Targets and Technology: 4 Ways to Show That You’re On Track

One of the problems with targets is that, in order to show that you’re meeting them, the temptation to cheat becomes greater and greater. Perhaps ‘cheat’ is too strong a word. After all, what goes hand-in-hand with targets is back-covering. Don’t be surprised if people start to spend a disproportionate amount of time showing that they’ve met their targets, even assuming they are still pursuing targets worth bothering about. This is one of the things I’ll be covering in my seminar at BETT, Driving Your Vision (and I’ll be suggesting an antidote too!).

The Daily Telegraph reported recently that some police forces in Britain are spending their last hour of the day in the police station compiling notes of who they spoke to during the day – in order to prove that they are meeting their target of being visible to the public.

Think about that for a moment.

If the police, or any other group for that matter, are spending time proving that they are meeting a target, and thereby not meeting that target at that particular time, something has gone wrong somewhere. However, let’s be realistic: target-setting is no bad thing in itself – quite the reverse, in fact. But it’s surprising that the police appear not to be using a technological solution to their dilemma. Here are four suggestions to start with:

  • Some years ago I was working with a programmer in a Local Authority to make it possible for the educational advisory staff to log their visits and interactions without having to spend hours writing up their notes afterwards. By the time we’d finished, it was possible to log the results of a two hour meeting in about 5 minutes, including sending emails to any other officer who needed to be kept informed.

    We were also working on a mobile version that enabled staff to log the results without even coming back to base. The program we were using was based on Lotus Notes, and was a real time-saver.
  • We’ve watched local traffic wardens at work. I’m not sure exactly how they work (I did try to find out once but the person was very unforthcoming: he probably thought I wanted to know how to ‘get away with’ parking where I shouldn’t). But what they seem to do is take a digital photo of the car’s number plate, and then press a button and print out a ticket.

    Why can’t the police do that? They could issue a ticket to every person they meet, possibly in the form of a sticker people could wear on their lapel. In the case of miscreants, they could take a photo too, which could be beamed automatically back to the police station (the Press Association uses a camera that works in this sort of way). If someone is given 5 ‘warning’ stickers, maybe they could be given an Antisocial Behaviour Order (ASBO)) straight away.
  • A simple solution would be for the police to wear headcams all day. The resulting record would be proof in itself of being visible to the public, with the added advantage, if streaming in real time, of alerting the people ‘back at the ranch’ when trouble was brewing.
  • And why not give all police a GPS-enabled device that would show, in real time on Google Maps, where each one is at any given moment? It would be easy to tell from that data if they are fulfilling their requirement to be visible.

And, of course, these solutions are not mutually exclusive.

Admittedly, I’ve been slightly tongue-in-cheek in this article, but that’s more a reflection of the time of day and the time of year I’m writing. On a serious note, why would any profession in this day and age spend time and labour compiling or completing records when there is almost certainly a perfectly good technological alternative either readily available, or which could be created?

These are issues you might wish to discuss with your students. You will almost certainly touch on other things, such as:

  • Can technological systems be relied upon?
  • Is there a danger of too much data being generated?
  • What about the privacy aspects: would you like to be photographed or filmed every time you speak to a policeman – or whenever you happen to be ‘in shot’ when someone else does?
  • What about the unintended consequences? For example, would anyone want to talk to a policeman wearing a headcam?
  • What about dignity? When the headcam wearer removed or switched off his headcam to go to the toilet, that would be like broadcasting their intentions; and will someone back at base be standing there with a stopwatch timing them?
  • Would some people go out of their way to collect as many stickers as possible, thereby preventing the police doing their real job?
  • Is all this using a sledgehammer to crack a nut? In the days when we had police on the streets, I was a lot younger, but their presence seemed to me to be visible as a matter of fact: nobody needed to prove it.
  • Leading on from that last point, does having the technological means to solve a problem induce a form of laziness in which we don’t question whether the problem is actually worth solving?

It would be interesting to hear what your views are on such matters, and the views of your students of course.