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Our approach to violence prevention has just been published in the Handbook of Systems Sciences.

That’s kind of a big deal. So, what’s it all about?

By Dr Anne Stephens, Co-Founder and Director of Violence Prevention Australia

The Handbook of Systems Sciences features work by authors across knowledge domains, all of whom are united by their interest in the evolution and application of systems thinking.

When we were approached about doing a chapter for this book, we wondered how violence prevention would fit within the remit we were provided: to develop a piece of work that explores systems thinking in education.

Bill, at this time, was formulating the Cooktown-Ten (C-10) model for violence prevention, testing, researching and making meaning of the work he was doing in remote and regional communities.

As an educator, I immediately think of the formal, structured education system- of classrooms, students young and old, curriculum documents and teachers. My work in those contexts was less around violence prevention and more about the historical sociology and politics of education for contemporary settings.

Yet, from both these places, two ideas were able to coalesce forming the basis of the chapter published this week. We realised that the C-10 is more than a model for problem structuring with clients, but is an application of systemic empowerment. This concept, not mine originally, but was shaped with me by my friend, colleague and PhD candidate, Davena Monro, a proud Butchulla woman and Manager of an Indigenous Controlled training college providing adult education and training differently to mainstream approaches. We theorised the success the College was having due to systemic empowerment as a pedagogical practice- supporting students to gain in self-mastery, self-confidence, critical capacity and problem solving through a conscious holistic reflexivity of their lives in a post-colonial context.

Applied to the C-10, we learned that this approach can empower not just clients, but health and healing workers, as well. The C-10 is premised in two core value-based beliefs.

“Firstly, we believe the views and reported experiences of people seeking care. Secondly, we believe in clinicians and health workers’ capacity to recognize when to use this process.”

The C-10 is empowering because it provides a framework that can justify clinical endeavour without waiting for a bureaucratic directive or guideline to follow, while usefully answering the question: What can I do and say today, with this person here and now, that will make a difference?

Furthermore, the C-10 itself is systemic in design and function. People can look at problem situations in a holistic and reflexive way to understand and illustrate the interconnectedness of various elements, structures, factors and processes in life and thinking, that have led them to this point.

It is grounded in counterintuitive assumptions that challenge many of cultural myths about violence. For example, the work of Randall Collins has revealed the unlikelihood of emergent violence. The idea that people just “snap” in the moment is more a media portrayal than an actual incident in life. While we do see instances of violence that may shock us, there was most likely a lot going on in the mind of the person committing the act of violence well before the act occurred. And herein lies the low hanging fruit for violence prevention efforts.

Through new levels of awareness about social norms and personal conditions necessary for violence, health and healing workers and their clients, can work together to avoid violence using different behaviors and strategies. Primary healthcare has an important role to play in dealing with violence prevention particularly where early identification can allow timely interventions. The C-10 applies an educative process to change lives and prevent violence, before it occurs, by helping people reframe a difficult situation to find new solutions. This, we think, is a story worth publishing.

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