Change and disruption are not new to policing, the landscape being characterized by changing demands, uncertainty, and the need to work differently. Due to the ever present Covid-19 pandemic, the team responsible for delivering the Excellence in Policing conference decided to emulate last year’s success and deliver the event again as an exclusively online experience.
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. Following the success of working with IBM to run the event virtually in 2020, the team wanted to continue to offer this in 2021. By doing this, the team were able to offer a higher calibre of speakers who may not have been able to attend were the event face-to-face and design a competitive agenda addressing a range of vital issues for the police.
Following the success of EIP20, the team’s expectations were high. The success of the event was only going to be realized with a considerable effort. The world is now fatigued with virtual meetings, perhaps choosing instead to do emails in the background and only listen with reduced focus. There is an ever-present challenge with how to keep attendees engaged. It required diligent preparation and planning to provide the best possible experience. The team utilised what they had learnt last year, keeping the sessions short, simple 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 keep engagement levels high and 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 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 EIP21 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 EIP21 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, “Joining the dots: Understanding the changing policing and performance landscape” was carefully chosen. As the demands for services provided by police continue to diversify and increase in both their number and complexity, this year’s EIP conference aimed at assisting leaders and practitioners to understand the ways in which the wider policing and performance landscape is changing. Kicking the day off with a message from Kit Malthouse MP, Minister of State for Crime, Policing and the Fire and Rescue Service, utilising key figures from a variety of forces around the country and ending day 1 with Cressida Dick DBE QPM, Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, really set the tone for the calibre of speakers. Shaun Sawyer QPM, Chief Constable, Devon & Cornwall Police and Dr Peter Langmead-Jones did a truly excellent job for the second year in a row of MC’ing the event.
Virtual 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 2021. IBM and the EIP21 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. Following the success of EIP20, 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, after the 2020 event. In 2021, the virtual event continued to deliver, garnering a total of 802 registrations, with 3628 total hours of content watched by the attendees. For the second year running, this was double the number of attendees they would have seen at a face-to-face event. Without the limitations of time, travel and costs, every force in the UK registered for the event. But beyond this, the design of EIP21 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 EIP21 conference for the second year in a row 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 EIP21, 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.”
– Natalie Coaten, Client Exec for Police with IBM. Natalie has many years experience with working with police forces to help them transform and establish digital leadership.
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 EIP21, 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 EIP22 will talk about.