In conversation with the Social Design Police

Within the Social Design Police, district police officers and social designers work together as ‘strange friends’ on social issues. In pairs, they move into the neighbourhood to get closer to the people, and just as much: closer to themselves. Marjon van Gelderen and Arnoud Grootenboer are the driving forces behind this police experiment.

Type Update
Published on 11 December 2020
Part of Embassy of Safety
In conversation with the Social Design Police
Part of Embassy of Safety

It all started with a message they sent to former youth worker and now social designer Tabo Goudswaard. Marjon van Gelderen and Arnoud Grootenboer were curious to know what would happen if you combined the world of the police with that of design. The three met for the first time in 2018.

They had discovered what social design means during a visit to Change the System in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen earlier that year. The exhibition about potency for change showed designers with the ambition to change the world. Marjon and Arnoud saw that the issues they raised were the same as those encountered by a neighbourhood policeman in his daily work. What if police officers and designers, from their different perspectives, approached social issues together?

There was an instant click with Tabo, Marjon says. “We embarked on a journey with him without any concrete end result in mind. Within the organisation, however, there is an outright desire to work in a more preventive way, and to learn to adept to an increasingly complex society. “In addition to creative thinking, Tabo also spoke the language of the decision makers”, says Marjon. “This was a tremendous help in getting support for our ideas within our police organisation.”

The two central questions in this process were: ‘Can we as police officers discover other, possibly more impactful, ways of working by collaborating with social designers?’ And: ‘Can district police officers learn from social designers and thereby strengthen their creative self-confidence and creative power?’

A one-off brainstorm resulting in a number of fun ideas – the usual reflex – was not what the Social Design Police was about. Arnoud describes the process as a far-reaching form of learning. Seven local police officers met with a social designer, who then worked together as pairs for a while. The questions that a social designer is able to ask provided a new perspective on the problems in the local communities, and also on the policemen and women themselves. Marjon: “What prevailed was the feeling, hey I’m heard! And: I now have a better understanding of myself. It brought policemen closer to their feelings that once drove them to work for the police.”

The impact was also a new set of skills that the officers developed. Arnoud: “How do you actually do research in your neighbourhood? How do you get a project moving and how do you really take responsibility within such a large organisation as ours? Thinking rationally is almost standard in a police officer’s repertoire. A creative force has now been added to that repertoire.”

The experiences and lessons learned are collected in the book From the Police With Love. Marjon and Arnoud always use curiosity as the starting point of a process, also when distributing books. So nobody receives a book by default. They do share updates and insights on Marjon and Arnoud’s Instagramaccount. This way, they get people with a sincere interest in the project to follow them. And by now, more and more people are applying for a free copy of the book. An English version is also in the making.

The Social Design Police was part of the Embassy of Safety last year. For Marjon and Arnoud, the platform the project was given during Dutch Design Week was of great value. “It helps to share with the world what a meaningful and impactful journey this has been.”

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