This community engagement project applied qualitative and quantitative research methods to gather community-level perspectives on approaches to violence prevention research.
Research Team and Roles
The lead researchers in this study included violence prevention and community engagement experts from Lurie Children’s and Claretian Associates, a South Chicago community-based organization. Additional advisors included other community organization representatives from West Humboldt Park Development Council, Teamwork Englewood, and Youth Service Project and researchers from Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Chicago State University, and University of Illinois at Chicago as well as Polk Bros Foundation, a local foundation. Each of these individuals served on the CACPVC Advisory Board, which was assembled to guide the design and implementation of the study. This group met four times throughout the research phase, which took place from 2013 to 2017. The CACPVC Work Group, which consisted of academic and community organization researchers, coordinated and led the meetings. Community-based organization researchers were provided a stipend for their efforts.
The research team also included 25 youth scribes, who were high school juniors and seniors recruited by SCY in partnership with youth-serving organizations throughout Chicago. Youth scribes were trained in human research subjects’ protections and project logistics. The youth scribes recorded by hand the key points made during the group discussions at each community meeting. Youth scribes were active and compensated members of the research team, providing their own expert perspectives and input. For scribes under the age of 18 years, parent/guardian permission was required for participation. Because of Institutional Review Board concerns, while youth could participate in the research as scribes, their input at the meetings could not be collected to inform the final research products as it could not be ensured that the youth who attended the meetings had parental consent. In acknowledgement of the importance of their role in the community and in research, instead of disallowing youth from participating if their parents were not also present, youth were engaged from the beginning of the research project through their role as scribes.
The CACPVC generated the results of this study by initially holding meetings in seven different community regions in Chicago (Figure 1). The regions consisted of three predominantly African American communities on the South Side of Chicago, one predominantly African American community on the West Side, two predominantly Latinx communities on the West Side, and one racially, ethnically, and economically diverse community on the North Side. These community meetings were held between 2014 and 2015.
Since the information discussed at each of these meetings had potentially negative consequences for a person’s safety, health, and legal situation, several preventive steps were taken to address potential concerns. For physical risk, the Principal Investigator (RL), who has training as a Peace Circle Keeper, established rules of engagement to be followed at all meetings. To address psychological risk, each participant was given a list of curated resources. This list included information about mental health resources, such as parent classes and youth programs, and helplines, including the Domestic Violence Helpline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Crime Victims Assistance Line. If a situation presented where a skilled mental health professional’s expertise was required, a social worker from Lurie Children’s was available to speak by telephone. The Principal Investigator informed all participants that any information shared should be kept confidential and cautioned them not to reveal any information about participation in criminal activity by themselves or others.
Organization Networking Gatherings and Open Community Forums
In each community region, an Organization Networking Gathering (ONG) and an Open Community Forum (OCF) were hosted by a community organization located in that region. Community organizations and violence prevention stakeholders were recruited to participate in the ONGs. Additional community organizations located in the convening communities were also invited to participate. Materials such as flyers, newsletter articles, emails, and Facebook posts were shared with community organizations in order to recruit community members to participate in the OCFs. Two of the OCFs were conducted in Spanish, and all materials, including flyers, infographics, resource lists, and discussion guides, were translated into Spanish for these meetings. Each meeting was open to individuals 18 years and older and each meeting lasted approximately two hours.
All ONG/OCF meetings began with large group discussions about an infographic designed specifically for each meeting that detailed data on violence in the region where the meeting was taking place. Infographics included violent crime trends and community demographics (e.g., population race/ethnicity, employment, education, median income) compared to the city of Chicago. This was followed by a large group discussion about local violence prevention efforts. During each ONG/OCF, community organization representatives shared information about their work and participants were also informed of other violence prevention efforts in each respective region. Anywhere from one to 11 youth scribes took notes at each meeting during the large group discussions. Networking opportunities were encouraged for meeting participants.
After the large group discussions completed, participants were divided into smaller discussion groups led by a facilitator. Two youth scribes and at least one staff member took notes during these discussions, where seven key questions were asked (Table 1). The CACPVC Advisory Board and Work Group collaborated to outline the community meeting agendas and develop the small group discussion guides. These questions elicited detailed opinions on topics such as how research can impact violence, what resources stakeholders need to be able to be involved in the violence prevention effort, and what factors need to be considered so all interested individuals can participate in these efforts. After the formal discussions concluded, the youth scribes were free to participate in the discussions, though as noted, their input was not recorded for research purposes due to their age.
At the conclusion of the discussion groups, all meeting participants were presented with a meeting evaluation survey. The survey asked about whether the meeting impacted their knowledge about and attitudes towards violence as well as if the meeting was satisfactory. Questions included “How much did you learn about how to prevent violence in your community at this meeting?” and “Which roles would you be willing to play for violence research in your community?” Participants who completed the survey at the OCF were entered into a raffle.
Following the meetings, the CACPVC Work Group led debriefing sessions with the youth scribes to discuss any issues or concerns and in order to ensure that the recorded notes were as accurate as possible.
Data Analysis: Development of the Research Agenda and Recommendations
The notes from each meeting were transcribed, thematically coded, grouped, and compiled. This compilation was refined by the CACPVC Work Group, thereby allowing for investigator triangulation. For the research agenda only, a survey was sent out to SCY collaborators, including community members, community organization representatives, and other violence prevention stakeholders (107 respondents), to gather further community input in identifying violence prevention research priority areas. The CACPVC Work Group collaborated with the CACPVC Advisory Board to create and refine the final violence research agenda and recommendations to support community engagement in violence research.