What? So What? Now What?

Three very simple questions which can make navigating your way through a problem a little bit easier. Three simple questions we probably don’t ask enough:

What is the problem? What is happening? What isn’t happening?

So what? Who cares? Does it matter? What are the consequences? To whom? Who is affected by this and how? What’s the worst that will happen if I do nothing? Does something need to be done? Does something need to be stopped?

Now what? So what are we going to do about it? Why? When? Who else needs to be involved?

These three questions are the starting points from the Reflective Model which was published by Rolfe et al in 2001.

Following the steps and developing the questions is a way of identifying a problem, recognising the effect of the problem and then deciding on a considered course of action. (Bold type my own – not from the Model.)

None of us do this often enough. It takes practice and effort to force our brains to think things through like this instead of coming to some rapid quick-fire decision. The problem with rapid quick-fire decisions is that they are prone to lead to unintended consequences. If you use this model you should see those unintended consequences before you take action and either mitigate them or know they are going to happen and account for them.

When you’ve gone through the cycle once and implemented your plan – the good practitioner should go round it again. Evaluating the result. Has it worked? If not – what needs to be changed. Why does it need to be changed?

Rolfe’s Reflection Model, Kolb’s Model of Learning, the Experiential Learning Cycle – all similar, all slightly different – all have the same theme.

You take information, consider it, reach a decision, check it and go around again. And, if necessary, again and again.

The Police use a similar device called the National Decision Model.

It is used to help formulate operational and strategic decisions and, when documented, can later be used when those decisions are called into question at a court hearing, public enquiry or IPCC investigation.

Anyone can use it and everyone should. There seems to be a belief that front line officers are fully conversant with it but, having just spent a lot of time studying it as part of my Tactical Firearms Commander (TFC) course I can confidently say that, until completion of that course, my knowledge of it was not as good as I thought it was.

Working with and through this model is a major part of the TFC course. It has to be. When you think of all the possible outcomes of any incident involving guns – particularly where the decision has been taken to deliberately send armed officers to a situation – then the decision needs to have been reached in a systematic way, considering all the facts and unknowns and, ultimately, be lawful.

The NDM is equally applicable across all of the decisions one might encounter as an operational officer – not least when it comes to the use of force. It is for this reason that I raise it today – after the criticism of police use of taser on people under 18.

I won’t go into huge detail on the stages of the NDM (you can start here if you would like to study it further) but it is worth looking at it quickly before I take you to where this blog is heading.

At the centre of the Model is the police Code of Ethics and you have to ensure, at every stage, that everything you are doing fits within it.

Stage 1. Information / intelligence. 

There is a difference between the two which I won’t explain here but this stage is all about gathering both. What do I know? What don’t I know? What can I find out? How much time do I have? What is happening? Who is involved? Where? Why?

Once you’ve built up as much of a picture as you can in the time you have you then move to:

Stage 2 Risk / Threat assessment and working strategy 

The police are guided by one piece of legislation above all others. Here I introduce you to Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This is the “Right to Life” one. In a nutshell, the State (including police) must protect the right to life of its citizens. That includes the potential victim of crime, the public at large and nearby, the police officers attending AND the suspect. This Article differs from others in the ECHR. This one actually places a positive obligation on the State whereas all the others list the things that the State must not do.

So at this stage we assess where the Article 2 pressure is. Who is most at risk and we then develop a broad strategy to minimise the risk to them and others whilst maximising the safety of attending officers.

Stage 3 – Consider Powers and Policy

What options do I have? What legislation can I use? Is what I intend to do lawful? Is there already a plan or protocol in place I can refer to?

Stage 4 – identify options and contingencies

How can I deal with this taking all of the above into consideration? What options and tactics exist? Which is best suited? What do we do if X happens? Or Y. What could I do and why? What shouldn’t I do and why?

Stage 5 – Take Action and Review

You have your well thought out plan and all the above has been properly considered. Time to “make it so.”

Do it yourself, brief others, whatever you need to put it into action.

Then watch and see what happens. If it works – brilliant. If not or something new changes the circumstances then you go back to Stage 1.

It really is a very good method for doing things and I was delighted to be taken through it step by step in considerable detail on my TFC course.

Now, however, I want to ask you how long you think you might have to work through that little lot.

What if I said 10 minutes? Is that long enough to work through it all sensibly and write it all down. Would you be happy to stand up at an Inquest and justify your actions having had 10 minutes to decide what to do?

Well here’s the thing.

It’s 5pm and there is a man walking towards the city centre openly carrying a large samurai sword.

That’s it. That’s all the information. You know where he was last seen and what he was wearing but that’s all the caller can tell you as they were on a bus passing by and they can’t see him any more.

That’s your lot. What are you going to do? There might be a man walking into a heavily populated area full of shoppers and workers and they are apparently carrying a sword.

How long do you have to make a decision? Do you send anyone? If so who? And Why?

This isn’t far fetched by the way, I dealt with this exact call last week and – no – I’m not going to tell you what I did.

You’re the TFC now. It’s your call and you have about two minutes to decide what you’re going to do – go through that process above and brief anyone you’re going to send.

Two minutes – at a push.

But even that is luxury sometimes.

This time you’re an operational officer and you have been sent to domestic incident. Police have never been to the address before. The lady has called screaming for help. You are the nearest unit – single crewed – with taser, baton, cuffs. Article 2 pressure says we can’t hang around – the call taker has heard the lady shouting “don’t hurt me” and he is shouting “I’m going to kill you!” Sounds of a disturbance, smashing, someone being hit.

You arrive and the door is open. You can hear the disturbance going on inside. The lady is hysterical – blood curdling screams. He is yelling at the top of his voice.

You enter and she is now lying on the floor. Motionless. Bleeding. He is 6 foot 2 and holding a kitchen knife. His whole body language tells you he is worked up in a huge rage. He turns to face you.

The room is full of broken furniture and family photos.

Now run the Model above.

The male charges at you.

Now run the Model above.

What are you going to do? What options do you have? What has changed? It’s your call – you are there.

This time the decision has to be made in a split second. Not ten minutes – not two minutes – a split second.

You are there to protect the lady, maximise your own safety and minimise the risk to the man running at you with the knife.

Now this is the important bit in light of yesterday’s news coverage:

It’s at this point you realise that this is a mother / son domestic and the male running at you with the knife is  probably about 15.

You are the operational officer at the scene. 

You have the National Decision Model.

You have your training.

You have your equipment.

What are you going to do? 


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One response to “What? So What? Now What?”

  1. Bobbster says :

    Excellent. It is a shame that forces don’t use the NDM more in support of negative press. We all know the children being Tasered angle is very misleading.

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