Friday, February 27, 2009

Poverty Action Lab at MIT and India Police Makeover

From my last post maybe you can tell that I have been looking for crazy stories - and there is none crazier than this one - and I first found out about it in the San Jose Mercury news - good going SJM! This one is a classic case of how someone coming from the outside can spot an issue someone from the inside cannot. I spent my formative years in India before coming for graduate school in US. I don't quite know why (Bollywood movies, hearsay, just plain ignorance) since I never met a policeman in India, I was one of those that subscribed to the theory the Indian policemen are corrupt, lazy, overweight, insensitive etc etc. In short stay away from them. And in spite of all my years of management coaching, this one image I had not shed - till yesterday - when I read about a MIT Poverty Action Lab project in India. "The dominant image of an Indian police officer, etched in people's minds and embedded in movies, is that of a slothful, rude and bribe-taking constable" says Rama Lakshmi in a Washington Post article. This perception of poor performance caught the attention of the MIT Poverty Action Lab, and they found that the negative image was a barrier to effective police-work. Their study proved something the policemen knew all along - that policemen in India are sleep deprived, overworked (7 days a week), underpaid with a threat of constant transfers from political bosses which means effectively no family life. No wonder the constable is irritable and rude! MIT-Station (or MIT Thanas) trials where constables were given etiquette training and relaxation time, showed thirty percent improvement in crime-victims satisfaction with victims' satisfaction of case handling.
Seems so obvious now as I think about it - but it is not something I ever thought of before- "we are not experts in policing" says Daniel Keniston who co-ordinated the field research. Well done I say - this is not about policing - it is about good management - and it took innovative action to prove it. An interesting statistic - India has one of the lowest ratio of policemen to number of citizens (source- India Today) while Egypt - where I have been travelling recently - one of the highest at 1 policeman per 7 citizens (source - our tour guide on the trip to Abu Simbel)

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