Monday, January 25, 2010

Engagement - Getting people to the table

Photo from a wonderful Guidebook website at

How do we get people from disadvantaged places to the table in the first place? How do we initiate community engagement when communities are so disengaged?

There is little point in creating a safe physical place if people are disengaged from community life.

Take schools for example. It is no surprise that crime and vandalism rates increase shortly after high school kids leave school and on weekends. In one Brazil research study, youth homicide rates skyrocket during weekends

Across the US, almost half of all juvenile crime occurs shortly after school lets out and into early evening according to some studies.

Even worse is when a neighborhood suffers from poor student attendance and youth disengagement from the educational system. Disengagement is a cancer for neighborhood vitality. Educational detachment ripples through a young person’s life for years. Eventually it reaches the shores of community safety. School detachment is the mark of a neighborhood in trouble. Kids in school matter.

Most prevention programs are after-school programs aimed at the kids. Rarely do programs target the parents, teachers, and communities themselves.

Not so for a capacity building program with Western Australia’s aboriginal people over the past 9 years. Check out the Voices of Our People.

Capacity Building in action

Their capacity building program was a response to absenteeism and disengagement by aboriginal youth in school.

Gerry Cleveland, education and youth violence expert, created and delivered the program in conjunction with others such as Carol Garlett, the Aboriginal district director of Education in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley district. (Gerry’s SafeGrowth blog last year describes his philosophy on justice and safety).

Gerry’s training aims to enhance community participation and reduce absenteeism. After 9 years aboriginal staff are more inclined to take leadership roles and manage school and community projects – projects they develop themselves. In one early evaluation a half dozen schools had 10% improvement in attendance. In one school it was over 30%.

Gerry’s capacity building answers the question of where to begin by going to the source. They start with people directly in the community - Aboriginal support staff, parents of students, and Aboriginal students themselves aged 6 to 12.

Leadership and emotional intelligence training is also key, not for service providers from outside, rather for aboriginal teachers and parents inside the community.

Sunset in the Kimberely. For more details go to

In international development circles this is called technology transfer – but in community development it is more about co-developing solutions with residents and applying them locally. Capacity building training helps residents do it themselves. In SafeGrowth too, this is really the whole point of sustainable community.

For more on this project check out the section on engaging youth in Western Australia in the Chapter titled Second Generation CPTED: The Rise and Fall of Opportunity Theory in Randy Atlas’s book 21st Century Security and CPTED.