IIT students plan to save lives
Can the same research strategies used to innovate in healthcare and mass transit, also prevent homicide? This past semester, a graduate-level design planning class at Illinois Institute of Technology, put their discipline to the test and arrived at some impressive results.
It was Amanda Geppert, a graduate student at IIT’s Institute of Design and 5-year CeaseFire Chicago employee, who first approached her Professor, Vijay Kumar, with the ambitious idea. She suggested devoting the professor’s 15-week Design Planning Workshop—whose past partners include Liberty Mutual Insurance, Chicago Workforce Center, Kellogg Foundation’s New Options for the Youth, and T-Mobile, among others—to working with CeaseFire, a non-profit organization that uses a public health approach that includes trained street violence “interrupters” and outreach staff, as well as public education campaigns and community mobilization, to help break the cycle of violence. “I was interested in IIT’s thinking in respect to generating positive social change,” explains Geppert, “How design methods could be applied to non-corporate, community and individual level user-centered experiences to reduce shooting and killing.” Professor Kumar jumped aboard the suggestion and made the project part of a larger movement, Design Ignites Change.
Amanda and five of her peers started by designing a comprehensive, qualitative and quantitative research study that would be used to inform a community involvement campaign. One primary goal of the work was to disrupt entrenched thinking about the social norms and behaviors that contribute to violence—such as the idea that drug dealers make a lot of money easily—and to show alternatives.
The students began by exploring CeaseFire’s existing strengths through various frameworks and methods, in order to determine where the organization is capable of going. The team partnered with a neighborhood that implements the CeaseFire model, where they conducted intercept interviews with low-risk members of the community—those less likely to be directly involved in violence, but still affected—and whose behavior perpetuates it by staying at home. They also spoke with high-risk residents, those who are involved with street level violence, and observed CeaseFire’s weekly violence interrupters’ meetings, to get additional perspectives on the belief system at play.
After synthesizing the research, the students drew up a detailed roadmap of strategies for moving both high-risk and low-risk residents towards a healthier, safer community model. The multi-pronged approach is organized around four main concepts: soliciting and channeling good news, reclaiming public space, offering universal violence intervention training and reversing the neglect in distressed neighborhoods. Under each of these concepts, are multiple specific suggestions.
“This project was extremely interesting,” says Professor Kumar, whose area of interest is at the intersection of design innovation and business strategy, “Working for a non-profit provided a completely different perspective and a big challenge. The same frameworks used for corporations worked particularly well, even though this situation was unique.”