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Mike Brooks | Criminological News and Commentary Mike Brooks Criminological News and Commentary Monday - 8. August 2016 Home About This Site Book and Article Reviews Contact Links Resources Headlines Uncategorized It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model Part II: Desired Outcomes More on page 298 Uncategorized It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model: Part I More on page 296 Crime Prevention, Politics Law-Breakers and Criminals: Why You Should Not Applaud the ‘Unconstitutional’ Ruling On Gun Possession in Ontario More on page 292 Theory Query: What Is A Transition? More on page 286 Search Archives: February 2014 November 2013 October 2013 August 2013 June 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 Categories: Article Review Book Review Crime Prevention Gangs Media Misc. Police Politics Statistics and Methodology Theory Uncategorized Meta: Log in Valid XHTML Entries RSS Comments RSS It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model Part II: Desired Outcomes Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments (0) In part one of this series, we talked about why traditional logic models are proving less and less useful for social science researchers workings in today’s complex world. To summarize, logic models are falling out of favour as they are difficult to adapt to the changing realities of contemporary social science researchers. Further, logic models are intrinsically complex; they typically require specialized knowledge of data collection methodologies, as well as time and resources in order to illustrate a research study in this way. In order to further a central priority of the research community and encourage update of evidence-based policy and program design among smaller scale and grassroots groups, we must tear the logic model from the pedestal on which it once stood. So how is this possible? Can the central tenants of the logic model be remixed into a medium and language that is more accessible? I will argue that yes, they are. Researchers and evaluators should begin this new-school logic modelling with asking one central question (again, you’ll find this information in the previous blog post). What is the purpose of this study? Is the study explorative? Descriptive? Are there identified research questions? The answer to this question must be provided in the imperative tense. For example, in response to the ‘purpose’ question, one researcher might say “This research study will explore how group x interacts with group y under z conditions” while another researcher (lets call this one an evaluator) would answer with “This evaluation study will determine if program A is more effective at achieving X than program B is at achieving X”. In either case, the answer to the ‘purpose’ question begs further questions. Lets focus our efforts on the first researcher in the paragraph above. The researcher should be pushed to clarify what she or he means by ‘interacts with’, as well as what z conditions really are. The answer to these subsequent questions should be positive statements that function as desired outcomes. For example, the researcher in this case may explain ‘group interaction’ in terms of verbal communication, cooperation, and sharing. Illustrated as desired outcomes, it might look like this; Desired outcome #1: Groups A and B use verbal communication to express their wants to one another. Desired outcome #2: Groups A and B cooperate on complex tasks assigned to them. Desired outcome #3: Groups A and B share finite resources available to them. Lets nip something in the bud right now. There was a time in my career when I would jump on an opportunity such as this to exclaim with great joy “This is ridiculous! These desired outcomes prove this researcher to have already drawn conclusions about the study! They are looking to show Groups A and B interact well together when the study has not even started!”. It feels good to throw around methodological statements like this. Sadly, such a comment would be off-base in this situation. There is a conceptual difference between value statements and desired outcomes. To researchers working in the psychical sciences and clinical labs, there is a hypothesis statement and a null hypothesis statement that function in a similar way. The researcher is note required to place value on these desired outcomes, only to have a strong grasp on the purpose of their study. If the purpose of the study at hand is to examine group interactions, a reasonable person may therefore define elements of such interaction in terms of communication, cooperation and sharing. These terms are at the core of the desired outcomes, suggested above. In other words, researchers may, in an objective and dissociative way, ask themselves “what does ideal interaction/program implementation/financial statements look like?”. The answer, in the remixed logic model, are a series of desired outcomes. Here’s a thought experiment for you. You are at the helm of a complex research study. You’ve been tasked with producing a research framework for the funding body, which include how you will go above measuring specific constructs. In response, you should think of yourself a professional photographer, hired to take photos of an event one Saturday afternoon. Photographers in this situation would take hundreds, if not thousands of photos, and comb through them with great detail on their laptops the following day. Researchers should similarly air on the side of abundance and create as many desired outcomes as possible, eliminating duplicates, errors, and those which prove impossible to measure after the fact. Suffice to say; do not edit this element of the logic model. Throw everything at the wall, and wait to see what falls to the floor after the fact. For the third part in this series on remixing the logic model, we will extend our work with desired outcomes and begin to identify performance indicators that can be mapped against the desired outcomes. admin @ February 9, 2014 It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model: Part I Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments (0) In the world of program evaluation, logic models are the guiding light. However, how useful are these models when it comes to more dynamic research and evaluation projects? Several years ago, I worked on a large-scale evaluation project at a Canadian University. The project involved measuring the success or failure of a program in three neighbourhoods which exhibited increased levels of criminal activity, lower graduation rates, and lower household income figures. While the program was administered in these three neighbourhoods, a control group (another neighbourhood approximately 20 kilometres away) did not receive the program in question, and therefore was used as a comparison. Threats to internal and external validity abound, what is important to this story is the complexity of the project. The budget was relatively large, the evaluation spanned several years, and several hundred individuals were interviewed…multiple times. So how did we keep our head and ensure that our data collection techniques were on schedule? A logic model. How did we show our funders, partners, and stakeholders the progress we had mad to date? A logic model. How were tasks distributed among the research team? A logic model. How were people held accountable for their contribution to the final dataset and resulting report? A logic model. However, it appears to this writer that recently the logic model is falling out of favour in the research and evaluation community. At least, that is to say, the logic model in its current form. Traditional logic models are clunky, heavy-handed, and stiff. Moreover, they are intended to be decided upon at the outset of a project, mapping out key milestones, key data that ought to be collected, and assets that can be