The Amplification Project’s founder, Richard Greenberg, conceived the project by learning from his experiences as a think tank policy analyst and strategic communications director, policy reform advocate and manager of the Second Chance Campaign, and foundation president.
While a policy fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Rick researched and wrote a white paper, Do No Harm, which proposed a set of data-driven recommendations to reform the criminal justice system to make gang-related activity less violent. The paper, a footnoted cataloguing of best practices from cities that have made gains in addressing gang violence, secured the attention of a circumscribed group of usual suspects - legislators, law enforcement officials, and activists - who were necessary but not sufficient to usher in a new public safety paradigm for addressing gang violence in New Jersey’s cities. The tipping point, or “igniting inspiration,” came only when the Institute and Rick did something unexpected and creative: produce a low-cost digital video companion, Moral Panic, to show what the facts told in the white paper. Gang members, law enforcement officials, policymakers, researchers, and family members spoke directly through the digital video, vividly illustrating the data presented in the paper. Synchronized with the Institute’s traditional advocacy efforts, the Do No Harm/Moral Panic tell-and-show methodology persuaded broader, more influential audiences than would have been possible absent this amplified approach, and did so in a visceral way while still being fully grounded in the cold calculus of facts. In addition to the usual statehouse, city hall, and ivory tower insiders, thousands of people from all walks of life, mostly from the private sector, consumed Moral Panic’s showing and Do No Harm’s telling in tandem.
Of these thousands of private sector consumers, one was Irene Cooper-Basch, President of the Victoria Foundation. She, in partnership with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, state and municipal law enforcement leaders, and several of her foundation colleagues, committed more than half a million dollars and the requisite political capital to launch Do No Harm/Moral Panic’s recommended harm reduction strategies in the form of Dr. David Kennedy’s pioneering CeaseFire model (which kicked off in Newark in May 2011). In a recent newspaper story, Ms. Cooper-Basch credited Moral Panic as being the catalyst for this sea change in the City of Newark’s approach to dealing with gang violence.
Subsequently, as President of The Fund for New Jersey, the state’s leading philanthropic investor in public policy initiatives, Rick enjoyed the rare opportunity to assess the advocacy strategies currently being used by the state’s top policy reform organizations. With the benefit of this 360-degree view, he learned that few if any of these advocates, including the best-in-class leaders, were applying new media technology to make their cases for change. Whether due to capacity constraints, creativity gaps, technophobia, or other adoption barriers, the policy research and advocacy community still relies upon traditional 20th century mediums and methods to communicate and deliver their arguments for reform: white papers, reports, panels, conferences, mailings, phone banking, lobby days, etc. Rick concluded that a third-party spark is needed - that the progressive advocacy world will benefit from an injection of 21st century amplification.