A Community-Based Systems Learning Approach to Understanding Youth Violence in Boston
Abstract

Abstract:

Background: Youth violence in general and gang violence in particular continues to be a pernicious problem facing the majority of large U.S. cities. Attempts to reduce youth violence are hindered by the absence of a shared framework that crosses multiple disciplines.

Objective: The goal of the Youth Violence Systems Project (YVSP) is to help communities strategize for and achieve sustained reductions in youth violence in Boston.

Methods: A distinction of YVSP is the engagement of community residents in a group model building process to develop a conceptual framework and create a system dynamics computer model of youth violence in Boston. Community residents including youth participated in the design, execution, and evaluation of the project. We also partnered with community agencies to gain insight from individuals with a history of gang involvement or violent offense. The computer model highlights the dynamics of movement into and out of gangs, and the relationships that influence violent interactions among individuals and gangs. The model serves as a simulation-based laboratory for examining initiatives aimed at reducing youth violence within a community. It considers the positive feedback between traumatic stress and violence; as violence levels rise in the community, this increases individual traumatic stress, which further increases violent responses by community members.

Conclusion: The project's community-based approach coupled with its system dynamics methodology produced a new understanding of youth violence in Boston. This understanding undergirds the model's logic, making it more useful to community residents and more accurate in describing the behavior of youth in high-violence neighborhoods.