The Origin of Green Dot
September 30, 2015
A note from Dorothy Edwards, author of the Green Dot Prevention Strategy:
Ten years into my career, which focused one way or another on addressing violence, I looked up, tired and exasperated, and asked myself a simple question, “Am I accomplishing what I set out to accomplish?” My goal was that less women, men and children would become victims of violence as a result of my work. A decade in, I had no evidence that I was even one stop closer to that goal. Despite great job evaluations and almost daily praise regarding another program I had done or speech I had given – I wasn’t preventing violence. Period. Furthermore, as I looked around me, I saw my colleagues in the same boat. Conference after conference we sat and listened to each other present on yet another clever poster campaign, another creative one-time-only-mandatory program, and another date-rape skit. There seemed an unspoken agreement that we would resist the urge to cry out in the middle of the presentation “Are you frickin’ kidding me? Isn’t this the exact same thing I heard 10 years ago, just with a different slogan slapped on the front?” And instead we nodded and smiled – all the while letting our hope for real change slip into tired resignation.
Either, I was going to take up residence in a toll booth, collecting tolls, listening to music and occasionally making someone’s day better by paying for their toll with my own stash of quarters— or, something dramatic had to change in my work.
A Professional Crisis
This culmination of personal and professional restlessness and frustration triggered a professional crisis of sorts. Here I was, benefiting from the heroic work on intervention and response from those who came before – while simultaneously being acutely aware that I was not building on their successes – but simply maintaining them. Either, I was going to take up residence in a toll booth, collecting tolls, listening to music and occasionally making someone’s day better by paying for their toll with my own stash of quarters— or, something dramatic had to change in my work. Given that there were literally no points of success to build upon within my own “prevention” efforts – I gave myself permission (in fact, gave myself a forceful directive) to upend everything I thought I knew. Question everything. Assume nothing. There were no more “truths with a capital t” upon which to stand, only assumptions that required close scrutiny and re-examination. Fortunately, my personal frustration with my work seemed to mirror a broader frustration within the field. There seemed a growing consensus that there needed to be greater innovation, research and critique of what we were doing – with a renewed eye toward prevention.
My quest took me straight to the research. With the human stakes so high, it was clear I could not afford to intuit my next step or “wing it.” First I took a look at the literature focused on violence against women. As I knew going in, there was nothing there that provided a clear set of data supported strategies for preventing violence. There was, however, plenty to learn about what not to do. Valuable in its own right, as even before we can start doing something that might work, we must first stop doing what doesn’t work. As I completed my review of the violence against women literature, it occurred to me (much too far into my career to be having this insight) that I was not the first person that ever wanted to prevent something. This keen stroke of brilliance led me across multiple disciplines reading anything I could find that involved someone having some success in trying to prevent anything! From Public Health to Social Psychology to Marketing, Communication and Persuasion – there was a goldmine of research that could provide well-informed guesses as to where we might go next as a field. The prevention successes out there are many and their potential applications to our work are invigorating and inspiring.
By necessity, it is a strategy in process. A strategy that must refine and course correct with each evaluation, stream of data and piece of feedback.
Equipped with the best research and theory I could find, I took my newly created strategy to the front lines of my work– at colleges, high schools, and coalitions across the country. There, the best my mind could conjure was subjected to the realities of the front lines: peer pressure, parties, disinterested students, bureaucracy, faculty, teachers, and staff overwhelmed with work-loads and family, message overload, competing issues of equal urgency…we all know the list. I watched with humility (but resiliency) as my initial attempts tanked completely. Then, little by little, the real life experiences and reactions of students and professionals from across fields, along with key community partners, began to shape and mold this model into what has become the Green Dot prevention strategy. By necessity, it is a strategy in process. A strategy that must refine and course correct with each evaluation, stream of data and piece of feedback. By definition, it will be strengthened by the application and scrutiny of others. The story of Green Dot etc. is one thread of many burgeoning around the country, fueled by the same impatient insistence – “this violence has got to stop.”