Journal of Experimental Criminology

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 321–345 | Cite as

Where did it all go wrong? Implementation failure—and more—in a field experiment of procedural justice policing




This paper presents the findings from a retrospective qualitative process evaluation to the Scottish Community Engagement Trial (ScotCET). The study explores the unanticipated results of a randomized field trial testing the effect of ‘procedurally just’ modes of road policing on public perceptions of police. The ScotCET intervention failed to produce the hypothesized results, producing instead significant, and unexplained, negative effects on key aspects of public perception. The present study seeks to examine, from the perspectives of officers implementing the experiment, what the impacts (intended or otherwise) of participation were.


Group interviews were held within the ScotCET experiment ‘units’ to explore how officers had collectively interpreted and framed ScotCET, and responded as a group to its requirements/demands. Nine groups were held over a 5-month period post experiment completion.


Findings indicate that communication breakdowns during the ScotCET implementation led to misunderstandings of its aims and objectives, and of the requirements placed on officers. Within the context of organizational reform and perceived organizational ‘injustice’, commonly cited aspects of police culture were invoked to facilitate non-compliance with aspects of the experimental intervention, leading to implementation failures, and, possibly, a diffuse negative effect on the attitudes and behaviors of experiment officers.


Organizational structures and processes, and coercive top-down direction, are insufficient to ensure successful implementation of policing research, and, by implication, policing reforms, particularly those that demand alternative ways of ‘doing’ policing and ‘seeing’ citizens. Greater investment in organizational justice and encouraging openness to evidence-led knowledge is needed to promote change.


Experimental research Implementation failure Organizational justice Police culture Procedural justice 

Supplementary material

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Appendix 1 (DOCX 20 kb)
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Appendix 2 (DOCX 16.5 kb)
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Appendix 3 (DOCX 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice ResearchUniversity of Edinburgh Law SchoolEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Centre for Criminology, Faculty of LawUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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