our Impact / operation nicole

In 50 places around the UK, we drew Muslim citizens and police into intense exchanges.

From February 2007 to December 2010, over 2,600 police officers, statutory partners and community members devoted a weekend to understanding each other’s dilemmas.

A terrorist attack prevented

Why did nearly every police force in Britain want to have a Nicole? Because one of the first events prevented a major act of violence.

Following a Nicole event in March 2008 in Bristol, someone approached the police he had bonded with on the weekend. He was worried about a young man he knew: what he was saying, chemical burns on his hands...

The police raided his flat and found the explosives in the fridge, the detonator in the kitchen drawer and the suicide vest hanging in his wardrobe.

Trust saves lives.

Bristol’s Muslim leaders and police came together immediately to manage the media circus and prevent any backlash against the Muslim community. All this was in the scenario they had worked through together on that weekend of ‘Nicole’ – little knowing that soon they would be doing it for real.

If you don’t know someone, it’s difficult to trust them really.

What is it?

Operation Nicole used an innovative format of real-life situations: enacting the chain of events that unfolds when evidence of a terrorist plot hits a specialist police force. Uneasy at first, participants grew in understanding by playing out the events and taking the decisions that members of the public and police investigators face when confronted by the realities of violence and terrorism.

What if you have to make a life-and-death decision – but you don’t have enough information?

What if you have deep concerns about someone you know – but they might be completely innocent?

Should you keep your worries to yourself, or share information that might damage their reputation?

By grappling with situations they themselves never had to face, people found new levels of understanding—and trust.

Deeper understanding

We wanted people simply to understand the dreadful dilemmas that others face. It’s all too easy to condemn when you’ve never faced a decision that may have no right answer.

I now appreciate the difficulties that exist in decision making by the police and the myriad of factors that have to be taken in to account.

More than that, we wanted people to make better decisions, by understanding their impact on others. It’s necessary and life-saving, but counter-terrorist investigations can damage communities and citizens. By role-playing with people from a different perspective, you see new options that create win-win situations.

But the decisions community members face can be life and death too. What if the young participant in Bristol had decided to keep quiet?

Building relationships

But the most striking result of these weekends was the transformation of relationships.

People started the weekend with doubts, mistrust, and a conviction that working together was just not possible. But after an intense weekend of living out each other’s situation, new relationships were built.

Honest and respectful communication could happen. And with that comes new possibilities for co-operation.

Knowledge is change

Around the country, new working relationships between communities and police have sprung up, in one of the most sensitive – even hostile – areas of police work. We’ve been gathering people’s stories and testimonies to the change – 1,275 voices all across the nation.

Over 95% - 1,221 people – rated the event as good, very good or excellent. Nearly 90% agree that their understanding was increased: the communities understood exactly how the police conduct their counter-terrorist operations, and why; and police understood the impact of their operations on local communities, and how they could work with communities more effectively.

Engineering change for long-term effects

Dramatic results, and lasting change. Our final exercises inspired participants to identify those key things they can do to turn difficult situations around.

Armed with what they needed to do, and sharing what they needed others to do, citizens and police took ownership of their varied local circumstances. An overwhelming majority of the participants shared the learning of that weekend with others. Our follow-up research shows lasting changes in reducing tension, trust and co-operation, and everyone working together to make us all safer.

It’s now a lot easier for everyone to understand each other’s positions. We have to constantly keep in touch so that we can evolve ourselves into a more trustworthy society.

This unique project has now come to an end, but we have refined the methods for the new generation of LEO programmes – ‘Learning from Each Other’.