Our story of research impact 2011-2014 and beyond...

The research project has been overseen by an expert steering group made up of serving police officers, police-based researchers, forensic scientists, academics and representatives of the Missing People Charity. This group existed in part to help us define the legacy and impact of the research work.

Between 2011 and 2014 the project has evolved a range of academic and community impacts which have been led and delivered by different members of the team.

Professional/policing knowledge exchange

In 2013 we dedicated time to three large meetings in the UK, Brussels and the USA to enable the sharing of professional knowledges around ‘geographies of missingness’: the pivot of these meetings were the findings of our research project which generated new knowledge exchange opportunities between international police officers and third sector and academic researchers as well as families of missing people.

‘I believe the work being done to really understand what happens when people go missing is crucial to improving the police response. Listening to a presentation on the findings so far made a huge impact on me and gave me a greater insight into the psyche of those who go missing, than anything I had experienced in the past 30 years. This work will provide a sound foundation for the future development of police tactics and indeed the way in which the public in general can better understand those who go missing’ Chief Constable Pat Geenty, Wiltshire Constabulary and UK Police Lead for Missing Persons, 2013

New Public Conversations and Awareness

In 2011 and 2013 the Glasgow based team members worked hard to create new public conversations about missing people: Hester Parr (with GES colleague, Hayden Lorimer) mounted a conference in Glasgow University in 2011 called ‘Excursions’, which featured a performance of ‘Sophie’s story’ a creative-verbatim account of a missing journey. Using this experience, Hester produced a public knowledge dissemination and exchange strategy based on ‘storying journeys’, and Hester and Olivia wrote 10 ‘missing stories’ from 45 returned missing person’s interviews.

‘The stories launched in this project allow us to hear, for the first time, the voices of people who have been missing in the past. [T]hese are stories that we have to hear, and we have to share. We must learn from them. And we owe this team out thanks for bringing us these stories, as we owe our thanks to those people who bravely shared with them their most personal stories.’ Lucy Holmes, Research Manager, Missing People Charity

The team also collaborated with RAW TV to help their development of a TV documentary on Missing People. The programme reached 2.6 million viewers on various C4 platforms in April, 2014.

Impacts with the charity Missing People

The Missing People charity partnered us via Lucy Holmes on our steering group. Hester and Olivia produced the ‘Living with absence: family search for missing people’ report based on interviews with 25 families of missing people, which has influenced the charity’s training of volunteers and their subsequent funding applications to support their work in different parts of the UK.

‘Research is such a vital way to promote understanding and The Geographies of Missing People project has provided valuable insight into the experience of losing someone special, and living with this loss. I wholeheartedly welcome and commend this research. We are grateful to the families who took part in the research and for sharing something so personal for the benefit of others. This report, and its recommendations, will help all of us working with and supporting families of missing people by helping to ground us in the reality of how it feels to lose someone and not know where they are. I pledge that at Missing People we will hear the messages in this report from the families and work with its recommendations. We will embed these in our understanding, our practice, our communication and our development of services’.Jo Youle, Chief Executive Missing People Charity

‘I have seen this research have an impact on professionals’ understanding of the mind-set and experiences of adults who are missing. I believe it has commenced a change in attitude towards adults whose behaviours while missing now have more limelight than previously. This research has created a framework through which police can discuss how adults behave and think’. Missing People’s Head of Partnerships and Development

Influencing policing practice

In 2013 we created training materials for police officers, enabling them to envisage missing people’s journeys and stimulating new kinds of professional ‘geographical imaginations’ to inform operational searches. Penny and Nick and Olivia delivered these materials in different training forums during 2013 with excellent evaluation from serving officers. The main report also included a forward from the manager of the UK Missing People’s Bureau emphasising the implications for evidence-based practice.

‘Until now no research or study has been available to help explain why adults go missing and to explore their experiences. This research report has an immediate relevance and utility in evidence-based operational practice. From a policing perspective, translating the learning from this research study into evidence-based practice and then synthesising it with other practice will lead to huge improvements in safeguarding our most vulnerable people. This is a research study of true value and importance and it is a pleasure to welcome and commend this work’. Joe Apps, Manger of the UK Missing Persons Bureau, National Crime Agency

Our impact legacy in policing practice

Glasgow University has followed up the ESRC project with new investment in 2014 enabling us to secure the impact legacy for the research project via new training contributions to the UK College of Policing education modules that will be rolled out in National Policing Curriculum for the following:

Missing Person Standard Search e-learning and ‘Missing Person e-briefing’ and ‘Missing Daughter’ e-learning (Public Protection Level 1) links to the Glasgow University Research Report together with a further link to the Glasgow University Research Audio Resources ‘Stories of Missing People’. Between 2012-2015 the total numbers of officers taking these modules numbered 33, 711, so by directing police learners toward the GU resources, we and the Uk Police College are making a difference across significant numbers of officers.

The GU based team and Penny Woolnough designed a new input to the Police National Search Centre POLSA Missing Person course and this is delivered on all POLSA courses to around 90 specialist officers per year, via 3-4 courses and who are asked to evaluate the impact on their policing practice. This evaluation tells us how the research matters to the people who use it.

UK police officers on CPD training inputs in 2014:

Missing Person coordinator "I will be liaising with my divisional command team regarding families and closer partnership engagement"

SGT (PoISA) "Following initial advice and this input will also help mid-term and with developing misper return strategy"

Sergeant (PoISA operational support) "I will be more receptive to input from families. I am now keen to meet with families"

Chief Inspector/ search coordinator Ops support "I will more likely interact with the family rather than wait for misper liaison officers to feedback information"

Sergeant (PoISA) "Will enable me to develop a more targeted search strategy and enable evidencing of my decision process"

Sergeant (PoISA) "I already have a copy of "geographies of mispers" and adapted my strategies to reflect new data"

Sergeant (PoISA) "I am better able to assess the missing incident from the viewpoint of the missing person"

ESRC Impact Prize winner 2015: Outstanding impact in Society

Dr Hester Parr has been awarded the prestigious ESRC 'Celebrating Impact: Outstanding Impact in Society' Award 2015 on behalf of the Geographies of Missing People project. The project has improved the way UK police officers relate to missing persons and transformed policing guidance on the handling of missing persons and their families.


  • Police Scotland has included changes to 'good practice' handling of missing persons based on research recommendations.
  • Police operational guidance for Scotland now incorporates research recommendations in its best practice guidelines for handling the families of missing persons. Draft guidance for England and Wales also includes this.
  • The research materials and project reports are reaching over 30,000 police officers in England and Wales via existing training resources, based on completion figures for 2012-15, the equivalent to approximately one in four officers over a three year period.
  • Dr Parr and colleague Dr Penny Woolnough sit on the Scottish Government-led Working Group on Missing Persons Strategy for Scotland 2014-2015 - a new policy initiative designed to protect vulnerable missing people.
  • Dr Parr has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the newly established Aftercare Service for the Missing People Charity in Wales.
  • Find out more about the award on the ESRC website.


Hester is leading a new national conversation on returned missing people with key partners Missing People and other professional groups, including the Scottish Government Working Group for Missing Persons.

The latest events – organised with ESRC impact legacy funding – are accessible here.

Hester and Missing People have launched a new briefing paper on returned missing people and this is accessible here. This report was featured in an article in the Daily Record.

Lucy Holmes has blogged about the partnership and Missing People’s new manifesto commitment for returned missing.

Economic and Social Research Council University of Glasgow University of Dundee Scottish Institute for Policing Research