’s most ambitious training project in its 175-year history,
bringing race awareness training to all the its police and civilian employees
in the wake of the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It includes
enrolling people off the streets and paying them to tell officers exactly what
they think of them, their attitudes and how they handled race relations.

“It
doesn’t matter who you are or what role you are doing, if you’ve just got
internal trainers teaching internal staff, you need to look closely at the
dimension of that training,” argues Devoil.

“Training
has got to be focused on the effective areas. The police, for instance, do not
know all about domestic violence, but we’ve got people out there like Woman’s
Aid that we’ve in the past pushed away,” he explains.

“We’ve
pushed black people away, we’re pushed academics away, we’ve pushed everyone
away. We have this fear and culture that no one can do it better, I think many
organisations. But you have to be risky with your training,” he adds.

Shaun
Kennedy, head of diversity training for the Met – and Devoil’s boss – agrees.
It’s important to develop a hybrid, not believe you can simply bolt-on
solutions from what’s been done in the past or from what feels comfortable.
It’s vital, too, he argues, to get away from a ‘talk and chalk’ mentality.

The
best, most effective, part of the CRR training was when there was a real
interaction between police and trainer or police and community and trainer, or
even trainer and trainer. The ‘train the trainer’ courses run in advance of the
CRR, were the first time the police and members of the public had been trained
together, and the first time such training had been Ofsted inspected.

“Although
there were plain objectives and, to some extent, there was a script, it was
very much up to the skill of the trainers to tease out individual experiences.
It’s the group that creates its own learning from its own experiences,” Kennedy
explains.

“You
guide them through it, but not in such a managed and conducted way. That was
where perhaps this particular approach was so successful, because people could
work it out for themselves. There were many opportunities throughout the
two-day courses for people to relate it back to their own direct experiences,”
he adds.

At
times, bringing the community in off the streets did lead to tense and
difficult-to-manage situations. As Kennedy puts it, “you cannot control people
who don’t want to be controlled”.

But
that was part of the nature of the training, part of the nature of diversity
itself and taking those sort of risks was, he argues, really the only way to
get the sort of long-term organisational and culture change the Met hopes to
achieve.

Indeed,
the police/community interface proved so successful Devoil and his team had to
limit the number of times they used people to three, because by then they had
so often been won over.

“I
think if we hadn’t done it that way, what we would have achieved would have
been less effective. We would have reverted to type and would have had a white,
male, middle-aged trainer doing ‘these are ethnic minorities, this is where
they live’-type training,” Kennedy argues.

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