Wessels, Bridgette. Inside the Digital Revolution: Policing and Changing Communication with the Public.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Plude, Frances Forde
Pub Date: 03/01/2009
Publication: Name: Communication Research Trends Publisher: Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture ISSN: 0144-4646
Issue: Date: March, 2009 Source Volume: 28 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Inside the Digital Revolution: Policing and Changing Communication with the Public (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Wessels, Bridgette
Accession Number: 200253050
Full Text: Wessels, Bridgette. Inside the Digital Revolution: Policing and Changing Communication with the Public. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007. Pp. 210. ISBN 978-0-7546-7087-2 (hbk) 55.00 [pounds sterling] (49.50 [pounds sterling] online); ISBN 978-0-7546-8530-2 (eBook).

The perceptive analysis of the political economy of media by scholars like Schiller (2007) and McChesney (2007) leaves one feeling uneasy; commercial lobbying has crowded out public interest in both our historical and rapidly-advancing communication technologies.

Thus, it is refreshingly hopeful to study this volume by Bridgette Wessels, Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Sheffield, UK, who was inspired by her mentor, Roger Silverstone. Her research is helpful to both top-level policy-makers and to ground-level administrators.

The author asks: "How is a public institution such as the police developing digital services for communicating with diverse publics in complex global cities?" She states: "This book explores the ways in which the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service), in collaboration with the London Borough of Newham (in the East End) and within a European consortium, developed digital technology to change communication with the public" (pp 1-2). She later adds: "The objective of this study was to explore the underlying cultural dynamics of changing communication with the public using digital technologies, not 'organizational' or 'community' dynamics as such" (ibid., italics added). One could also add that London has one of the largest and most respected police services in the world.

In Chapter 3, "The Cultural Dynamics of Technological Change," the author gives readers an excellent overview of "a conceptual framework for understanding how technology gains its material form and meaning through innovation processes shaped by social values, cultural sensibilities, and political agendas" (p. 27). This theoretical review of the literature provides a rich basis for the research study particulars. The particulars are these:

* The project brought together partners from a London borough, a wider London telematics project, the European Union, individual European nations, and vendors.

* The study utilized surveys, focus groups, communication experts, and an ethnographer who lived for two years in a police station house, establishing a deep trust.

* The researcher studied many telecommunication strategic planning documents issued by various local and European commissions.

* A helpful Appendix details the local focus group structures, designed to define services with the community, not for the community.

The structures of the project team, the actors of the London site, and the global project relations are helpfully laid out in grids on pages 60-62. Interesting components include a concept of "discourse" allowing the researcher to hear a multiplicity of voices and a new view of "citizen" in contemporary society. (These latter two ideas were of importance in the United States as we elected a new President recently.)

Chapters include subjects such as changing communication with the public using digital technologies; early days of the project and the development of e-Services in the community; how digital services are constructed at the national, regional, and European levels; and analysis of the local people's perceptions of services in London's East End.

What are the challenges for the project (and, subsequently, for the reader)?

I have noticed that sometimes well-intentioned public policy officials come up with answers to questions people do not have. This project seriously attempted to avoid this error. Another challenge, when dealing with vendors (in this case, manufacturers of information kiosks), is to end up with products vendors want to develop and sell, rather than what users really need and prefer. Again, this research met this challenge. In fact, the project, after local input, emphasized regional police centers and intranets rather than being carried away by kiosks.

Access is a major issue in almost all communication policy arenas. This was especially important in a geographical area with ethnic diversity, many languages, and a higher-than-normal poverty and crime rate. These individuals, in many cases, were unaware of police services already available; dialogue was vital when considering the introduction of newer, digitized offerings. (It's worth mentioning that the East End is now the site of much construction in preparation for the Summer Olympics in 2012.)

For the reader it is difficult to keep track of all the acronyms used (over 50); the author provides a list in the front of the book and one is constantly referring to the list to figure out what is being discussed. Also provided and helpful: a technical glossary; an explanatory list of pseudonyms used for project participants; a separate appendix of research methods and objectives; a very complete bibliography, and an index. Unfortunately, almost a dozen typographical errors were not corrected by the book's editor, detracting a bit from its excellence.

Some years ago, when teaching for a semester in London, I met with European Union telecommunication ministers in each EU nation, to discuss collaboration as a strategic planning tool. With this background I can verify that Professor Wessels here makes an extraordinary contribution to planning for a digital age in Europe and on the ground in the specific area of community policing.

The author notes some recommendations: more attention to the cultural dimension of innovation; emphasis on user needs; focus on key actors and transformational space (workshops and pilot sites). She also cites the need for further research into "real" needs of users; how citizens react to information and communication technologies (ICT); issues of "quality of service"; how the concept of citizenship relates to the realities of citizens' lives; and further exploration of paradoxes in the formation of new cultural forms.

Just as this author was mentored by Roger Silverstone, we must hope she will inspire others to build upon the riches of this excellent research study.

References

McChesney, R. (2007). Communication revolution: Critical junctures and the future of media. New York: The New Press.

Schiller, D. (2007). How to think about information. Urbana: University of Illinois\Press.

--Frances Forde Plude

Notre Dame College/Cleveland
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.