leveraged. Lately, some members of our community (me included) have been questions two things regarding logic models; a) what is the essence of the logic model / what is the principle function of a logic model and b) are logic models in the traditional sense relevant to work in the social science field? I’m going to suggest that in their current form, the logic model betrays the intended purpose, and must be modified in order to remain relevant to more contemporary research activities. What Is the Essence of the Logic Model? At its core, a logic model is not, as many people define it, a plan. A plan connotes a linear set of activities that culminate in a final state of success. While some logic models are illustrated in a flow-chart fashion (one stage leading to another in a, ahem, logical way), the intended use of logic models is to represent all assets, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts of a project. As such, logic models can be considered a 30,000 foot description of the purpose or a project or study. If someone were to ask a researcher “why are you here, in this community centre, interviewing 14 year olds about their view of x, y, or z construct?” the resourceful researcher would point to a logic model and “we are here because this particular activity fits into out study HERE, and furthers the PURPOSE of the study in the follow way…”. A logic model is an answer to why questions, not how questions. Furthering this logic (get it!?), there is an ethical element of logic models that seems to have been forgotten in their traditional implementation. A central element of research ethics involving human subjects concerns, in plain language, being as least intrusive and invasive as possible to accomplish a goal. Nothing superfluous. To abide by this ethical standard, a logic model is a useful resource to ensure that all activities fit into a broader research design (remember, this isn’t a plan). If an activity does not fit, or has morphed into something that is incongruent, it should not be carried out. So if the essence of a logic model is to define the purpose of a study and how elements and activities of a study fit into that purpose, it is likely, and indeed preferable, that different audiences may require this information to be represented differently. Time to remix the logic model. Are Traditional Logic Models Relevant to Work in the Social Sciences? Social scientists would likely agree that despite all efforts, research and evaluation studies are unpredictable and must be adapted and course-corrected all the time. Indeed, in asking a question, the answer is not certain, nor is the pathway to that answer. Traditional logic models seem to defy the unpredictable nature of research and evaluation studies in the social science field by clutching to one model; an unflinching perception of what will happen. This is simply not the case. Logic models of contemporary social science must be protean. Holding the purpose (often represented as research questions or constructs of interest) constant, the pathway to the answer often changes. To avoid confusion, the purpose of a study should be kept front and centre, relegating the research plan to other documents and schematics. A further issue with traditional logic models concerns the audience for which they are intended. While often seen as the property of academic circles, there is a burgeoning movement toward smaller-scale and grassroots groups conducting research and evaluation studies to measure how effective their services are, or identify opportunities for improvement. Logic models must be accessible enough be used by groups with different skill levels and intentions, be easy to understand and modify, yet specific enough to hold the purpose of a research study constant. Remixing the logic model in this way could promote the activity of forward-thinking research and proper study design for groups and individuals new to research and evaluation. Just as traditional logic models are stuffy, stiff, and intimidating, the new-style logic models have the opportunity to be exciting, motivating, and accessible. So how is this done? Stay tuned for It’s Time to Remix The Logic Model: Part II admin @ February 2, 2014 Law-Breakers and Criminals: Why You Should Not Applaud the ‘Unconstitutional’ Ruling On Gun Possession in Ontario Posted in: Crime Prevention, Politics | Comments (0) Yesterday, the Ontario Court of appeal ruled that mandatory minimum sentences thrust on individuals arrested in possession of a loaded (prohibited) gun is unconstitutional. The court cited the Canadian Charter section on cruel and unusual punishment. To a recent graduate of a criminology program or similar social science, this would be a chance to sit back in one’s chair, take a sign of relief, and mutter “finally, we’re making progress against the Conservatives” or perhaps even “Way to go Court! Stick it to those hard-line law-and-order jerks!”. However, this is a very na?ve position, and suggests the reader did not get much further than the headline. In its decision, The Appeal Court noted that such a mandatory minimum sentence is not ‘cruel and unusual’ for the perceived hardened criminal, it is instead because the current law does not discriminate. The court decision continues to describe a scenario where an ostensibly law-abiding citizen fails to store a weapon in a hunting lodge or cottage appropriately; perhaps loaded, but not securely locked in a gun safe. This individual would, under current law, face a mandatory sentence of three years. The dichotomy that is often cited between these types of hunters and recreational shooters and the hardened criminal is the basis for this court decision. Hammering the point home, the Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s Justice Minister Peter Mackay stated “we will continue to defend the constitutionality of mandatory prison sentences for serious criminals”. For serious criminals. This qualification is what is driving the judiciary to declare blanket punishments and more prescriptive (read: formulaic) sentencing structures as unconstitutional – they are simply not appropriate for all law-breakers, since, in the Court’s mind, there is a fundamental difference between law-breakers and criminals. To allay the fears of Canadians who believe any reduction in sentence severity will result in increased criminal action, specifically gun crime, the Court’s decision also states that ‘detterence and denunciation’ will remain cornerstones of Canada’s sentencing policy, and work to structure dispositions across the country. To the discerning reader, this sentence is the cause for concern. While there are other sentencing principles that judges ought to consider during their deliberation such as rehabilitation, priority is seemingly placed on deterrence and denunciation. The place held by deterrence (both specific and general) lies in stark contrast to what research shows; that increased sentence severity does not reduce crime. Indeed, taken to the extreme, a growing body of literature shows that the death penalty, which some argue to be a more extreme sentence than life without parole, has a perverse outcome; known as the brutalization effect. Dirk Derstine, counsel that argued the case against mandatory minimum sentences for gun possession at Ontario’s Court of Appeal, mused that “there’s a kin dof seductive appeal to the idea that all we have to do is ratchet up sentences and these people will…stop doing this kind of behaviour [carrying guns]”. Judging from this quote, it appears that Derstine’s argument does not correlate with the rationale described in the Court decision. Indeed, Derstine seems to have argued that such mandatory minimum sentences is an ineffective crime prevention strategy. Perhaps he even cited the ballooning costs associated with mandatory minimum sentences to underscore his point, though this is only conjecture. However, these were not the grounds