Change and disruption are not new to policing, the landscape being characterized by changing demands, uncertainty, and the need to work differently. When faced with cancelling another in-person event due to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, the team responsible for delivering the 20th Excellence in Policing (EIP20) conference decided to take on the challenge and learn how to deliver the event with an exclusively online experience.
Excellence in Policing 2020 and going virtual
EIP events are run ‘by the service, for the service’ through the National Police Chiefs’ Council Performance Management Coordination Committee, working in close association with the College of Policing, for the purpose of promoting continuous improvement. The decision to pivot to a virtual event was based on the fact that there was considerable interest in the programme, a number of keynote speakers were already committed, and a tightly designed programme addressing a range of vital issues was in place. Initially, the team’s expectations of an online-only conference were modest and influenced by very mixed experiences of phone conferences and virtual meetings – all from a variety of platforms.
The success of the event was not going to be realized without considerable effort. Even though the team had all become very familiar with video calls between friends and family, weekend quizzes online and navigating ways to work remotely, running an event like EIP20 was a far greater undertaking. It required diligent preparation and planning to provide the best possible experience. The team received quite a lot of wisdom from others who had run previous online events, saying that it would need to be short, simple, predominantly pre-recorded and tightly scripted. However, the team wanted to uphold the event’s history and community and ensure that the ethos of EIP was not lost. It was a challenge to figure out how to host an event for hundreds of people in a variety of different locations, including their own homes, in a way that would achieve the desired results.
Running a live virtual event does not come without its challenges. With every live stream there are always the risks attached to weak broadband connections, a limitation to audience and speaker interaction and unforeseen challenges on the day of the event. The temptation is to avoid much of this risk by running a pre-recorded event with every session prepared and played out to the audience. But this can quickly become a less engaging experience and limit the opportunity for discussion. A key decision was made – to make EIP20 a live event rather than a collection of pre-recordings. According to Dr Peter Langmead-Jones, Head of External Relations and Performance at Greater Manchester Police, “By running the event live, we could ensure we prioritised the delegate experience; bringing opportunities for questions, interaction and hopefully retaining the some of the atmosphere of EIP.”
The online EIP20 event would enable all UK police forces to take part alongside public sector partners and key stakeholders. Interactivity was prioritized throughout the event experience. In fact, the title of the event, “What are you talking about,” was carefully chosen. By playing with intonation, it lent itself to examining the issues of interest and concern, and if inverted, it invited consideration of those issues that are not being talked about enough. To illustrate this, the conference opened with a poll of the audience asking them about the biggest challenge facing the police service. Then, the first speaker of the two-day event, Kit Malthouse, Minister for Crime and Policing, set the tone for the day by discarding his prepared speech. This illustrates one of the benefits of truly live experiences; you gain the ability to read the audience and steer your speech directly to topics that will resonate at that moment.
Running the virtual event at scale
The conference was delivered with support from IBM and staged on the IBM Watson Media platform. IBM has a long history of supporting clients and teams across industries and the globe to run world-class events through the Watson Media platform. From watching the US Masters Tournament live to IBM’s worldwide THINK event that was held in March with more than 170,000 participants, the team felt confident in this approach for Excellence in Policing 2020. IBM and the EIP20 team worked collaboratively leading up to the event to customize the Watson Media event space, taking advantage of integrated live chat, Q&A windows, and managing access and registration. The Watson Media solution combines these features into one easy to manage platform where all interactive elements can be controlled centrally.
When creating an online event at this scale, it is important to ensure that design and execution are considered from start to finish. The team decided to change their approach to registration – choosing to get organisations rather than individuals to register for a nominal fee. This encouraged organisations to share login credentials among colleagues and encourage broader participation. It was also decided to limit speaker contributions to between 15 to 20 minutes (in a similar style to TED Talks) followed by live questions from the audience and nominated correspondents. There were also pre-planned numerous breaks throughout the programme, combined with enticements to return for the next session. This encouraged delegates to step away from their computer screens and get some fresh air before continuing.
Results: with disruption comes opportunity
“We went from almost cancelling an event to having the most attended EIP conference in its 20-year history,” said Dr Peter Langmead-Jones, Head of External Relations and Performance at Greater Manchester Police. In fact, the event garnered a total of 1085 registrations and there were 3702 total hours of content watched by the attendees.
One of the real positives when delivering an event like EIP20 online is the potential to exceed the reach that a face-to-face event can achieve. Without the limitations of time, travel and costs, every force in the UK registered for the event. But beyond this, the design of EIP20 meant that people could extend the invitation to everyone across the force. This provided a real opportunity to reach officers and staff at all levels, so that they were able to benefit from hearing influential figures speaking directly to them.
“The success of the EIP20 conference does not mean that the future will be completely virtual, but there is now the potential for hybrid events blending in-the-room and online participation. IBM is proud to have supported EIP20, and we are excited to see what other opportunities there are to work with our clients and partners both inside and outside the world of policing in the area of hybrid events. We are aware that individual needs may differ, and we look forward to building the new ways of working in which we can provide world-class experiences leveraging the benefits that IBM Watson Media has to offer.”
– Matt Lines, Senior Consultant and Project Manager with IBM. Matt has experience in technical UK police force solutions and delivery, technical and operational project management and process analysis and optimisation.
The conference ended with a panel discussion on the insights and challenges that had arisen from the event itself. It was only then that the team was able to sit back and truly understand the scale of what they had accomplished. Lincolnshire Police Chief Constable Bill Skelly put it best: “When we took the decision to stage an online EIP event our expectations were modest – suffice to say that these were spectacularly exceeded. We are incredibly grateful to the many people who supported, planned, promoted, produced and participated in EIP20, and we are particularly grateful for the support provided by IBM, which made this year’s conference possible.”
By embracing new ways of working we can break boundaries and do great things. We can’t wait to hear what EIP21 will talk about.