Building synergistic collaborations

What can collaborating with creative professionals bring to the public security sector?

Public security organisations, such as Public Prosecution Service and the police, are increasingly collaborating with creative professionals. These collaborations are promising, yet also difficult and vulnerable. Hence the Systemic Design Lab, TU Delft researched these collaborations to gain insight into the question: how does collaborating with creative professionals lead to outcomes that could not be realised otherwise?

Type Update
Published on 24 February 2023
Part of Embassy of Safety
Building synergistic collaborations
Part of Embassy of Safety

What can a design approach bring to the public security sector? At first sight, designers, artists and other creative people do not seem the most obvious collaborating partners when working on big complex issues such as subversion, organized crime and increasing (online) radicalization and polarization. Yet there is a growing consensus that these types of issues cannot be resolved through the current repertoire and simple quick fixes. They require a more holistic approach and novel angles to develop new actionable perspectives—something that the creative disciplines can bring well.

The interface between these disciplines brings about interesting and creative ideas as well as inherent tensions. Where one works from frameworks, guidelines and protocols, the other works from serendipity, association and ambiguity. Closer, ongoing exchange between collaborators can greatly benefit the partnership, whereby the different parties are exposed to each other’s ideas, approaches and working methods. But how do you develop long-term, ongoing forms for collaboration in a context oriented towards purchasing and tendering, efficiency, and end results?

Learning from existing collaborations

To gain more insight into these issues we studied several successful collaborations, among them some project that were shown previously in the Embassy of Safety. For instance, we looked into Social Design Police, a programme where social designers and artists are coupled to community police officers as their ‘strange friend’. On the other hand we looked into No Place for Sex Trafficking, an e-learning platformed aimed at preventing sexual abuse of minors in hotels. In a very different type of project the potential for a systemic design approach for money laundering was explored in the context of the Public Prosecution Service. And finally we looked into The Night Club, a series of interventions in public space aimed at changing the relationship between residents and professionals in a neighbourhood, thereby strengthening security and social cohesion.

This wide range of projects show that outcomes can create value at different levels. Apart from concrete designs, a better understanding of the issue, and the role that the organization plays in that issue arise as well. Genuinely collaborating—where partners mutually complement and strengthen each other—is a vital factor for success. When collaborating partners all contribute time and knowledge this leads to shared ownership of the outcomes and the issue itself. This stimulates mutual trust, a condition for nurturing understanding of each others working methods and the context in which decisions are made. Additionally, working consistently across boundaries is an important activity in realising impact, for example by making connections in- and outside the organisation during the process. This requires on the side of the creative professional more strategic sensitivity to the organisational context in which they work, and on the side of ‘clients’ an increased responsibility for performing boundary spanning activities.

Supporting collaborations

But working on complex issues is also simply difficult. That is why we explored opportunities for increasing the success of collaborations in one of the Embassy Labs. In this project designers collaborated with a municipality to prevent young people from participating in serious crime. Here we saw room for supporting collaborating partners in continuously working across boundaries to bring out the best in each other. This support can be offered through concrete tools, but also by making supportive roles and functions explicit to support the collaboration. As an illustration of how that can be achieved, we developed the Team confession as a working method to explore the organisation’s role in the issue itself. And we propose the idea of a Tensiondate as a means to discuss and deal with inherent tensions while collaborating. To stimulate equality in collaborations, we developed the Role-relay, where roles are divided and transferred in a way that transcends function and organisation. And we try to shed light on the deeper structures with organisations through the Supportshaper. The process designs could be used today, yet may also ask for more trust, equality and a safe environment that may not be present in all collaborations. Hence, we see these design primarily as a means to trigger a discussion: how is the collaborations and how would we like it to be?

Get to work?

In this research we developed understanding of how collaborative forms between public security organisations and creative professional can lead to surprising and novel outcomes—insights that can already be applied for existing and new collaborations. For instance, we saw the value of slowing down: to make space to discuss each others struggles in a collaborative process and make sure that every individual to stay connected. Also we saw how collaborating with creatives can strengthen the position of security professionals in an organisation, slowly supporting the growing of a movement for organisational change.

These are only a few of the insights from our research. More can be found in final report of this research. Next to knowledge and insights, we also provide practical tools to apply. We developed an initial set of building blocks for synergistic collaborations, and a set of process designs that can be used to support in working across boundaries.

This research project was executed by Thomas van Arkel and Nynke Tromp (Systemic Design Lab, TU Delft), in collaboration with Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken, Studio Goudswaard and TwynstraGudde, and World Design Embassies. This research was made possible with a KIEM GoCI subsidy, an initiative of the Creative Industry/CLICKNL top sector and the SIA Directorate.

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