on which the Court rendered their decision. Instead, they used this as an opportunity to further distinguish ‘good guys’ from ‘bad guys’ and uphold the perspective undertones of Canadian criminal law as it presently exists. Instead of finding that mandatory minimum sentences have punishing consequences far beyond the confines of a custodial facility (just ask anyone attempting to obtain employment with a criminal record), the court instead examined how such laws affect seemingly ‘safe’ lawbreakers. When reading sections of this decision, two images come to mind. The first is a white man living in a log cabin, hoisting a long-gun above the front door, still loaded and ready for its next use in the wilderness. The second, more menacing imagine, is of a young black man, concealing a small, dark handgun while trudging down a dark alley. It appears that these stereotypical images forms the basis of the Court of Appeal’s decision. It is most unfortunate, as such an opportunity as this, to address the constitutionality of mandatory minimum sentences for loaded weapons, is a chance to redress some of the ill effects that concepts like general deterrence have had on a whole cohort of Canadians. Regardless of the path, however, healthy debate surrounding these issues would be a valuable thing to throw to the wayside. admin @ November 14, 2013 Query: What Is A Transition? Posted in: Theory | Comments (0) Life is full of transitions. I know this. You know this. Marketing schemes hold this to be true. In a way, the whole world is based around the idea that human experience several elemental transitions throughout life. Despite the centrality of transitions in the modern world, it seems like there has been little thinking around what a transition really is. Further, the obfuscation of ‘transitions’ with other concepts such as ‘stages’, ‘traumas’, and even ‘segue’ makes larger civic and welfare-based projects more difficult. Transitions, defined, are ‘processes and periods of changing from from one state or condition to another’. In deconstructing this definition, we find that there are two unique and independent elements that must be present in order to call something a true transition. First, a transition is finite, it does not last forever. While some transitions are longer than others (hence the creation of the phrase ‘arrested development’), they all come to an end at some point. Second, transitions have predetermined start and end points. While the chronological position of these predetermined points may change from person to person, the fact remains that a transition is from one state to another known state. Using these elements, it is possible to differentiate ‘transition’ from other terms that are often used by proxy, and, perhaps, laziness. One term often employed synonymously with transition is ‘stage’. For example, governments and social agencies often say they are clustering some of their programming or funding around the ‘adolescent stage’. The problem arises when this term is used interchangeably with ‘transition’. Defining adolescence as a ‘transition’ fails to include the two basic elements of the term, as outlined above. Adolescence does not necessarily last for a finite amount of time; it is based on the cognitive and emotional capacities that an individual develops as their body changes and they become more and more socialized by their family, friends, and peers. Unfortunately, for some people, this socialization does not allow for progression as it does for the majority of young people moving toward adulthood. Due to the uncertainty of this progress, adolescence is a time in which, unfortunately, many young people get trapped since they do not have access to the proper supports that promote movement toward ‘adulthood’. Adolescence is a stage, not a transition. One may suggest that I am simply splitting hairs, and playing with semantics. I would disagree, as I do see value in defining transitions separately from stages. Since transitions have predetermined start and end points, the level of responsibility to help, for example, young people through their ‘transitions’ is diminished. After all, they will get their anyway. Rhetoric around programming addressing transitions normally speaks of funding to ‘encourage’ and ‘support’ transitions, as if young people only need a little nudge to remain on the tracks of normative development. However, if something such as adolescence is treated like a stage, scales of responsibility shift toward others who have the means not just to encourage and support, but usher, guide, and shepherd young people from point in their lives to another. Still worse, transition is often employed to describe a painful trauma in someone’s life. For example, a young person watching a friend be the victim of a violent crime, or watching a parent succumb to the tragedy of drug addiction. These are by no means events that are understood as normative in a person’s life. As such, some programming claims to support individuals who have these experiences as as they move through these ‘difficult transitions’. This greatly understates the problem at hand; it treats trauma and the rippling after-effects as temporary, as a kind of outlier, where individuals slowly regress back to the mean that was their lives before the traumatic event. Trauma is sudden, unexpected, and stays with someone, however diminished, for the rest of their life. To call such an event a ‘transition’, as in, transitioning from pre-trauma to post-trauma assumes that their is a state or set of conditions where there is no trauma. Recall the above definition of a transition; to arrive at point B, one one completely and wholly leave point A. Trauma does not allow for such luxury, it is scarring and painful. To better equip young people who have experiences traumatic events, programming in the social welfare system should think in terms of equipping those individuals with skills sets that can be deployed to minimize the daily impact of traumatic events. These skill sets (conflict resolution, anger management) remain relevant throughout subsequent stages of life. Trauma is not transition. The many usages of ‘transition’ to describe change is troublesome. In my experience, it functions as management-speak for events, patterns, and trends that are unintelligible to the speaker. Efforts should be made to fully understand the nuances between stages, transitions, and traumas as the resulting efforts to help depend on these premises. Tags: adolescence, stages, transitions admin @ November 10, 2013 The National Household Survey and Why Scientists Give Ineffective Criticism Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments (0) It is unfortunate that the federal government made the decision to stop the mandatory census and instead install the National Household Survey (NHS), a national voluntary survey that collects data on a range of social and economic variables. We all know this is bad policy. When the NHS was being introduced, many groups pointed to the inherent flaws and the negative consequences of the resulting analyses. However, now, in October 2013, it is no longer appropriate nor helpful to continue dragging out the same, tired arguments regarding why the NHS should be scrapped. Clearly, these arguments have had no effect on policymakers, and could potentially have further entrenched both scientists and their proponents and politically minded policy-makers in the positions in which they already find themselves. Instead, an examination of those arguments prudent. The savvy scientist should not form their arguments around the premise that government is ignorant of the issues with the NHS. They are not. The movement toward reliable and cogent data should not begin from a standpoint that there is something inherently unscientific in government. There isn’t. Presently, the research agenda should instead evaluate why these arguments were not adopted and understood by government officials. The research question that should be taken up across Canada then becomes, broadly, “why hasn’t government taken head to our advice?” and “what barriers exist for lawmakers that prevent a reversal toward a traditional national census?”