Student Fellowship

A Whole Community Approach to Reducing Youth Gun Violence

Project Area:

Public Safety


Portsmouth, Virginia

Reporting to:

Fire Chief

The Challenge

Gun violence in Portsmouth is at an all-time high. The new city leaders of Portsmouth (Mayor, City Manager, Fire Chief, and Police Chief) believe that in order to create a hopeful and thriving community, understanding the root causes of and addressing the rising incidence of youth gun violence in the city is crucial. The city’s leadership believes that a safe community is vital when providing opportunities for residents and businesses, as well as to attract visitors and new residents. City officials are looking to identify effective programs and improve the knowledge of available programs and services amongst the community and believe that several factors contribute to the rise in youth gun violence: the availability of guns, lack of after-school programming, lack of mental health support, drug and alcohol addiction, lack of economic opportunities, and housing insecurity, among others. The mayor has set up a public safety taskforce comprised of internal stakeholders like Parks and Recreation, Portsmouth Police Department, Behavioral Health Services, Permits and Inspections, Social Services, Fire/EMS, Portsmouth Housing Authority, and Portsmouth Public Schools. In addition, the city has strong relationships with grassroots groups and non-profits that are engaged in this work. However, city officials recognize the need for these internal and external efforts to be better coordinated to avoid duplication of effort and to generate maximum impact to all parts of the city.

What You’ll Do

The fellow will be expected to:

Identify and map existing social programs and services in the community that have been demonstrated to be effective in addressing youth gun violence.

Interview city staff, city council, and grassroots organizations working to prevent youth gun violence to understand needs and gaps.

Conduct promising practices research from other cities working to address youth gun violence in a coordinated way including, for example, through effective after-school programming efforts, gun buyback programs, employment readiness programs, treatment services, etc.

Produce recommendations for how the city and external stakeholders might better coordinate their efforts and consistently communicate their efforts to address youth gun violence and available services and programs to the community and build community trust.

Analyze existing fire department and 911 service data to identify patterns and trends to inform city resource allocation (for, example, better lighting) to reduce youth gun violence.

Support ongoing cross-departmental work on this topic as part of the Bloomberg Harvard Innovation Track, which is helping cities engage residents in testing, adapting, and scaling creative ideas to address complex challenges. During the summer months, the student will become an integral part of this team and be deeply involved in the following tasks:

  • Analyzing and visualizing data collected through research to help the team “reframe the problem” and conducting additional interviews or desk research post-reframing.
  • Helping the team design and execute the 2–3 community ideation sessions.
  • Helping the team rigorously prioritize ideas for testing.
  • Providing analytic or research support to learn about other city approaches to further refine or reprioritize ideas or to research partners within the city’s community that might be useful to engage as partners during the prototyping period.
  • Building and crafting actionable testing plans in early prototyping

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Design thinking and human-centered design
  • Data analysis
  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis
  • Mapping (GIS)
  • Marketing and communications
  • Excellent interpersonal conduct and relationship building
Back to all Student Fellowship