Paradoxes of organisational learning in policing: ‘The truth, but not the whole truth, for everyone’s sake’

Tomkins, Leah and Bristow, Alexandra (2023). Paradoxes of organisational learning in policing: ‘The truth, but not the whole truth, for everyone’s sake’. Management Learning (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/13505076231179540

Abstract

This article examines the complex and often contradictory dynamics of organisational learning through the lens of paradox. Based on a 4-year action research programme in policing, our findings reveal two key tensions relating to knowledge control (codification-discretion) and knowledge disclosure (transparency-occlusion). Casting paradox as an ‘either/and’ relationship, we use these themes of control and disclosure to explore the interplay of learning (where actions either enable and inhibit learning) and emotion (where actions either reduce and increase anxiety). We consider how knowledge and learning are entangled in issues of emotional and institutional security, which operate at the threshold between public-service and public-served. In the psycho-politics of this relationship, the police attempt to safeguard either themselves from the anxiety of unwarranted blame and their communities from the anxiety of unmediated disclosure of the dangers of the world. From this perspective, we theorise organisational learning in policing as a paradox of either success and failure, either care and self-care and either potence and impotence. While grounded in policing, our reflections have a broader relevance for the ways in which knowledge tactics both shape and reflect relations between organisations and their key stakeholders, especially those based on the contingent and incongruous logics of service.

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