Briana and Damon could be the kids up the block. Briana does well in school and wants to follow in her sister's footsteps to college. Damon works hard at an after-school job in a local barbershop. They hang out with friends and try to stay out of trouble.
But Briana and Damon have a mission. Voiced by Philadelphia teens, they are a pair of digitally animated street-smart characters with a Facebook page aimed at reducing urban youth violence. Working with West Philadelphian residents who are members of the Philadelphia Area Research Community Coalition, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the Philadelphia Collaborative Violence Prevention Center (PCVPC) created Briana and Damon as a novel strategy to communicate anti-violence messages grounded in community-based research. The researchers reported their findings in the American Journal of Community Psychology this month and launched the Briana and Damon animated videos on the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Briana-and-Damon-Violence-Prevention/140386882682185
The characters and their stories are the product of years of community-based participatory research from the PCVPC, a project funded by the Centers for Disease Control to address violence in Philadelphia.
Researchers often focus on communicating results of studies to others in their field, but getting practical advice to the communities they serve is often more important, according to lead author Dr. Nicole Vaughn, an assistant professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health.
"Our question was: How do we get research back to the community?'" said co-author Dr. Therese S. Richmond, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. "Community-based participatory research enables us to develop strategies for violence prevention side-by-side with members of the affected community, but it's unusual for researchers to disseminate their findings back in the community itself."
This project brings the research to life. "It's so important in violence prevention to really engage youth in the solution," Vaughn said.
"Our community partners told us: 'Don't just tell us what kids say, tell us what we can do about it, what we can do as adults to create positives,'" said. Richmond, the Andrea B. Laporte Endowed Term Associate Professor at Penn Nursing. "We identified strategies, interpreted them in an appealing way, and linked them with evidence-based actions the community can take to decrease violence."
At that point, the group had the research, but needed the medium. "We learned from the community youth that digital animation speaks to this age group and in this community," said Richmond. "Our young participants told us, 'This is what we'll pay attention to. This is what will be cool.'"