Police and fire brigade turn to students for help

The police and fire brigade asked students in the dual degree programme Applied Safety & Security Studies to help them come up with innovative solutions. This was a fantastic project, as it gave the fourth-year students a chance to work with a real-world client. But it was also somewhat vague: just what kind of innovative solution was in order? It was, in short, a challenge.

The fire brigade is facing a shortage of volunteers due to societal developments such as increased individualisation and an aging population. A group of six students was tasked with finding an innovative solution to this problem. Ron Frederikz: ‘We asked ourselves what the fire brigade itself might do differently in order to more effectively respond to society’s needs. Next we explored how employment agencies manage supply and demand. They tend to focus quite strongly on the ‘supply’ aspect, asking people what kind of work they’d like to do. We thought: why shouldn’t the fire brigade operate the same way?

Multiformity

The students therefore started by developing a step-by-step plan. The first step: reformulating some of the core values of the fire brigade. Ron: ‘At the moment, the guiding principle is uniformity: every fireman must have the same abilities, the same body type and the same level of physical fitness. But if you want to take advantage of what today’s changing society has to offer, you have to consider multiformity instead. Not every member of the fire brigade needs to be a big strapping fellow who kicks in doors. When it comes to driving the fire engine, for instance, an older individual could do just as well.’

Remote client

The start of the project was rather a bumpy one. Ron: ‘Our client was a high-level executive who was really busy. The interviews were conducted via Skype, since we were dealing with a client at a remote location. That took a bit of getting used to. And there was no clearly-defined brief, either. We quite struggled with that: what exactly were they looking for? And the fire brigade, in turn, didn’t feel our idea was all that innovative. At that point, we really forced ourselves to sit down and think about what we wanted, in a structured fashion. The result was the step-by-step plan. Our client was pleased with how we held a mirror up to the fire brigade, as it were: here’s what your organisation can change in order to better respond to society. That was a concrete tip the client could really put to use.’

Real problems

‘Even though our programme is a dual one, in the first two years you’re mostly working on theory courses and hypothetical assignments. That’s why it was nice to get to solve a problem from real-world practice this time. That, through our solution, we could actually make a difference in someone’s life. And the idea that real fire brigade members will be using our solution provided extra motivation and a lot of satisfaction when we delivered.’

Innovation and ethics

The police asked students to envision an innovative approach to investigating cold cases and to innovation and ethics in general. Dina Kopic was in the group that focused on the latter topic. ‘Innovation tends to mean reinventing the wheel over and over: an entire process, centred on the question of whether a thing is possible. The police asked us to develop a model for this process.

Behind the scenes

This assignment was a fantastic opportunity for Dina, who hopes to work for the police one day. ‘My father is a Senior Constable, so I know what it’s like on patrol — but what is it like working in their offices? The police corps was very open; they placed a lot of trust in us and I was able to get a look behind the scenes.’

Conference

Working with a real-world client gave Dina a sense of genuine responsibility. ‘I didn’t want to be seen as one of those students who’s only in it for the credits and tries to get by with the bare minimum of effort. We presented our results at a conference held by the Ministry of Justice and Security. The Hague University of Applied Sciences earned poor marks in the National Student Survey, but I don’t think that was justified. In fact, we received a compliment from our contact person at the police. I also got a kick out of the fact that we were allowed to attend the conference, while my dad wasn’t even invited. I sent him a picture of the commissioner, Erik Akerboom, giving his presentation, like “hey, I’m just hanging out with your boss”.’

To learn more about the third group of students, who tackled the issue of cold cases for the police, go here.


New shades of blue

Sven Hamelink, programme manager, acted as the students’ client on behalf of the national police. ‘We in the police force are fully aware that we are part of a rapidly changing world. That’s why it’s important to constantly consider, together with other parties, what emerging issues society will encounter — and therefore the police as well. The education sector is one of our collaborative partners. A project like this is a good way to expand our network. We want to help students see the police corps as an attractive employer. We’re looking for diverse shades of blue, which means we need a diverse group of employees. I found the students to be enthusiastic and eager to learn. Despite all the other work, they were keen to participate. Provided the students are intrinsically motivated to take part, I’d say the project is definitely worth repeating.”