Archive for: 2008

Wrapping up with Candice Kane

Dec 17, 2008, 9:58 AM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky

Today, we wrap up our conversation with Candice Kane of CeaseFire with a look at how workers are responding to trainings in Second Life and some thoughts on the potential for virtual worlds to help advance the violence prevention field in addition to other community health interventions.

How has your staff responded to these new trainings in Second Life?

The workers have responded very well. The beginning was a bit bumpy. We brought in a small group of workers that really didn’t know anything about computers and had no concept of virtual worlds. So the initial response was a little bit skeptical, I think they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to do it, and we had a couple folks who struggled early on. By the end of the first training, they all said, “This is really cool. I really want to learn this. I want to do this.” And for those that had any computer sophistication at all, they were off and running in an hour’s time. They were doing all kinds of things with their avatars -- changing body shapes, outfitting their virtual selves. Some even went a bit overboard with their virtual bling. We had to remind them that you can’t be out on the streets, real or virtual, with all that flashy jewelry. So for them it’s fun. It’s entertaining. And it is giving them the opportunity to develop not only the violence prevention and mitigation skills they need for the job, but also computer skills and problem solving skills.  It has also empowered the staff to take ownership of the training. In fact, one of our violence interrupters has volunteered to take the lead on training other workers. So, we are excited to see the peer-to-peer training that virtual world enables.

file An image of a violence interrupter practicing in Second Life

Where do you hope to go with Second Life? 

Right now we are just using Second Life for training with our Chicago team, but we are looking to get Baltimore and other cities up and running soon.But more than that, we see enormous possibility for how we can use Second Life to empower individuals and to prevent violence.

Elena Quintana, who heads our evaluation unit, has her doctorate is in psychology. As a clinical psychologist she talks a lot about social distance, and the social distance that both our workers and our clients have to cover to become part of mainstream society, even to reach just the fringe of mainstream society. I think Second Life really offers us some potential there, because there are a lot of things that our workers and clients don’t have experience doing – things that are unfamiliar to them. And when you’re 25, 30, 35, you’ve been in prison for 15 years, you’re just coming back, and you don’t know how to get your own apartment, you don’t know even how to take public transportation, you don’t know how to do things that an 8 or a 10-year-old kid can do, there’s a reluctance to admit it. We’ve talked about doing things in Second Life that are self guided, so that someone can go in and practice certain skills without needing a supervisor or co-worker to be present. And if we can get to that point, then that really opens some doors for people, where they don’t have to admit that they don’t know how to do things. I’m also exploring to see if there are ways we can do more literacy training and job training – like having our workers practice doing job applications on line. We really see Second Life as a portal to so many skill development opportunities.

Is there anyone else in your field that is already or considering using Second Life?

I’m not aware of anybody. We did a presentation at the Second Life conference last summer, when we were just getting into this. We had some still images and a two-minute video to share.  There were a lot of folks that came up to us and said, “Wow, this is really cool. Keep us posted.” But there were not too many social service types. As I’ve been out and about, I’ve been talking about it with other groups, and there is a lot of interest out there. We have seen interest from some organizations that are exploring how to use virtual worlds to provide counseling to people who are sexually assaulted. I think that there are some real opportunities for victim services and other areas. It’s just a question of helping them understand the technology and then overcoming some financial hurdles, which are really not as substantial as they would’ve been some years ago.

Thanks so much to Candice for taking the time to talk with us.  It is clear that CeaseFire is out in front of leveraging the use of virtual worlds to drive social change and we are so excited about the work they are doing and the results they are achieving.

More on Second Life from Candice Kane of CeaseFire

Dec 16, 2008, 2:52 AM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky

Today we continue our discussion with Candice Kane of CeaseFire to learn more about how their organization is using Second Life to train outreach workers and violence interrupters as part of a national effort to prevent violence.

How did you make the connection between your training efforts and Second Life?

A couple years ago, we were tossing around the idea of doing some type of CeaseFire game.  A couple of us had the opportunity to participate in a regional Games for Health meet-up in California where we learned a little bit more about how games were being used to promote health.  We talked with Ben Sawyer about our interest in using games to prevent violence; he was excited that we were thinking about games, but encouraged us to think more about what were going to do with the game, what we wanted to accomplish and what would be the potential challenges. We brought these ideas and questions back to our colleagues at the Center for the Advancement of Distance Education (CADE) here at the University of Chicago and someone said, “Have you thought about Second Life?” Given our interest in using games or interactive technology for training, a number of folks felt it would be a good fit.  

