Empowering civic activism toward a culture of peace.

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, 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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Tags: Woolwich model, anti-social behavior, dfuse, rsa


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Comment by Connie Odessa Muldrow on September 20, 2010 at 11:16am
I think this is a wonderful idea! This would not be far from what people from the civil right movement did to train those for sit-ins! Wow! Where can I sign up for that? Some time ago I did program called "Ounce of Prevention". We taught middle schoolers about the importance of responsiblities of having sex and waiting until they were mature and ready before they had sex. I think this could be a similar situation. Kids see this kind of thing all the time what if they could help defuse an anit-social behavior situation in their schools cause the program did not stop their we spoke with parents before and after these programs. So that they knew what we were speaking to their kids about and so they could build on what we talked about. Parent gave suggestion as what else we could do to get their kids attentions and what would hit home for them. I wish i could say they program is still working to this day but with budget cuts that program got cut. i still say it was very effective the two years I was involved. Kids acted out real life situation in front of peers and that talked openly about what they felt to each other even gave real life situation in their own lives. But the cream of the crop of this program was that I was a high school student teaching it yo middle schoolers. Not just teaching it but learn it as well. So how good it that to start with our up and coming and get their older peers to be learning leaders and of course one master leader in each class room to encourage and to give expert advice. So what do you think?
Comment by Federico Hewson on September 18, 2010 at 2:59pm
This looks great Ted - thanks for sharing - I've recently moved to the UK so i will look into these organizations closer - thanks for making me and all of us aware of these initiatives!

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