. It is simply not enough to host conferences about the benefits of representative data, or enumerate the reasons these the NHS should not be cited or used in any capacity. This is an easy argument to make, and indeed, an easy conference agenda to write. What is it about the way scientists interact with government and attempt to affect policy that is so ineffective, specifically surrounding the negative consequences of the NHS? There are several reasons. Science proponents and elected officials speak two different languages. Perhaps this is a bit of a misnomer – in Canada, for example, the majority of science-based conversations around government are presumably held in a common language: english. This is not the type of language that I am describing. I am also not describing here a level of discourse or vocabulary that one side possesses but the other does not. More specifically, I’m speaking about language’s inputs; the influences that shape the perceived audience to which is person is forever envisioning as they communicate. In academic institutions, this ghostly audience is homogenous. In graduate programs, laboratories, and think-tanks, praise is reserved for very specific pathways to knowledge – being specific in one’s focus, combined with the practice of dissertation writing, suggests a very inward looking audience for the science-minded. Differently, elected officials or those hoping to be elected officials in the future are constantly weighing perceived audiences against one another. Each communicative opportunity is unique in that the audience changes and, as a result, so does the mode and style of communication. Herein lies the barrier for scientists; while their communication style is unchanging and at times a hard-lined effort to position themselves as the expert on a given topic, political communities are adaptable, not only speak, but hear things differently, depending on context. Looking forward, speaking about science to the uninitiated should not only remain conscious of contextual factors, but use them to their advantage. This begs the question, what contextual factors should be considered? What external factors will carry the greatest weight? In the context of the NHS and the death of the mandatory census, the relevant contextual factors are both political and economic. Statisticians, social scientists, and economists no doubt raised serious concerns about the quality of data that the NHS would inevitably produce, but failed to filter these concerns through an economic and political lens. Indeed, one of the tenants of collective action is an alignment of prioritized, aligned through common language. The result of this fragmented dissent is a disorganized slew of voices. From the perspective of the governing party, it is politically unattractive to listen to one of these groups; often a sign that other interest groups or lobbies are being ignored. Put simply, the absence of a unified voice encourages government to maintain the status quo while assessing alternatives. At the same time, the NHS is giving a very respected platform to unreliable data. Resulting analyses published in national newspapers such as the Globe and Mail, based in Toronto, find that the size of Canada’s middle class is rising. In discussion, these outlets suggest this is a measure of Canada becoming more equal – wealth is being more evenly distributed, and families who were living in abject poverty are now part of the middle class. Could political advisors have dreamt up a better scenario on which inaction can be justified? What motivation would government have to revert to a data collection method that yielded poor results, when the NHS is providing amble support for the effectiveness of government sponsored packages like the “Economic Action Plan”? Fortunately, the science community possesses the tools that could help them better advocate their position and, perhaps, resurrect the national census. Social and political scientists have spent countless hours collecting data of all variety, trying to understand the motivations that affect our elected leaders. It is a mystery why this dearth of knowledge has not informed the ongoing criticism directed toward the NHS and its creators. If those longing for a mandatory national survey were to implement these learnings, they may indeed find that linking science to current government priorities is an effective method of compelling action. They may also find that grandstanding on social platforms and elite conferences does not compel government to act. Further, they may find that the burgeoning science of freedom for information requests may be a way to obtain information regarding the death of the census and the implementation of the NHS – information that can be used to fuel further requests and structure direct criticism. The science community must align their messaging and face those who hold the keys and guard the doors that lead to the desired data. It does not help to meekly stand in circle, reviewing tired arguments that work only to further isolate scientists and their proponents. Unfortunately, such outward communication from scientists rarely grants them the recognition and reverence that is typically given by colleagues. Tags: census, data, NHS, statistics, statistics canada admin @ October 24, 2013 Rap As Ethnography: Why D-Sisive Is A Social Scientist Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments (0) I like rap music. Not just the backpack, socially conscious, I-chill-with-Mos rhymes, but party rap. trap, chopped and screwed…the list goes on. I appreciate all genres of this art because I feel it makes me a better social scientist. Taken in isolation, a rap song is one window into a singular experience. When Ghostface raps that it’s “Saturday nite / Uptown” and goes on to describe in vivid detail how that particular evening unfolded, I not only see a well crafted story that transports me to a place I’ve never been, I see a data point. When I change my playlist and find myself listening to the soundscapes that Kid Cudi creates, another data point is identified on the same artesian plane. Another playlist, and Biggie is telling me he is “Ready to Die” overtop of a beat that I can’t help close my eyes and bob my head to – another data point. Without a wide swathe of artists, my picture of what Rap music is conveying to the world is skewed. It is for this reason I listened to “Pop That” by French Montana on repeat for 30 minutes last night to the dismay of my partner. For me, this is an important selection procedure. And while I don’t have a representative sample, I instead employ convenience and snowballing methodology to define my sampling frame and find artists that populate my dataset. The value of rap music for me is built on the aggregate effects that I feel when I search blogs, Rdio, and Songza for the latest release by burgeoning artists I have not heard of, or the pleasure I get from taking a recommendation for a new track that I “just have to hear!”, knowing that I am moving toward a more accurate, but forever incomplete, picture of what rap and hip-hop means. That, in essence, is why rap and hip-hop are a form of social science; this art form is a never-ending project that builds on, but does not forget, earlier publications. In my world, when I write a report, draft a paper, or am lucky enough to spend a day pulling data from a clean and current dataset, I am working from a higher vantage point, gracious for the ability to look at the work of others with an objective eye, and base my work on their successes. Ethnographic research is an example of this process playing out with qualitative data at its centre. Ethnographers like