Thursday, March 27, 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

Community Psychology Topical Interest Group hosts AEA's blog

By Ann Webb Price, Ph.D.

The Community Psychology Topical Interest Group or CP TIG is a group of community psychologists and community practitioners within the American Evaluation Association (AEA). The group was established three years ago to provide a professional home to those who share the values of community psychology within AEA. You can learn more about the TIG at

One of the many things AEA does is to sponsor a blog called AEA 365. AEA members post a blog each day that highlights specific techniques, resources, and tips for evaluators. The following week (March 23-28), the CP TIG is hosting AEA 365 blog and guest bloggers will be discussing evaluability assessment. The blog series should prove to be illustrative with evaluators such as former AEA president Deb Rog, Jim Altschuld (author of the Needs Assessment kit through Sage), Rob Fischer, Co-Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University-CWRU, and Julianne Manchester, Principal Investigator for the National Training and Coordination Collaborative (CWRU) sharing their views on conducting evaluability assessments.

Be sure and check out our postings at and share them with your friends and colleagues. You can learn more about AEA at If you are member of AEA already, please select the Community Psychology TIG on your membership page.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Working to Reduce Alcohol-Related Health Risks and Increase Residents’ Quality of Life in Milan

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice

March, 2014

Giovanni Aresi
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Catholic University of Milan)

Dawn X. Henderson
Winston-Salem State University

There are a number of risks associated with alcohol consumption among young adults, thereby presenting an important issue to tackle in community psychology. Since 1995, more than 100 articles have been published in the American Journal of Community Psychology and Journal of Community Psychology addressing alcohol-related issues among youth and their communities.  Expanding how community psychology frames this issue in an international context is highly relevant to practitioners and the field.   

For several years, Giovanni Aresi (a doctoral student at the Catholic University of Milan) has been working to design prevention and intervention programs to address young adults’ alcohol abuse. Currently, he is involved in a project aimed at mobilizing stakeholders and community members in designing and implementing interventions to reduce young adults’ alcohol-related health risks and promote residents' quality of life in the Ticinese nightlife entertainment district in Milan.  Aresi serves as the principal investigator of the project, which includes a team of undergraduate psychology students under the guidance of Dr. Elena Marta (Social and Community Psychology full professor at Catholic University of Milan) and Dr. David Chavis (University of Maryland Baltimore County and Community Science CEO).

Since inception, the project has used a multi-phase mixed methods design to engage stakeholders and community members. For example, Aresi used interviews with residents to help cultivate relationships. The project then engaged a team of stakeholders (i.e., members of health service organizations, nightlife prevention professionals, bar and club managers, and neighborhood association representatives) to conduct a context analysis, which served as a critical step in identifying the most relevant alcohol-related risks and consequences at the local level. Surveys were also administered to more than 340 residents to obtain perceptions of the district and young adults. A preliminary report was developed and shared with stakeholders through focus groups.  Preliminary findings include:

  • Belongingness depends upon the dominant activity in the setting. Stakeholders indicated that there is an active community during the day but a loss of a sense of belongingness at night when young people spend time in bars or in the streets.
  • Residents and media have different views of the setting [or district]. Although many residents perceived their district as a ‘dirty environment’ they did not perceive it as ‘noisy’ and ‘unsafe.’ These perceptions contradict descriptions of the district by local media.
  • Different subgroups within the setting stereotype each other. Quotes were shared in the report from residents and young nightlife goers and reinforced stereotypes each group had about each other.  The team then engaged members in a discussion on how these stereotypes impact relationships among residents in the district.

Some implications for community practice include:

  • The use of Social Reconnaissance (SR; Martini & Torti, 2003):  Used in community practice and organizing in Italy, SR engages stakeholders and community members in assessing readiness for change and creating a needs assessment. Analysis and interpretation of data is guided from the perspective of stakeholders through interviews, focus groups, and group meetings to promote coalition building.
  • Use of Multi-Methods: The integration of interviews and focus groups with quantitative data collection (household surveys to over 340 residents) provide multiple perspectives of the phenomena and are highly important in triangulating findings to support valid and useful results.
  • Use of Community-Based Participatory Research. Community members are active participants throughout the research phase (from the definition of the measures of the surveys to the participation in the interpretation of results).  More importantly, as active participants in the research process the stakeholders are valued and integral in shaping deliberate action or developing solutions to the problem.   

Collectively, this project builds on community strengths and assets and takes into account the specific social, cultural and geographical context of the district.  There are challenges though, which include trying to address when to present the results to the community (whether to present rough data or more defined results) and what level of complexity non-academics can comprehend with or without training. Regardless of challenges, the team is bringing stakeholders and researchers together to move towards social action.


Work Cited:

Martini, E. & Torti, A. (2003), Fare lavoro di comunità: riferimenti teorici e strumenti operativi. [Working with communities: theoretical perspectives and operative tools] Roma Carocci editore.


Related Journals:

American Journal of Community Psychology (2013) Volume 51

Journal of Community Psychology (1999; 2013) Volume 27; Volumes 41


This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at


Friday, March 7, 2014

Can Random Acts of Kindness Strengthen Communities?

