Wrapping up with Candice Kane

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

On 9/13/2012 CeaseFire changed its name to Cure Violence

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.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.