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  4. 3.19 Understanding culture at Milton Keynes local policing area (LPA)

3.19 Understanding culture at Milton Keynes local policing area (LPA)

Academic team: Professor Jean Hartley, Richard Harding
Policing partners: Thames Valley Police
Status: Complete

Cambs police officers

When the Local Policing Area (LPA) Commander from Milton Keynes in Thames Valley Police wanted to understand the culture of their workforce so that they could better understand its strengths and weaknesses and how it could best be used to deliver their policing mission they approached the Centre for Policing Research and Learning (CPRL) for help.  In the criminological literature police culture is often portrayed as negative, but we agreed that we wanted to understand the culture of Milton Keynes police through a different and more appreciative lens.  To do this we agreed to use two approaches to understanding organisational culture: 

  • Schein (1982), a leading thinker on organisational culture.  This approach looks at how an organsiation visibly displays its culture (it’s Artefacts), what values, standards and principals it officially states it has (it’s Values) and what implicit understandings and taken for granted ways of thinking and doing its people have (the Underlying Assumptions);  importantly  for our approach Schein (1999) suggests that ‘there is no right or wrong culture, no better or worse culture, except in relation to what the organization is trying to do and what the environment in which it is operating allows’.
  • Marshall & McLean (1988).  This approach uses stories and narratives to explore organisational culture.  Here practitioners’ views and narratives on what it felt like to be a newcomer to the organisation, on when accepted cultural rules were broken or disrupted,  of stories or examples of organisational culture that they had encountered, and who were considered heroes, villains and fools in the organsiation are explored.  Here the point is not to think about the specific examples, but to identify what they reveal about aspects of organisational culture.

Working with our colleagues from Milton Keynes police we set up a joint research team to undertake the research;  using the CPRLs academic knowledge and experience we provided our policing co-researchers with the knowledge, skills and support to become practitioner-researchers to undertake their own research in their own organisational setting.  This innovative collaborative approach meant that we could undertake our research and access and interpret our findings through academic as well as experiential lenses, allowing us to gather a rich picture of the culture in Milton Keynes Police.

Our joint research team was able to co-produce an answer to the real world policing question posed by the LPA Commander, one that described the culture of their command in a way that allowed them to make better informed decisions and judgements.  As importantly however, our police practitioner co-researchers were equipped with new skills, knowledge and perspectives and through co-producing the research outcomes with new understandings of their organsiation and their place in it that provides a legacy of personal and organisational capability in Thames Valley Police beyond the end of the project.


Title Outputs type Lead academic Year



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