Saturday, September 11, 2010

The "First Aid" Model for Peacebuilding in Communities

As often happens, I recently found myself wandering the corridors of the internet inspired to learn more about the story behind one of the cool videos posted on DoPeace. The producer of the video hails from TheRSA.org, a U.K. group that describes itself as:

"... an enlightenment organisation devoted to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s pressing social problems."

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) has been around for more than 250 years and is currently exploring the concept of 21st Century Enlightenment. One of the pamphlets they commissioned for this program caught my eye - The-Woolwich-Model-Can-citizens-tackle-anti-social-behaviour.pdf.

The Woolwich paper points out that there is a long list of "anti-social" behaviours that degrade the quality of life in communities but fall short of the types of crimes that police forces are most concerned about. These types of behaviour (petty vandalism, underage drinking, loitering, civil disturbance) are mostly perpetrated by young people - often unemployed or otherwise lacking in constructive alternatives. Although some young people will grow out of this behaviour, some will carry this dysfunctional trait into old age while others will get caught up in the escalation of criminal activity and ultimately end up as wards of the state.

The Woolwich Model refers to the development in the late 1800's of citizen capabilities that came to be known as "first aid". Health officials in the town of Woolwich recognised that trained professionals cannot be everywhere all the time in order to respond to life-threatening emergencies. They further recognised that there were plenty of capable citizens available in these communities that, given the proper training and incentives, could provide the basic treatments (i.e., CPR) necessary to deal with injuries and stabilise the patient while waiting for the professionals to arrive. In the 100+ years since, the practice of lay people getting trained in CPR or First Aid by groups like the Red Cross is woven into the fabric of many societies.

Now, here's the good part! The RSA asks, "What if we apply this model to addressing anti-social behaviour?" Train people who are already embedded within the micro-communities to stabilise anti-social situations while waiting for police to arrive, or to defuse the situation and avoid the need for police action altogether! What a concept!

RSA identifies two main groups of potential "first responders" (think of the types of people who learn CPR):
  1. Public servants who already have frequent contact with the public as part of their jobs - parking enforcement officers, librarians, teachers, city/county employees, newspaper/postal delivery
  2. Citizen leaders who want to make a difference - shop/restaurant owners, parents, neighborhood watch groups
People would be motivated to participate in the program to gain skills that look good to employers and to help make their communities more desirable places to live.

The RSA approach also spells out three type of training that would be required for this model to work:
  1. Self-protection and restraint, which would provide responders with the skills and confidence they need to engage in an anti-social event
  2. Situation Assessment - knowing when to engage, when to walk away, and what techniques to apply
  3. Conflict Resolution - the techniques of meditation and nonviolence
(Are you as excited as I am at this point?)

The paper points out that these ideas need to be proven out in real-life and tweaked to each local environment. One organisation is already doing this - Dfuse out of London. (Maybe someone else will blog about this group?)

So, what do you think of this idea? Has anyone heard of this model being applied in the US? Does anyone have any thoughts about how to introduce it? Perhaps this is something the local "Promise Coordinating Councils" created as part of the Youth PROMISE act can tackle?

Are there any Social Entrepreneurs out there listening?

For further information, check out this video from RSA.


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