Philippe Bourgois strive to connect their observations to broader theories of social behaviour in order to ground their experiences and make meaningful linkages to existing bodies of literature. “In Search of Respect”, Bourgois’ best known ethnography, is compelling because of its here-and-now tonality, in contrast to Venkatesh’s “Gang Leader for a Day”, which, while valuable, takes a more retrospective tone. Similarly, some of my favourite raps are accounts of challenging situations, emotions, and perspectives that feel like lightning has been captured in a bottle, ready to be reopened with every listen. The work ethic that is commonplace for social scientists is also found in rap music. D-Sisive, a talented Toronto based artist that flies under the radar of mainstream media, illustrates how fighting the good fight and keeping one’s internal values intact often prevents upward mobility and wide distribution of one’s work. Examples abound, D-Sisive pulls no punches when he raps that he is “tired of writing for the walls and my starving cats”. His latest record, The D.ark Tape, was recorded in a basement that he credits as the nexus of his recording career. On If I Live To See Tomorrow, D-Sisive spits over a building, swirling Sigur Ros instrumental track that “I’m a a writer trying to write my mind out of hell” and “I’m not stupid / I’m never making Puffy ends / but underground groups still make a couple M’s”. I can relate to D-Sisive as he often draws from his frustration about his niche acceptance from a select group of fans, though his work is consistently ignored by more traditional publications and award shows. More specifically, this feeling is centred around the artistic output, not lack of celebrity. This frustration is, for a social scientist, not foreign territory. Indeed, despite adherence to tried-and-true methodology, persuasive writing, and findings relevant to contemporary problems, research and evaluation are only just beginning to make inroads with decision makers and those with the power to act on the conclusions teased out of complex datasets. Just as D-Sisive continues to release LP after LP, tour locally, and collaborate with other Canadian indie artists, he still works underground. Derek was D-Sisive @dsisive31 Jul In a perfect world, I’d be on a D.Ark Tape tour right now. In Derek’s world, I don’t have a manager, agent, or people who go to my shows. In one sense, remaining focused on his artistic voice is a defense mechanism. By remaining outside of the mainstream, it becomes not only acceptable to criticize broader movements in the research or hip-hop community, but also easier. Picture, for a moment, Drake taking a shot at how mediocrity is often celebrated in rap music. Instead, I feel comfortable positioning myself alongside D-Sisive; as outsiders looking in, the forgotten, as troops in a never-ending fight to infuse our working environments with signposts on what we proclaim is the righteous path. It is this struggle that makes D-Sisive such a compelling artist to me. I can identify with how he approaches his work, and positions himself against the collective. So when I encounter non-believers in my work, be it academic or otherwise, D-Sisive is there to pick up the slack and tell me that I’m not alone. “Started from the bottom now we hhheeyaya” doesn’t capture our work ethic. Instead, “here” is the bottom, and that’s just fine for now. admin @ August 6, 2013 RT: I have a dream @martinlking1963 Posted in: Misc. | Comments (0) Recently I attended a training event on program policy and evaluation. Specifically, this training was geared toward a deeper understanding of Afrikan heritage and culture, and their implications for how social programming is conceptualized and measured. During the course of my job, I often find myself working from the naive perspective that culture plays but a minor role, that it can be learned as you go, and the consequences of remaining ignorant were minor. I am embarrassed to say there was a time when I felt like my ignorance to the rich cultural context in which many of my respondents, coworkers, and allies were situated was an asset; after all, wasn’t the goal of social science research to remain objective and impartial? How else might one select and apply the relevant indicator, collect the right data, and accurately interpret the results according to tried and true social science methodology? Thankfully, I had moved away from this stance before I was invited to training opportunity. However, I was, and remain, the host of but a passing knowledge of Afrikan customs and worldview. Our icebreaker activity at the outset proved a valuable lesson on how important culture is to some groups, and the problems it can pose to social movements and their subsequent evaluation or study. Our icebreaker activity required us to meet the person sitting next to us, preferably someone that we had not met before. We were to learn three things about our new friend; 1) Their name(s) and their cultural significance to them 2) the significance of an article of clothing or an item they regularly carry, and their cultural importance and finally 3) something they are excited about in their working lives such as a new initiative or a recent success story. My neighbour was extremely nice, forgiving, and helpful as I wrestled with three different names, each with a complimentary, but slightly different cultural attachment. I was able to mostly recall the facts that I had learned when it was my turn to share this new knowledge with the rest of the group (with some assistance and some crudely written notes). When it was my turn to tell my neighbour my answers for her to share with the group, I stumbled. What was the cultural significance of my name? Was I wearing anything of importance? A wrist watch I bought from a skate shop? Argyle socks my sister got me for Christmas? I had no answers. Finally, to break the increasingly awkward silence I offered the following explanation of my first name: “my name was the most popular boy’s name for the year that I was born”. Silence. I continued; “I have two older sisters, and they both have the most popular names of the years in which they were born”. Awkward shuffling. “Also, my Mom is from Montreal”. This lack of cultural awareness was not a surprise for me. I had always known what I didn’t know, and was also aware that I was okay with this – I did not need to know about my first name, my last name, or where my ancestors were from. However, what this icebreaker activity did teach me was that everyone is not like me – some groups take their culture extremely seriously, to the point where their physical appearance mirrors the values that their culture touts. Some change (or don’t change) their hair, wear what appears to be uncomfortable clothing, or dawn jewellery from far-away places. For them, culture is extremely important, and functions as a guide to their daily life, a lens through which the world is viewed. As the pairings of new friends around the room introduced each other, I began to feel challenged to go home and research my family name. All of a sudden I wanted to talk to my parents about their parents. Surely, culture and cultural awareness could only add valuable context to the ongoing discussion about the best way to service those that were most in need. However, as the afternoon discussions went on, I discovered a darker side to cultural pride. While there were many interesting and passionate discussions throughout the day, one message rang loud and clear for nearly all participants. Currently, we all agreed, in Toronto (and perhaps in Canada) there lacks a unified, structured, and mobilized voice for the African Canadian community. While there are many platforms from which to deliver important messages, the speaker is a fragmented assortment of ad-hoc groups, forming and reforming, with no continuity. This presented challenges to the formation of coherent social policy that targets Afrikan Canadians, who are often disproportionately subjected to social harms relative to their population in Canada. For nearly an hour, our group discussed the barriers to a unified voice for African Canadians. Comparisons to the civil rights movement in the United States abound, one participant rhetorically asked “Where is our Dr. King? Where is our Marcus Garvey?”