This commentary deals with using the power of networking and video
to disrupt the community violence epidemic. But it also speaks to
the potential of deploying behavioral theory to good effect in some
areas of societal challenge. Influencing peoples behavior is
nothing new to government, which has often used tools such as
legislation, regulations, or taxation to achieve desired policy
outcomes. But many of the toughest policy challenges we are now
facingsuch as community violence and violent crimewill only be
resolved if we are successful in persuading people to change their
behavior, their lifestyles, or their existing habits.
Alan P. Balutis, Director and Distinguished Fellow Cisco Internet
Business Solutions Group
The violence that plagues our world is reaching epidemic levels. In
fact, community violence is one of the leading causes of death for
people ages 15 to 44 years worldwide, accounting for 14 percent of
deaths among males and 7 percent of deaths among females. In 2008,
approximately $5.75 trillion was spent worldwide to mitigate
violent crimes, which equates to 9.5 percent of the worlds total
gross domestic product.
Various organizations, including police, social services, schools,
families, healthcare, and many others, have worked for years to
eradicate violence. Despite best efforts, success has been
frustratingly limited. This is mainly due to the fragmented and
sovereign nature of individual organizations, resource shortages
that cause turf battles, and a loss of urgency and focus caused by
geopolitical influences such as the global financial crisis. Most
important, centuries of conflict have caused people to think about
violence the wrong way.
Treating Violence as a Public Health Epidemic
Criminology research consistently finds that approximately 6
percent of a given population accounts for up to one-half of all
crime and two-thirds of all violent crime. People who have been
arrested at least three times have more than a two-thirds chance of
being arrested again. This disproportionate concentration of crime
and violence in a relatively small subgroup suggests that changing
the behavior of even a small number of the highest-risk youth could
generate a notable drop in the overall volume of violence.
Given the ramifications of this research, much attention is being
given to an emerging idea that social problems behave like
infectious agents. What if violence, which is often casually
referred to as an epidemic, actually moves through populations in
the same way as influenza or other infectious diseases? Could that
explain the sudden, dramatic rise of shootings in Chicago, even
though other populous areas seem to have stabilized?
A Catalyst for Positive Change
Today, the majority of people believe community violence cannot be
eradicated. Despite these challenges, Cure Violence, a nonprofit
partnership that fuses technology with public art, health, and
safety, is successfully disrupting the epidemic of community
violence. A critical component of Cure Violence is its application
of social modeling.
Taken from the public health sector, social modeling identifies and
isolates the source of a disease to stop its spread. Cure Violence
uses an approach that reverses social modeling to identify leaders
and enable them to promote positive change. In fact, a U.S.
Department of Justice evaluation stated, The methodology [of social
modeling] reduced shootings and [homicides] in designated cease
fire zones by up to 70 percent.
How does it work? Cure Violence creates a positive epidemic by
working with affinity groups to identify who among their
constituents are the most effective catalysts for change. These
credible messengers then communicate in their own voices to share
personal experiences and influence their peers to make violence
socially unacceptable. The end result is improved social behavior
and lower instances of violence.
Credible messengers communicate through the personal networks they
have already established with their mobile phones and social
networking sites such as Facebook. Because these networks and
technologies already exist, Cure Violence believes it can easily
scale worldwide while operating with a very low cost structure.
Cure Violence further empowers credible messengers with Flip video
cameras from Cisco to harness the powerful influence of personal
video in persuading others to change their behavior. In fact,
approximately 5,000 credible messengers currently are using Flip
video cameras to engage their friends, family, and communities.
Armed with their personal networks and video cameras, credible
messengers are taking the lead as citizen journalists and
activists. Working with their Cure Violence instructors, they also
are raising the level of discourse above that of typical online
forums and setting a precedent for intelligent, thoughtful, and
respectful contributions to the rapidly expanding conversation
about stopping violence.
The Cure: Violence Participatory Environment
Because the process of changing behavior is labor-intensive, it is
difficult to scale. The Cure Violence online forum addresses this
issue by acting as a digital platform for credible messengers and
interested groups to share their work (see Figure 1).
Specifically, the Cure Violence digital platform
- aggregates credible messenger videos and social media sites
such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter
- expands awareness among organizations working for a cure
- creates a point of congregation and action
- unifies efforts with a common voice and direction.
To encourage participation among educators and community groups,
the Cure Violence platform also will host a space for collaboration
on project ideas and curriculum development. These educational
resources, created by both Cure Violence partners and the
community, will be available to anyone to promote shifting social
norms and to empower students to speak out for change in their own
Employing video, SMS, cell phone cameras, or discussion-based
forums, these projects can be realized in the classroom or by
individuals, and then aggregated into the Cure Violence program. As
networks continue to broaden, real change becomes possible, Gun
Violence Among School-Age Youth in Chicago, The University of
Chicago Crime Lab, March 2009. References 72
WWW.THEPUBLICMANAGER.ORG fueled by productive ideas, strategies,
and voices that previously went unnoticed.
Cure Violence already is having a positive impact. In just five
months, a local affinity group has added more than 40,000 followers
on Facebook. Cure Violence also expects to shape public policy
through new funding mechanisms, improve education by using social
media to change behavior, increase public safety by developing new
forms of community cooperation, and facilitate economic development
and better quality of life through reduced violence.
Expanding Cure Violence Worldwide
Cure Violence is a movement. The power of the network and
highdefinition, personal video cameras, such as the Flip, give a
new voice to youth, families, and anti-violence supporters. Cure
Violence can benefit every community affected by violence and
stymied by the traditional way of attacking the problem.
Cisco, in conjunction with political, public safety, public health,
and education leaders, is working with Cure Violence to expand the
program worldwide. As an initial step, Cure Violence will launch a
pilot in the Chicago area in 2010. The program will expand to
connect a total of five cities in the United States over a unified
platform. A long-term goal is to extend Cure Violence to 12 major
How to Get Involved
Throughout history, every meaningful change started with a small
group of trusted, highly connected people. History is being made
again. Cure Violence has proven an effective way to change
antisocial behavior and expand the conversation so others can
experience success in eliminating the violence epidemic.
To get involved, become an advocate for Cure Violence by visiting
the programs website at www.cureviolence. com. You may also contact
Jeff Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lincoln Schatz, founder of
Cure Violence, at email@example.com.