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Launching the Northwestern Neighborhood and Network (N3) Initiative

IPR sociologist describes how network thinking can improve neighborhoods, lower crime

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Five years from now, I hope N3 has a range of exciting projects at the cutting-edge of network and neighborhood science, projects that engage our community partners and solve real problems. ”

Andrew Papachristos
Professor of sociology and an IPR fellow.

Andrew Papachristos
Andrew Papachristos launched the N3 Initiative this fall, continuing his work in neighborhood network science. 

This fall, IPR sociologist Andrew Papachristos launched the Northwestern Neighborhood and Network (N3) Initiative. Housed within the Institute, its goal is to understand how people and institutions in neighborhoods are connected, how they interact, and how viable solutions to long-standing problems emerge from these interconnections.

In his research, Papachristos deploys network science—the study of how social relationships affect what people feel, think, and do, particularly as it relates to the spread of guns and violence. In addition to being part of IPR, Papachristos is also part of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, or NICO.

IPR spoke to Papachristos about his plans for the N3 Initiative.

Q: Why did you launch the Northwestern Neighborhood and Network (N3) Initiative?

A: The central idea behind N3 is that we need to understand our cities and communities not as isolated places and spaces, but, instead, as an interconnected system. Neighborhoods are connected through institutions, people, organizations, infrastructure, culture, ideas, funding, services, and more. Understanding the connections among people, groups, organizations, and places can affect what we feel, think, and do. N3 tries to take this “networked logic” seriously in the science we propose and, more than that, tries to leverage this sort of network science to help solve problems. We know that this sort of networked thinking can help us understand all sorts of social phenomena from the diffusion of ideas, people, and disease to the way in which people vote, dress, and interact with each other. N3 emerged out of my own work in network science, studying the diffusion of crime, but especially gun violence, and various neighborhood-level studies.

Q: What are your goals for the N3 Initiative?

A: In the short term, N3 is launching several new projects in the areas of public safety and policing, with the hopes of expanding into other areas, especially public health and education. Importantly, as an initiative, N3 is based on collaboration with community and policy-engaged partners. This ethos permeates all our projects and we hope to extend to opportunities and research experiences with students in the years to come.

Q: What is the N3 Initiative currently working on?

A: Right now, our projects all focus on issues related to public safety and public health, especially gun violence and policing. One of our biggest projects is an attempt to evaluate a major new street outreach initiative in Chicago. The idea behind street outreach is that one of the most effective ways to provide services to hard to reach populations­­—like members of street gangs, crews, or cliques­­—is to bring programming outside of its traditional confines in organizations and institutions to “the street,” to meet the sensitive populations where they are. More often than not, this necessitates hiring and training individuals with similar backgrounds and experiences to the service population—those who have walked the same streets and who can serve as reasonable and relatable examples for positive change.

Q: What are your plans for the future of the N3 Initiative? 

A: Five years from now, I hope N3 has a range of exciting projects at the cutting-edge of network and neighborhood science, projects that engage our community partners and solve real problems. I hope to have expanded beyond violence and public safety—into new and hopefully unexpected areas of research. I hope our physical space on campus is buzzing with students and ideas.  

Andrew Papachristos is professor of sociology and an IPR fellow.

For more information about the N3 Initiative, visit the website or follow them on Twitter @N3Initiative.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Published: December 4, 2018.