Civic InnovatioN in CommunITY: safety, policing and trust with young people

Safety digitally co-designed by young people to tackle knife crime in London

Project team

Artemis Skarlatidou
Senior Research Associate, Geography
University College London


Dr Reka Solymosi (Univ. of Manchester)

Supporting Partner(s)

Schools in East London (members of Citizens UK network), Froi Legaspi (Citizens UK)

Project timeframe

Start: October 2019
End: May 2020

An explosion in knife crime

Knife crime has been increasing in recent years, with 2018 seeing 1,887 stabbings; 272 were fatal; 54 of the victims did not reach their 21st birthday.

Evidence demonstrates that young people’s distrust of the police comes from measures such as Stop & Search, which has been associated with racial inequality. Young people who distrust the police are more likely to carry a weapon as it gives them a (false) sense of security.

This project aims to …

… work with young people to understand the multiple dimensions of knife crime and help young people’s voices be heard in order to influence a public health approach to the problem.

Specifically, it will …

… gain insight into how young people perceive and experience knife crime and how it influences their quality of lives.

Using the Mental Models (MM) approach – used in Risk Communication – to understand their knife crime perceptions and issues of distrust, it will explore their suggestions for improving their safety, security and trust. Insights will be shared with the broader community in East London, police officials and the wider academic community.

The project will collaboratively modify and co-design our Fear of Crime App (FoCA) to collect MM data from over 200 participants in East London together with their situational knife crime experiences.

This project’s social impact is …

… in the short-term to provide insight into the weaknesses and strengths of current approaches to knife crime prevention and gain a deeper insight into young people’s perceptions and situational experiences.

In the medium-term Cin-City will provide significant input to contribute to the existing debate around knife crime and trust-in-policing. We will disseminate the findings to inform future police and government strategies in knife crime prevention and build trust-in-policing.

In the short-term the project will improve young people’s skills in community organising training to enable them as co-designers and co-lead the engagement process for research and they will lead on relationships with the local MetPolice and other officials that will take place as a result of Cin-City. Everyone who participates in data collection will get a deeper understanding of knife crime, take ownership of the problem and get hands-on experience with democratic engagement and civic participation practices.

MMs depend on local contexts. Cin-City will provide evidence and lead into additional funding to work with participants across London.   Cin-City participants will be actively involved in informing the design of a larger project, so that their views of how to further empower their peers are considered

Citizens UK organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good. They have already long-standing experience in working with the Mayor and London communities to address people’s most pressing concerns; youth knife crime is the most critical issue and is on the top of the London Mayor’s agenda right now. It therefore requires our urgent attention for immediate action.

It is innovative because …

Young people’s knife crime perceptions have never been captured by MM nor any other approach, as far as the researchers are aware.

This research will use a mobile application in experience-sampling research design. This is methodologically novel because it will provide ongoing insights and allows additional information to be collected through sensors in-built in the mobile devices.

For example location data is collected and linked to external data sources providing clues about the situational context. This helps to identify risky situations and prevention measures that could be put in place.

What’s next?

Cin-City will act as a successful example of youth empowerment, co-creation and design in tackling a major issue which influences the lives of thousands and will generate further funding to take our approach to a pan-London level and further explore our methodological implementation in the context of online crime.

Explanation of key terms

Mental Models (MM) approach: A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences. Mental models can help shape behaviour and set an approach to solving problems (similar to a personal algorithm) and doing tasks.

Risk Communication: Risk communication refers to the exchange of real-time information, advice and opinions between experts and people facing threats to their health, economic or social well-being. The ultimate purpose of risk communication is to enable people at risk to take informed decisions to protect themselves and their loved ones. Risk communication uses many communications techniques ranging from media and social media communications, mass communications and community engagement. It requires a sound understanding of people’s perceptions, concerns and beliefs as well as their knowledge and practices. It also requires the early identification and management of rumours, misinformation and other challenges.