The first time I got a look at Second Life, I thought, wow, this is a great opportunity for us to create a forum where people can practice violence interruption. Conducting CeaseFire training sessions around the country is really cost prohibitive for us, but we saw quickly that Second Life would enable us to reach a broader audience and train workers in a safe and engaging environment.

What went into the development of your space in Second Life?

At this point, we have two islands in Second Life. CeaseFire Island was our first project. The initial challenge was to develop an environment that replicated the look and feel of the Chicago neighborhoods where CeaseFire was focused. Working with the developers at CADE, we went into our neighborhoods and took pictures of the houses, buildings and streetscapes.  The developers we worked with were terrific, but I remember seeing the first designs and saying, “This is too clean. This is too neat. We’ve got to mess this up. We need litter. I want graffiti. I want to board up some of the buildings.” The creative team looked at me like, “You want to mess up my building?” “Yes!” It was very important to me that the Island look like the neighborhoods where we spend our time, and our neighborhoods are messy.  So we spent a lot of time to get the look right, and now we even have a backdrop of the Chicago skyline. Our second island, CeaseFire Isla is adjacent to CeaseFire Island and is largely Latino in look and feel.


The pictures below show how the CADE developers and CeaseFire team used neighborhood photos to develop sketches that eventually led to a realistic virtual world.

Check back tomorrow for the last part of our conversation with Candice. And to learn more, be sure to visit the CeaseFire website at

Amplyifying how my body talks to me (and others)

Dec 15, 2008, 9:09 AM, Posted by Al Shar

It doesn’t take much insight to know that the current method of delivering (and paying for) health is broken and not sustainable. Making changes at the margins won’t work. Aside from current (and obvious) inefficiencies, we have a population that’s living longer, has more medical conditions and more methods for treating them. Even if you believe your personal health care support is doing OK, you have to know that there’s a crisis in the future. If you believe we’re already in a crisis, you know we’re heading for a catastrophe.

There is a school of thought that crises have a way of solving themselves. There’s a great story about how at the start of the 20th century, with the growth of the telephone, there was a fear that the number of switchboard operators needed for manual switching systems would soon exceed supply, and that the problem was solved (just in time) by the invention of automated switching systems. This story was repeated as recently as 1998 in a letter to the NY Times. Unfortunately, this story is not true. The first automatic switch was invented in 1889 by Almon B. Strowger who developed it because he believed the operator was deliberately routing calls to his competition. In fact, as late as 1920 Bell in Atlanta continued to use operators and only changed when there was an operator strike.

Recognizing, therefore, that most crises are not self-resolving, and at our request, the Center for Future Health at the University of Rochester convened a diverse group of thought leaders interested in real-time personalized health monitoring. They came to discuss how people might benefit from personalized self-care systems, how such systems might enable people to take more responsibility for their own health and what RWJF might do to advance the field. What we learned is that there are amazing things taking shape that hold the promise of technologies that are both useful (in terms of their ability to improve our health) and unobtrusive, that there are lots of single point experiments and that there are major obstacles to coherent development. The challenge remains finding activities that can be transformational in accelerating the field while avoiding, or at least mitigating, some of the costly dead ends.

Conversation with Pioneers: An interview with Candice Kane

Dec 15, 2008, 7:45 AM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky

This month we continue our Conversation with Pioneer Series with Candice Kane, the chief operating officer of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention and the organization’s CeaseFire initiative. CeaseFire, which is funded through the RWJF’s Vulnerable Populations Portfolio, works with community-based organizations and focuses on street-level outreach, conflict mediation, and the changing of community norms to reduce violence, particularly shootings. Launched in 2000, CeaseFire treats violence like a public health epidemic that can be prevented.  The program engages the community to work with people at high risk of being involved in violence to provide on-the-spot alternatives to shooting and change social norms about gun violence. A recent evaluation of the program has demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing the size and intensity of shooting hot spots in targeted Chicago neighborhoods.

Susan Promislo blogged about CeaseFire over the summer and highlighted the organization’s use of virtual world tools and techniques to advance their anti-violence mission. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with Candice Kane further about their use of Second Life and their innovative approach to training outreach workers and violence interrupters.

What role does Second Life play in your anti-violence efforts?

Perhaps the most vital component of CeaseFire are the violence interrupters and outreach workers. These are street-smart individuals, many of whom are former gang members, who give back to their neighborhoods by mediating high-risk conflicts and reducing violence – specifically shootings. There are three areas that our outreach workers and violence interrupters need to master to be successful in their work. They have to be able to identify and engage clients; they have to be able to relate to the community; and they have to be able to mediate and resolve conflicts, anticipate retaliatory action and intervene before something happens.