. One of the relevant factors, we suggested, was the strong sense of culture that many Canadians with black skin feel. When asked about their familiar history or culture, an American might speak about their sense of belonging to the African American community – a sense of partnership and support on a national scale. By contrast, when a Canadian is asked the same question, their birthplace (if it is outside of Canada) will move to define their identity. If they are born in Canada, often their answer will describe where their parents are from. African Canadians are not black Canadians, they are Jamaican-Canadians, Trinidadian-Canadians, or Kenyan-Canadians. These subgroups often band together, as evidenced in the plethora of programming that specifically targets, for example, Somali youth. What is required to bring issues that are important to all these subgroups, we found, was a unifying organization, a single voice that can go to government and demand change. Perhaps the following will be interpreted as tongue in cheek; but what about borrowing a historical figure from south of the border? Why not go right to the top of the pile and recruit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the job? Who better than to show black youth are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system in Canada? Who else to demand action from both constituents and policy makers alike? The death of Dr. King should not get in the way of this burgeoning movement. Why not a digital resurrection? Why not a virtual rebirth? Social media offers a unique opportunity to reach mass audiences without tangible voices. For this thought experiment, picture the twitter handle and sign-in information made available to a number of elders and community leaders. Suddenly, the voice of many is funnelled through the mouthpiece (read: keyboard) of an iconic individual. Perhaps this exercise would demonstrate that there are common issues that affect all members of the Afro-Diasporic community. If a unified voice is not forthcoming, why not forego the beaucratic creation of organizations, unions, and collectives which can only work to aggravate existing tensions and infighting? Why not skip right to the message? Such a project would democratize ownership, encouraging collaboration and better, more inclusive definitions of ‘the problem’. No, a new twitter handle will not solve all the problems facing the African Canadian community, but thinking outside the box seems to be the next step for a group of highly skilled, motivated, and passionate people. Tags: African, Afrikan, Martin Luther King, MLK, twitter admin @ June 1, 2013 Book Review: “Some Great Idea” – Edward Keenan Posted in: Book Review | Comments (0) What is a neighbourhood? What is city building? What are the principles of thoughtful urban planning? Who should be in charge of making those decisions? These are some of the questions that Edward Keenan explores in his book “Some Great Idea”, published by Coach House Books in Toronto (where else?). While there are consistent themes throughout the book, Keenan notes that much of this work has appeared in various forms in alt-weeklies like Now Magazine and various blogs. I do not believe this is a point of derision, and instead should be seen as an asset to the astute deconstruction of some of the complex issues that face a city like Toronto. As the author notes in several sections, changes to city leadership or unexpected turns in municipal politics are not plotted points on a timeline, but real events that elicit real emotions and reactions from citizens; journalists and citizens alike. The immediacy of Keenan’s writing is refreshing, and revisiting some of analyses immediately following, say, an election or the introduction of a new transit plan offer a window into how the city was collectively feeling at that point in time. While other commentaries on urban planning and city building begin centuries ago in an attempt to pinpoint long-passed events that are affecting current issues, Keenan instead focuses on Toronto in the post-amalgamation era, with passing reference to specific city projects, such as those headed by R.C. Harris, that happened before Mel Lastman became mayor. The focus on Toronto’s recent history is a smart, as it allows Keenan to describe concrete steps that city council took that still affect how Toronto is functioning in the present day. For example, Keenan describes the effects of the City of Toronto Act, passed in the era of David Miller, which provided the city with optional road tolls and specials taxes, should new revenue tools be needed to fund special projects such as transit expansion. It quickly becomes obvious to readers that the possibility of road tolls to fund subways is a contemporary issue, but has its roots in the recent past. The focus on post-amalgamation by Keenan also speaks to the nature of urban planning and building healthy communities as a youthful endeavour. Young people with intimate knowledge of the current issues facing Toronto, and the ability to relate to the demographic that is often strongly affected by those issues is extremely important. Instead of treating the Lastman and Miller administrations as taken-for-granted knowledge, Keenan spells out the importance of each actor, and how their political leanings were interpreted by citizens over time. As someone who was in university, surrounded by like-minded individuals during Miller’s time at city hall, I was grateful to have Some Great Idea to contextualize that time in municipal politics, and add some much needed background to what came immediately before and after David Miller. Though the subject matter is interesting enough on its own, Keenan’s writing is fantastic, making the experience that much more enjoyable. Of particular note is his description of the Canadian National Exibition (CNE), in both the opening and closing pages of the book. In the beginning, the CNE is cited as a landmark Toronto experience, something that, for Keenan, defines his experience as a citizen of the city. He recounts how visiting the CNE signals the end of summer, and, for students, the inevitable return to school. At the end of Some Great Idea, the CNE is described in very different terms. Each August, the CNE is quickly assembled and disassembled, with tents erected, rides pieced together from the back of semi-trucks, and the transformation of public streets into breezeways for a lazy stroll down the midway. This temporary assemblage, argues Keenan, is a great example of how urban projects might function in the future. Instead of planning, assessing, studying, and researching the potential impacts of a change to an urban space, perhaps it is better to simply try out different ideas posed by the communities themselves. Put some paint on the road. Place some chairs in the middle of the street for a pedestrian Sunday. Try something different, knowing that taking it down is quick and easy. In this way, the voices of the very communities that will be affected become stronger, and the diversity that is cited throughout the book as Toronto’s greatest strength, can have the greatest impact. Both the experience and the form of the CNE, writes Keenan, are valuable examples of how Toronto can flourish in the years to come. Tags: city building, Toronto, urban planning admin @ April 30, 2013 Book Review: Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun – Paul M. Barrett Posted in: Book Review | Comments (0) Paul Barrett does a fantastic job at tracing several real-world narrative arcs in his book Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun. Though it is often difficult to weave micro and macro stories together and create a gripping historical account, Barrett does so with ease in this book. Readers wil be drawn into this book through the individual stories of Gaston Glock, the Austrian inventor of the semiautomatic handgun by the same name. However, Barrett does not rest the ascendence of the Glock corporation squarely on its namesake. On the contrary, Mr. Glock, like so many others sketched by Barrett, becomes a character acting in their own interests, interacting with the world in which they find themselves. Spanning from the early 1980’s to the present day, Barrett explores the political and social forces that allowed Glock to make the meteoric rise that it did. In this way, readers will simultaneously roll their eyes and grin out of the corner of their mouths when they discover the parallels between gun control debates in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the the conversations circling the halls of Congress today. Barrett does not make these connections explicit, and for good reason. First, Glock principally functions as an historical work, rather than social commentary or rags-to-riches tale as per other books about Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. As such, lines need not be drawn from past to present. Second, a central theme to Barrett’s writing is a healthy respect for the curiosity and intelligence of his readers; rather than forcing a connection, Barrett allows readers to make them themselves. For example, while I was reading Glock, there were several similarities between events detailed in the book and recent shootings that have simply come to be known as “Newtown” and “Sandy Hook”. In the wake of these shootings, some politicians revert to the argument that gun-control legislation is not the answer, and that no matter what the rules are, people who are intent on doing harm will find a way to get illegal guns. Barrett’s historical account of mass shootings in the 1980’s and 90’s show similar knee jerk reactions, suggesting little has changed in the way gun control is treated by American lawmakers. Amidst the political posturing and grandstanding, Gaston Glock used his unquestionably superior product to take advantage of each change to legislation, making moves that were often at odds with other gun manufacturers such as Smith and Wesson or Colt. For example, when the Clinton administration moved to ban assault rifles, yet provide a grandfather clause that would allow existing inventory to be legally sold, production was ramped up, creating a stockpile of weapons that would soon become more valuable than previously thought. Another indisputably clever move by Glock Inc. was to equip as many police departments, CIA and FBI agents, military personal, and even environmental protection officers with glock semiautomatic weapons as possible. Often, extremely generous deals were struck with these agencies, allowing their forces to equipped with the latest and greatest sidearm for irresistible discounts. By targeting government, Glock created a huge amount of buzz around his product that traditional marketing simply count not provide. In turn, Hollywood prop managers were handing movie stars like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger with Glocks in order to appear more authentic on the silver screen. Public demand for the weapons used to defeat movie villains skyrocketed. Further, and perhaps more importantly, the use of Glocks by police departments across the country amounted to an official endorsement of the weapon from the government, despite no such claim in writing. During an especially litigious period in the 1990’s, where many suits were filed against gun manufacturers for failing to provide adequate safety measures on their products, Glock often pointed to the use of such weapons in an official capacity as a defense. Such lawsuits, Barrett shows, only heightened the profile of Glock, showing that especially in the gun industry, no publicity is bad publicity. Finally, another function of targeting police and government foces by Glock was the ability to turn over pre-ban inventory several years after Clinton’s assault weapon ban came into force (it later expired in 2004). With the introduction of new products, Glock often offered already equipped forces if they would like to upgrade their weapons, free of charge. Few objected, and handed pre-ban weapons back to Glock, who turned around and sold them to private citizens at a hefty markup. This strategy only strengthened the legal standing of Glock in several cases where they were accused of arming American citizens with deadly weapons. Glock was quick to point out the tacit participation of the local police force in such schemes, greatly undermining their responsibility. Similarly, the details of civil cases brought against Glock cited the very product characteristics that FBI, CIA, and other government agencies purchased Glocks for such as weight, ease of firing, and magazine capacity. Clearly, the relationship that Glock held with the government allowed it, in part, to escape the fate of other gun manufacturers during the 1990’s. Barrett ends his book with a short discussion American crime rates and their relationship with the rise of semiautomatic pistols, including the Glock. Barrett writes “a dirty little secret of the criminological profession is that the experts cannot account for why murder and rape have waned to the degree they have” (p. 256). Here, Barrett shows that crime trends are difficult to measure, and even more difficult to associate with other phenomena, such as gun ownership. However, Barrett continues to provide some evidence that the number of guns in the United States (there is approximately one gun for every U.S citizen) may suggest why homicides using firearms are more prevalent in America than in other countries such as Australia or Canada. The subtext of this short analysis could be that although criminal will always be able to find deadly weapons, gun control legislation may have a measurable effect on homicide in America. The rich history of Gaston Glock and his complete redesign of the handgun is used as a vehicle to depict several complex issues surrounding guns and gun culture in America. For the criminologist, historian, political scientist, engineer, advertising professional, or entrepreneur, it is a worthwhile read. Barrett should be commended for his attention to detail, and applauded for his ability to bring a politically charged subject to light for readers on all sides of the political spectrum. Tags: book review, Gaston Glock, glock, history admin @ April 23, 2013 Drizzy Drops The Ball Posted in: Crime Prevention | Comments (0) Aubrey Graham, Toronto’s guilty pleasure better known as Drake has teamed up with Snoop Lion on the new track “No Guns Allowed”. While commentary on the name-change for Snoop has subsided, likely due to the merciful end to the press tour for his documentary “Reincarnated”, music reviewers jumped at the chance to dig into Drizzy’s guest verse. In contrast to Snoop’s musings that “money makes the man, and that’s a crime”, pointing to what criminologists might describe as an important premise in strain or anomie theories of criminality, Drake takes a simpler approach, dropping sixteen bars that amount to the sentiment “murders are bad, and they make me sad”. Detailing a phone call with a friend, ostensibly from overseas, Drake laments that it is difficult to hear such sad news from his hometown when is working elsewhere. In his final lines, the rapper raised in the Forest-Hill neighbourhood of Toronto dedicates the song to two victims from the Danzig street murders; a high profile incident at a community barbecue that received large amounts of media attention in the summer months of 2012. While mourning the loss of “Shyanne and Josh” and pouring “sumthin’ out for the lives that they stole” is noble (one can assume ‘they’ are the killers, not the victims), a great opportunity to match the political awareness Snoop teeters on in his verse and chorus is ignored. This is not to say that politically minded songs should receive more praise or are more valuable artistically than those that highlight the raw emotions of traumatic situations. However, There are several issues that cloud Drake’s description of the Danzig shooting, rendering the verse factually incorrect, and move toward an antiquated and potentially dangerous theory of why such situations arise. For example, Drake writes that “bullets do not choose a victim, it is the shooter that picks ’em”. The message behind this line is clear – guns do not kill people on their own, people use guns as a tool to kill people. While this obvious nature of this observation makes it almost unnecessary in the first place, a closer analysis of this line suggests two important sociological premises. First, the many cases of mistaken identities and stray bullets are ignored here. While violence is often directed at known acquaintances and motivated by any number of reasons, the toll such crimes take on some of Toronto’s most disadvantaged communities is forgotten. Similarly, the “picking” of victims that Drake raps about suggests a conscious, logical decision to eliminate someone with the use of deadly force. This archetype of the cold-blooded killer does not serve the project of crime prevention or violence reduction. By placing the decision to kill someone squarely on the killer simultaneously hints at a miasmatic theory of violence; where certain areas of the city are poisoned, or, in the modern interpretation, filled with bad people who resort to violence at even mild conflict, as well as glosses over the systemic inequalities and social factors that incline some individuals toward violence. Stated simply, Drake describes shooters as bad apples, or unsavoury people who take up guns to settle conflicts or seek revenge allow for a cut-and-dry description of violence that support reactive measures such as increased law enforcement efforts instead of prevention programs geared toward equipping those most at risk with the social and cognitive skills that would allow for more peaceful resolutions. An opportunity to highlight some of the issues that plague some of Toronto’s most disadvantaged residents was passed up, and in its place lies only a common sentiment, a lowered gaze with no acknowledgement that violent incidents such as that on Danzig street are the terrible symptoms of larger issues that are not often addressed. “No More Guns” lies in stark contrast with another song centred on Danzig street. “Angels”, by P. Reign, along with a powerful video depicting the communities response to the shooting, provide valuable insight into some of the reasons why some regions of the city experience a higher frequency of violence, who should be held responsible for such actions, and possible solutions to prevent similar events. While “Angels” is a powerful song in its own right, the music video begins with two screens of text, contextualizing the song with facts about the Danzig street shooting. Notably, this includes the 23 additional gun shot victims as well as Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay. Following these words, a short paragraph states that a community march was held several days later on Danzig street and surrounding neighbourhood to commemorate victims and, with a strong voice, show the toll such violent acts have on the larger community. One of the strongest lines in the song is the first; “we vow to protect our ‘hoods to the fullest/but now we mourn for that night that we couldn’t”. Here, P. Reign invokes a ‘we’ to suggest a shared responsibility for everyone his song reaches – a city-wide obligation to protect and care for each resident. However, he continues, this is an idealist perspective, and in reality there is widespread failure in this call for protection. Unlike Drake, P. Reign raps about collective actions – not just of the many victims on Danzig street in July, 2012, but about the perpetrators as well. Though there were two principal shooters, this song invokes the image of some youth who are frustrated, and striving to reach socially ascribed goals with insufficient means to do so. The second verse of “Angels” targets the political fallout of events like the one on Danzig street, where, in search of answers, blame is placed squarely back on the very community that suffers the most from such actions. P. Reign contemplates how “now the cops [will] blame this on us” and continues that the justification from the police may be that “someone should have warned us about them corners”. Here, P. Reign suggests that the strained relationship that characterizes some of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods is the reason why successful prevention and enforcement strategies could not stop such examples of brazen violence. “Angels” ends with a call to action preceded by a warning that “…you’ll be hearing more/if we don’t start inspiring these kids to dream”. This powerful lines encourages collective actions to include marginalized youth in mainstream society, inspiring them to see a bright future, rather than feelings of hopelessness that such youth often describe. Perhaps the biggest service that “Angels” accomplishes is to focus the discussion around youth violence on collective action, rather than a ‘bad apple’ argument. Though ambitious, real change must be multi-faceted and approach these complex issues from all sides. It is not enough to revert to the miasmatic perspective and blame those that are most in need. Tags: danzig, drake, drizzy, no more guns, p. reign admin @ April 11, 2013 Hot News It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model Part II: Desired Outcomes It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model: Part I Law-Breakers and Criminals: Why You Should Not Applaud the ‘Unconstitutional’ Ruling On Gun Possession in Ontario Query: What Is A Transition? The National Household Survey and Why Scientists Give Ineffective Criticism It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model Part II: Desired Outcomes In part one of this series, we talked about why traditional logic models are proving less and less useful for social science researchers workings in today’s complex world. To summarize, logic models are falling out of favour as they are difficult to adapt to the changing realities of contemporary social science researchers. Further, logic models […] More on page 298 It’s Time To Remix The Logic Model: Part I In the world of program evaluation, logic models are the guiding light. However, how useful are these models when it comes to more dynamic research and evaluation projects? Several years ago, I worked on a large-scale evaluation project at a Canadian University. The project involved measuring the success or failure of a program in three […] More on page 296 Law-Breakers and Criminals: Why You Should Not Applaud the ‘Unconstitutional’ Ruling On Gun Possession in Ontario Yesterday, the Ontario Court of appeal ruled that mandatory minimum sentences thrust on individuals arrested in possession of a loaded (prohibited) gun is unconstitutional. The court cited the Canadian Charter section on cruel and unusual punishment. To a recent graduate of a criminology program or similar social science, this would be a chance to sit back in […] More on page 292 Search Recent Comments Christian Donmoyer on Merton’s Strain Theory: Version 2.0 Justine Fenstermacher on Contact Maira Leasor on #Nomoreguns and Slacktivisim in Toronto Alfonzo Kitterman on Can Urban Planning Strategies Create Crime Prevention Policies? Winnifred Waner on Research Should Be Translated Categories Article Review Book Review Crime Prevention Gangs Media Misc. 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