Community involvement is integral to the success of addressing any community-based problem. The YVSP has placed a high value on the community process in order to better understand the system of youth violence and build a viable simulation model that represents this system. Our work has included extensive outreach to individuals and organizations related to or working on youth violence reduction and broad-based community engagement through meetings, focus groups and working groups. In addition to using the relational contacts of the Boston Capacity Tank, the High Risk Youth Network, and other partners, the YSVP hired community consultants with the knowledge and the relationships to engage key community leaders, important neighborhood organizations, youth workers, families, gang members and other youth in the four targeted neighborhoods.
An early goal of the project was to establish credibility and ownership within the community, which was perceived as a critical step in overcoming the resistance to “outside-in” approaches. We concluded that community buy-in was essential to ensuring the long term sustainability of any new initiative since residents repeatedly described incidents where researchers failed to respect the community’s perspective due to race, class, gender issues. This more sustainable approach, however, required a community process which took much longer than initially expected to connect and build trusting relationships, and was further complicated by the ongoing changes in community leadership.
As trust has grown over the course of the project, community residents have become more open in sharing their unique, valuable insights into youth violence. In many cases residents had devoted significant thought to the problem; however, drawing out these insights required the use of effective listening methods. Ultimately, it must be understood that respectful treatment of community residents required the acknowledgement of their ability to participate in problem definition, analysis and solution creation. This understanding is rooted in the awareness that communities contain a diversity of perspective, capacity, ability, and motivation. This is especially true of the deep and meaningful insights that can be gained by understanding the opinions of youth.
The Structure of YVSP Community Process