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Outstanding vs. Good: Discussing the OSPAs with Founder, Professor Martin Gill
With 2019 well underway, we bring you our first new Influencer Interview of the year as part of our Security Impact Series. Earlier this month, we spoke with Professor and Criminologist Martin Gill. Gill is the Director at Perpetuity Research, one of England’s leading research companies. He also holds honorary/visiting chairs at the Universities of Leicester and London. This widely-published security expert has penned 14 books (including the Handbook of Security), and has been involved in a multitude of studies on crime, including research on the perspectives of offenders with regards to targets and the law. Gill was awarded the Presidential Order of Merit for distinguished service from ASIS International in 2016.
We were lucky enough to speak to Gill recently about the OSPAs, the Outstanding Security Performance Awards, of which he’s the founder. Gill shed light on the importance of recognizing outstanding performance in order to disrupt the status quo and set new standards across the security industry.
The Outstanding Security Performance Awards were first held in Norway in 2015. What are the Outstanding Security Performance Awards and how did they come to be?
Gill: The Outstanding Security Performance Awards, the OSPAs, were developed in response to a research project I did about the effectiveness of outstanding security personnel and departments. One of the conclusions from that research was that it’s very difficult to prove in security that you’re effective. What other awards do is that they have recognized awards themes so that when someone wins one, they look to see what they did well. The idea behind the OSPAs was always more than just an awards theme. It was being part of a process for recognizing those who work in different parts of security who are not just good at what they do, but excellent at it.
And it’s important to be excellent at security because it matters. There are deep consequences when security goes wrong. There’s a whole range of stakeholders who can suffer. When we talk about security experts, it’s not an abstract, like “oh, that’s a nice thing to have.” It’s a very concrete and important aspect of protecting the whole society – and we can get dramatic about it and say the whole society. The idea of the OSPAs is to recognize who is doing a really, really, really good job.
You’ve spoken about the need to distinguish between those of excellent performance and those of average performance. Why is this so important?
Gill: I think that’s the important question. More often, people talk about the difference between someone who is outstanding and someone who is bad. But actually, I think the real question is: What’s the difference between someone who is outstanding and someone who is merely good? The OSPAs are about identifying those who are truly outstanding at what they do. For different fields of activity, we sought to identity the characteristics that distinguish those who are excellent from those who are merely good. And they vary by category. So we haven’t said if you’re an investigator or a consultant that you should both be held to the same standards.
What are some of the criteria for determining those who are excellent or outstanding in security performance?
Gill: It’s not something that can be answered in general terms because they are specific to each award and country. All the criteria are listed on the website to explain them – it’s full of information by country. What we ask entrants to do is not just say how good they are – anyone can do that. But rather to evidence it against the criteria. We need them to show the difference between being outstanding and very good.
[Click here for a list of the categories for the OSPAs and for further details on criteria and entering.]
How do judges decide who is outstanding?
Gill: The judges have to mark against those criteria. They sign up to an ethics policy to say that they will mark fairly – and that includes the fact that they must on every mark sheet declare any conflict of interest. They have to give reasons to why they put someone first. The idea here is to create a level playing field so that it’s judged fairly, the same across the world, so that we can begin to recognize people for having really done well, rather than having been the result of some inefficient marking system or process.
The OSPAs exist in 8 different countries and while security standards can be international, the main issues happen locally. How does the local context influence criteria and judging from country to country?
Gill: I agree. There are different contexts in which people work in different countries. The important thing to remember is that in every country, the judges are from that country. It’s in the local language too. We use the local language and use expert judges in that country so we can begin to match excellent in context.
Do you have plans to expand the OSPAs into other countries?
Gill: We do! We hope to make an announcement soon about the next country. We’re talking to a lot of other countries at the moment. But as you can tell already, there’s a process for getting this right. We need to engage the whole security sector. It’d be so much easier if I could simply go into a country, pick the judges, and get on with it. But there’s a whole process here. Associations have to be engaged. Judges have to be engaged. The entrants have to understand the criteria and how it works. This is a testing task, but we hold our principles quite tightly and dearly. We don’t go into a country until we’re fairly certain we can make a good job of those.
If you could leave us with one takeaway about the OSPAs, what would that be?
Gill: If someone reading this is really good at what they do, or knows someone who is really good at what they do, please encourage them to enter the relevant category. There are lots to choose from. 1: We’d like to understand who’s good and why. 2: It’s important. It’s important as a discipline and profession that we seek to understand who is outstanding and why so that we can emulate good practice and spread awareness about outstanding performance.
What are some of the new and exciting research developments coming out of Perpetuity Research right now?
Gill: Earlier this month, we released new research on how fraud is policed in the UK. We had about 80 people coming to the launch of this research. We’ve done a lot of studies of the security sector. It all started from work I was conducting in prisons with armed robbers. One of the questions I asked 331 armed robbers is “why did you choose your target?” By far the most common answer was “because it was easy”. I began to wonder why there is security on all these targets and yet robbers say they find it easy. I started to explore security measures and started to look at what makes security successful and what makes it weak. It has opened a whole array of different issues and context, and it’s really that point that’s driven me. In that time I’ve come to realize, there’s a world of difference between when security is really good and when it’s merely average. Offenders tell me that when it’s really good, they are stymied – but most of the time it’s not and that’s when they are able to exploit it. That’s been the basis for the sort of work we’ve done and why we’ve done it.
Perpetuity Research also recently published research on the buyer-supplier relationship in security. Can you speak to some of the conclusions you found?
Gill: I think it’s very telling that when we spoke to buyers and suppliers, I expected buyers to blame suppliers and suppliers to blame buyers. But they didn’t. It was a very engaging study, I thought. One of our big advantages is we get to speak to people in confidence and get their views. Around this whole process of buying and selling, we have to understand how organizations work and the factors that drive them. What I really want to come out of this study is that the whole process of getting good security is not just getting one side to understand the other, but rather each side understanding itself and the weaknesses that are inherent in that process.
Suppliers said to me that there’s a real issue here that we can be driven to get a deal, because we need work; we need to work because of shareholders, we need to work because of targets. Sometimes along the way there’s a compromise in standards or levels of achievement in expectations – it’s because of that commercial imperative. Buyers too say that a lot of the problem is that we often don’t always understand what we want. The people involved in the buying process are not experts in what they want. Some of these are really fundamental. The good thing for me about this study is that it’s shone more light about some of the realities of buying and selling that maybe people were aware of but hadn’t been put out there for public debate to the same extent.
A big thank you to Professor Gill for taking the time to speak with us!
TrackTik is proud to be sponsoring the Outstanding Contract Security Company award category at the next UK OPSAs on February 28th, 2019. For more details, visit https://theospas.com/ or follow @theospas on Twitter. For more about Perpetuity Research, follow @PerpResearch on Twitter.
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