This past weekend was the third Annual Melee of Kindness (AMOK). Playfully named after a word synonymous with craziness ( and technically defined as a psychological disorder characterized by random acts of mass violence), AMOK is actually devoted to random acts of kindness. Promoted by the nonprofit Random Acts, AMOK encourages people throughout the world to perform acts of kindness in their local community.

It's a cute idea, but can it be more? As community psychologists, we typically look for ways to strengthen communities that are locally grounded, systematic, and sustainable. Some decry one-day volunteer events (such as those promoted by businesses to promote "team-building"), for their ability to engender good feelings in one-shot volunteers without actually creating any kind of lasting effects.

I understand this critique, though I have seen examples of short-term events that have long-lasting impacts. For example, hackathons devoted to social betterment, such as the Hackathon for Social Good, bring together programmers and designers for a concentrated period of time to develop innovative technological solutions to challenges faced by nonprofits. Although sustained work is needed to maximize the usefulness of apps and other products developed during these events, mass participation and the short-term intense nature of hackathons can lead to innovations that wouldn't otherwise occur.

As far as Random Acts is concerned, it's worth mentioning that AMOK is just one event in an ongoing effort to promote random acts of kindness. However, this still begs the question, do random acts of kindness actually do any good?

Without minimizing the importance of sustained well-funded multilevel approaches to preventing social problems and strengthening communities, I'd like to make a case for the virtues of promoting kindness (and randomness), and particularly for the approach adopted by Random Acts.

(1) Random acts of kindness may increase recipient's sense of informal social support and social connectedness. The importance of social support cannot be underestimated. The One Strong Ohana child maltreatment prevention campaign, which I've mentioned previously, promotes seemingly "random acts" of kindness towards families, such as offering to babysit or pick up groceries for a neighbor. These small acts increase a sense of social support, which is a proven protective factor against child abuse and neglect. Informal social ties are essential to individual and community well-being, and even small acts can go a long way toward increasing the sense that people can rely on their neighbors. For instance, Carlos Luis has written about the "suspended coffee" concept, whereby people pay in advance for a cup of coffee or a meal that could be claimed later by anyone who needs it. This concept has taken off around the world, and may be a way to promote solidarity and social cohesion.

(2) Random Acts (the organization) repeatedly emphasizes taking action in your community and "transforming your neighborhood." Unlike other one-day events (such as the "team-building" corporate volunteer events alluded to previously), this approach encourages people to engage deeply with their own communities, to seek out problems that need to be fixed, and to take action that may lead to long-lasting community change.

(3) Engaging in random acts of kindness in one's own community may promote a sense of influence, one of the core elements of psychological sense of community. This may be enhanced when several people work together and accomplish something that they may not have otherwise thought possible, promoting a sense of empowerment and collective efficacy which could potentially lead to future collective action. It may also raise awareness about community problems that are otherwise ignored, which, when combined with an increased sense of collective efficacy could potentially lead to larger scale change. For instance, a group of people who spend a day reaching out to homeless members of their community may become more deeply aware of the problem of homelessness, and continue to work together or become involved in existing efforts to effect policy changes that could address this problem.

(4) The organization provides a global platform and makes extensive use of social media to document and share local experiences. This can promote intercultural dialogue and creates a shared history among participants, locally and globally, devoted to community betterment.

(5) It's refreshing to engage with a nonprofit whose primary request is not to donate or sign a petition, but to simply do something positive. Random Acts does ask for donations, which it uses to fund project proposals put out by participants. However, it is currently run entirely by volunteers, affording it a certain amount of freedom from the dilemma faced by nonprofits that feel a tension between remaining true to their mission and keeping their staff employed. Though Random Acts is only a few years old, and will likely find itself struggling with that tension if it continues to grow in the next few years, the fact that people can "participate" without ever actually even having any contact with the organization provides a unique experience for would-be volunteers.

Also, they really are cute. Seriously, they're adorable. Co-founded by actor and social media overlord Misha Collins, whose childhood experiences with homelessness and the unexpected generosity of strangers inspired this organization's inception, Random Acts is full of dedicated people who genuinely want to make the world better in every random way they can. This includes unpaid staff who work tirelessly to maintain the site and organize events, one of whom wrote about how her experiences have convinced her of the real potential of this approach, "It started with what sounds like an almost too simplistic mission: we can change the world through small acts of kindness, But I actually believe that to be true." It also includes groups working together to clean neglected community spaces or raise funds for local nonprofits, and individuals snowblowing their neighbor's yards or even taping quarters to vending machines.

In addition to AMOK and other projects, Random Acts is associated with another annual event with the unruly acronym GISHWES, which stands for the "Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen." Surprisingly, it actually lives up to the hubris of its name, having attained multiple Guinness World Records for being the world's largest scavenger hunt. GISHWHES includes a list of activities that range from the randomly kind (e.g. "grab a friend and go donate blood or platelets", "perform a stealth act of kindness for someone at work"), to the just plain random (e.g. "make a wig from your own hair", "create a portrait made entirely of Skittles", "dress up like a stormtrooper and fold laundry").

I'll admit that the merits of making Skittles portraits may seem small when considering the overwhelming and pervasive problems faced by people across the globe. However, I personally believe that kindness, silliness, and art are undervalued as potentially transformative forces in a world dominated by competition for money and power. Then again, that's just how I roll...

Gina Cardazone - University of Hawai`i, Mānoa