One critical element in the problem-solving process is making a proper local diagnosis. Before the different agencies and organisations can act in mean- ingful and effective ways, the local problem must be recognised and under- stood, and preferably, the agencies involved should try to reach a common understanding. From our experience in Norway, we have seen that the causes for the emergence of such gangs, and the ways these problems manifest themselves, may be very different in different communities. It is therefore
important in each community to describe the magnitude and seriousness of the problem, and also to try to identify both the manifest and the underlying factors that have caused the problem. Those agencies that have some kind of responsibility to do something with the problem, should take part in the process of describing and analysing, as well as proposing solutions.
One obstacle to inter-agency collaboration is that police officers, teach- ers, youth workers and e.g. victimised minority groups tend to have highly different understandings of the problem, and divergent approaches to what should be done with it. However, these differences may be turned into an advantage rather than a problem. Different perspectives provide different insights and possibilities for intervention. Racist violence is a multi-caused problem, and should therefore be addressed from different angles.
Depending of the model of mapping, participants in this process should include the police, relevant departments in the municipality, school, volun- tary organisations, and representatives from the youth population. In special cases it might be possible to bring in representatives from victimised groups, and even from youth close to the groups involved in conflicts as well.
One challenge when making the local diagnosis is that the municipality, local schools and the police, are hierarchical organisations with long chan- nels of information. There are many information filters between the street level workers who in detail know some sides of the problem – to the admin- istrative leaders and politicians who make important decisions on behalf of the system. In bureaucratic systems there will always be a danger that impor- tant information will disappear in the information-filters or that such infor- mation is distorted. This might in turn lead to the wrong diagnosis and the wrong responses to the challenge. One important role of the process consult-
ant is therefore to secure that relevant information on the issue comes
through these filters. This can be done in insisting on who should participate in making the local diagnosis. And if one uses the diagnosis or mapping seminar presented below, this can be done in actively addressing those who normally will have first hand knowledge of the problem.
In Norway we have seen three different models for diagnosing, analysing and assessing the local problem.
A diagnosis seminar (one or preferably two days) with 20–50 partici-
pants, representing different agencies and perspectives, including some local politicians. The seminar goes systematically through a lot of questions con- cerning the magnitude, nature and the causes of the problem. It is useful to bring in a process consultant who is experienced in running such processes together with an expert with the relevant phenomenon knowledge. This is a quick method, but may be ‘good enough’ to provide a basis for action – es- pecially when the problem still seems fairly modest. Such a mapping semi- nar can end up with some propositions on concrete preventive and interven- tion measures, which seems logical from the local analysis. Or – it can end up proposing a further process that should result in a concrete action plan built on this diagnosis. One of the strengths of this diagnosis-seminar is that its collective nature creates optimism and motivation, and that it commits the actors to act – in front of the rest of the participants. Besides it is fairly cheap and not very time-consuming. The weakness is that it might be superficial, and that it can be dominated by some of the participants. To collect the rele-
vant information the process consultant should in a gentle way try to curb those who normally talk a lot (often powerful people with only second hand information), who tend to ‘steal the show’ and thereby tend to curb the other participants. The police sometimes present a dramatic picture which may overwhelm the other informants and which may lead them to think that their information is of little interest which in turn results in a withholding of valu- able information.86 A simple advice for such a diagnosis meeting with par- ticipants from different agencies and positions is on each issue or question to address the representatives for the youth population first, then the other agencies and the police in the end. One way of counteracting the shallowness of the method is to suggest deeper follow-up investigations on those aspects of the problem that was not satisfactory covered by the diagnosis-seminar.
An inter-agency working group with knowledgeable representatives (5–
12 persons) from relevant agencies, working together to collect information, analyse, and produce a report or action plan. This method resembles re- search, but is done by professionals from the local administrations and/or local police authorities. I guess that in most countries within EU you will find professionals on the local level trained in research methods. The advan- tage using such a local working group is that the participants already know a lot of what is happening. They know violent incidents, the local groups, leadership structure and so on. They often know the involved actors and have their confidence – which will easily give access to further information. Such a diagnosis can be much deeper than the diagnosis done in a one or two-day diagnosis-seminar. One disadvantage is that the local professionals often do not have the capacity to do a proper diagnosis – because they are so bound by their ordinary tasks. The whole process may be time-consuming too, and when the diagnosis is ready the problem might have grown or changed.
Both these methods, which rely on the analysis done by the local actors, have another disadvantage: The local actors might have ‘gone native’. They are standing so near the local situation that they have problems understand- ing what is going on. Through their earlier involvement in the local proc- esses they might have been predisposed or biased. One objective for offering the assistance of an external expert with phenomenon knowledge in both kind of diagnosis is to broaden up the analytical perspective and reduce the danger of a ‘gone native perspective’. The probably best way to reduce this superficiality and shallowness is to launch ……
A research project by external researchers with expertise in the field,
providing description and analysis of the problem from a different perspec- tive than the local agencies, but is incorporating their knowledge. This is now being done in Kristiansand (Bjorgo, Carlsson and Haaland, report in autumn 2001). Such research may provide solid basis for action, but is ex- pensive and time-consuming. Another research role is action research where the researcher continuously collects and analyses data and feed it back to
86 We have not experienced this everywhere we have participated as advisors. In some in- stances the police have been very careful in sharing their information to others. But in other instances the police has presented a picture that has been very dramatic and over- whelming. This is partly due to the fact that the police are involved in the most dramatic situation, that they have access to a lot of information channels that ordinary people do not have, but also to the fact that some police officers have a tendency to dramatise.
those actors responsible for action. Such a research role where tried out in Brumunddal in the mid 1990’ties (Carlsson 1995) and will be carried out in Kristiansand from now and until April 2004.