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 — a pair of digitally animated street smart characters with a Facebook page — 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 and Prevention 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 and a Pennsylvania State Nurses Association member; lead author Nicole Vaughn, PhD, of the Drexel University School of Public Health; and colleagues.
Vaughn said, “Involving the community in sharing research results adds more time to the process, but we think the product is that much richer. The community receives the message well because their voices are reflected in it.”
The researchers and community partners developed stories directly from research findings to bring them to life.
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,” Richmond said. To make the scenes more authentic, the young participants provided the animators with descriptions of their own neighborhoods and kinds of violence they had seen when navigating their neighborhoods. 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, keeping 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,” Richmond said. “This further encourages partnership between community members and researchers to study issues important to the community.”