Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Viral (social) Change in action: The Chicago CeaseFire model

Viral (social) Change in action: The Chicago CeaseFire model
By Leandro Herrero (28.10.08)

I am just back from the annual Pop!Tech conference in Camden, ME, USA. This is my third time as a participant. This is a forum for exploring the interactions between technology and society. It is evolving towards a platform more focused on social innovation, social entrepreneurship and change. The audience, participants, speakers (mainly US people) are a mixture of people from arts, design, academia, engineering, social trends, entrepreneurship, socio-economic fields, health etc.

One of the presentations was by Dr Gary Slutkin, who is executive director of The Chicago Project for Violence Prevention. I must confess my total previous ignorance of that work. Under the logo/slogan of ‘CeaseFire’, the project engages people from communities and neighbourhoods to literally stop the circle of violence by confronting individuals of gangs and ‘stopping the shooting’ (on spot sometimes) and/or stopping the frequent retaliation. The project is extremely successful achieving reductions in shootings up to 40% in the neighbourhoods where the model is operating
What is extraordinary for me is the obvious similitude between our Viral Change™ model and CeaseFire modus operandi. CeaseFire, like us, uses the language and models of epidemiology (Gary Slutkin day job is Professor of Epidemiology!). Like Viral Change™, the real work in CeaseFire is done by a selected small group of connected individuals called ‘interrupters’ or ‘Outrech workers’. In the graphic below I have attempted to summarise this comparisons.

Viral Change™ has been designed, developed and implemented with the organization in mind. The only reason for this has been so that I could focus on the territory of my daily consulting work as organizational architect. But the Viral Change™model is a social model, not constrained to those borders. Social change (communitarian, micro-social, social innovation initiatives, public health initiatives, etc) is a perfect territory to implement Viral Change™ as the Chicago ‘CeaseFire’ project shows.

I will be working on those micro/macro social areas as well in future to at least gather examples of implementations and broaden the Viral Change™ scope. Those of us who do organizational work are bound to learn a lot from the dynamics of social change. Similarly I believe that Viral Change™ can contribute to the further refinement of social initiatives.

Not all of those social change initiatives are Viral Change™ as I have described in multiple places including the second edition of the book. Most of them still follow what we call in Viral Change™ ‘Big Splash’, that is, ‘massive ( as massive as possible) reaching out’. In many of those programmes there is an implicit assumption that behavioural change will follow the right information or communication campaign (e.g. AIDS). It is a pity that money is largely spend in the communication/big-splash side versus the formation, development and training of ‘social activists’ that influence other people and ‘train’ other activists.

This is a summary of Viral Change™ and CeaseFire. I do not pretend to have all the CeaseFire facts right. I am hoping to be able to visit Gary Slutkin in Chicago at some point, soon to learn more and close the loop and hope to be able to contribute to them as much as they are already showing me how wonderful model the one of ‘small numbers’ is….

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