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 members of the West Philadelphia community, 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 and launched the Briana and Damon animated videos on the Facebook page
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 senior and corresponding author Therese Richmond, PhD, CRNP, FAAN
, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, lead author Nicole Vaughn, PhD, of the Drexel University School of Public Health, and colleagues.
“Our question was: How do we get research back to the community?’” said Dr. Richmond, the Andrea B. Laporte Endowed Term Associate Professor at Penn 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.”
The researchers and community partners developed stories directly from research findings to bring them to life. “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 Dr. Richmond. “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 Dr. Richmond. “Our young participants told us, ‘This is what we’ll pay attention to. This is what will be cool.’”
Working with an animator, a focus group with participants between the ages of 10 and 17 reviewed the storyboards and offered feedback. “The kids worked with us on developing the characters, making them look and sound trendy and urban,” said Dr. Richmond. To make the scenes more authentic, the young participants provided the animator with descriptions of their own neighborhoods and discussed the types of violent acts that they’ve known peers to commit, such as shoplifting and damaging property. For genuine characterizations in the videos, the youth participants were asked to voice the characters.
Each of the five, one-minute videos has a single, distinct message: avoiding peer pressure, working hard, keep calm, finding a role model, and deciding against retribution. In “Barbershop,” a real-life barber voiced a character who gives Damon an after-school job in his shop and appreciates his diligence. In “Role Models,” Briana gives a class presentation on why she looks up to her sister, a college student.
“Engaging youth and adults from the community to develop strategies and tools for sharing research results can improve the meaning, acceptance, and translation of the results into community programs and action,” said Dr. Richmond. “This further encourages partnership between community members and researchers to study issues important to the community.”