When we started training our outreach workers and violence interrupters, we were using a lot of role playing to simulate the situations they would need to mitigate. It was clear that for some people, approaching and talking to strangers was difficult and intimidating, understandably. Our outreach workers are very effective with people they already know and most of our workers know many of the people in their community. However, there are going to be occasions when our outreach workers and violence interrupters need to approach people they don’t know or need to approach people in threatening situations, and we wanted to help them build their confidence for these types of interventions.

We’re trying to make Second Life a core component of our training for violence interrupters and outreach workers. It is a safe environment that lets the workers navigate these types of interactions and practice approaching strangers or threatening situations.

What has been the value of moving to a virtual world for training?

Most of our violence interrupters and outreach workers are former gang members. Most of them have been in prison for violent crimes and some have served more than 20 years in jail. As you might expect, many of them don’t have formal employment experience. Their reading and comprehension skills vary from the 6th-8th grade level to college level; most they don’t write a lot and, since they don’t work with computers on a regular basis, are not computer literate.

So, it is no surprise that it is not practical for us to use written materials in our trainings. It means that our trainings need to focus on learning through doing, not reading or even through oral presentations. Our outreach workers have to observe, they have to do it own their own, they have to practice and get feedback on how to improve. Second Life has given us the space for that practice and that doing. And more importantly, it is fun for people, especially if you give them a few Linden Dollars so they can go out and buy their own outfit.

Can you share some examples of what happens on CeaseFire Island?

Second Life gives the workers a chance to practice different scenarios. Their worker’s avatar might need to approach a young guy, played by a CeaseFire staff member, who is on the streets dealing drugs, waiting for his next buyer to come by. The worker might have to deal with a hostile response if the client feels the worker is interfering with a potential sale. The interaction gives the worker the opportunity to think about the whole process of approaching someone. What signals do you look for? What do you have to be aware of, in terms of what’s going on around you? What if there are three people standing together and they seem to be in a conversation? Or if it’s a heated conversation, would you even walk up to them? Why would you walk up to them? Why wouldn’t you walk up to them?

We have a scenario where we actually have done some filming and we show somebody taking the brochure, and then throwing it on the ground and going, “I don’t need this shit.” How do you handle that? What do you say? What do you do? How do you know when you may be threatened? So Second Life gives us the opportunity to play out those scenarios and then debrief on what worked and what didn’t.

We also put a lot of effort into helping our clients rethink their life and their behaviors so there are structural and cognitive behavioral changes that we’re looking for, things like getting a job or seeking help to kick a drug habit. It is important for our workers to think about how they help others solve problems. There’s a temptation with our workers, and probably most of us, to immediately go to solutions. Someone says, “I need a job,” and so the inclination is to say, “Well, I know they’re hiring over at the store on the corner, why don’t you go over there tomorrow and put in an application?” Well that’s not what we want the workers to do. We want them to be a coach, an advocate who will help the client understand why they want a job, what type of job and help them acquire the skills they will need to be successful at a job.

Check back tomorrow to hear more about how the outreach workers and violence interrupters are using CeaseFire Island and have responded to trainings in Second Life.

About Candice Kane: Candice M. Kane, Ph.D., J.D., is the Chief Operating Officer of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, a strategic public health initiative to support community-based and city-wide violence prevention. Her responsibilities with the Chicago Project include day-to-day oversight of all program activities, including those related to CeaseFire, the campaign to stop shootings and killings, and evaluation. In addition to her management duties, Dr. Kane is actively involved in the framing and implementation of policy, program development, drafting of program-related materials including training curricula and brief performance reports, and budget projections. Prior to joining the staff of the Project, Dr. Kane was director of a state planning and research agency and part of the University of Chicago team that developed, implemented and tested the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Comprehensive Gang Model.

Positive Deviance named an "idea of the year!"

Dec 15, 2008, 3:39 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

The New York Times Magazine for Sunday, December 14 contains its 8th annual wrap-up of the ideas that "helped make the previous 12 months, for better or worse, what they were." The ideas are listed alphabetically, and there among the "p"s is an idea Pioneer's been exploring for some time, Positive Deviance.  In fact, Curt Lindberg, of our grantee Plexus Institute (also noted in the Magazine's short essay), wrote an introduction to P.D. here on the blog back in July, 2007.  Faithful readers can now say they knew it when...