Origins of the Triangle Initiative

Conceptualizing The Triangle Initiative
All projects at CCNMTL follow Design Research methodology. Together with faculty partners, CCNMTL works through an iterative cycle of research, development, and assessment to create innovative uses of technology in the field of new media teaching and learning. Applying the Design Research methodology to Multimedia Connect, a CCNMTL project with the Social Intervention Group (SIG) of the Columbia School of Social Work, occasioned the creation of a new strategic enterprise: The Triangle Initiative.

Building to Learn: Project Connect
One of the unforeseen benefits of conceptualizing and designing Multimedia Connect was the realization that digital media provides a unique means to bring the often disparate goals of Columbia University - research, education and service to the community - into much closer harmony.Professors Nabila El-Bassel and Susan Witte, and Louisa Gilbert, senior researchers of the Social Intervention Group (SIG) at the Columbia University School of Social Work, developed and tested Project Connect, an HIV prevention intervention for couples, beginning in 1997. Once they proved the effectiveness of Connect's six-session program, however, they found two substantial barriers to wide dissemination: implementation required a box-load of peripheral materials and the skills of an advanced clinician. When they met CCNMTL in 2005, the SIG researchers were looking for ways to both enhance and streamline their intervention.

Engaging in CCNMTL's Design Research methodology, the SIG/CCNMTL team embarked on an extended Discovery phase. SIG learned about the range of possibilities digital media could support while CCNMTL became conversant with the content, process, and theoretical underpinnings of the intervention as well as the materials that accompanied each session: videos, anatomical models, condoms and other prophylactics, and charts.

Multimedia Connect, as the new project is known, was born. A unified, web-based environment enriched with images, custom video and interactive games replaces the box of physical objects and the hefty paper-based intervention and training materials. The intervention sessions are organized within a framework that acts as a road map used both to train facilitators and to guide facilitators through delivery of the intervention itself. As a result, training can be more consistently delivered to a broader base of community health workers, and those workers will be well practiced using the delivery environment and materials even before their very first session with clients. The computer environment also includes extensive resources on general knowledge and practice skills as well as "how-to" instructions for each session.

Multimedia Connect is nearing its final year of a five year test of adoption funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The Creation of The Triangle Initiative
One of the unforeseen benefits of conceptualizing and designing Multimedia Connect was the realization that digital media provides a unique means to bring the often disparate goals of Columbia University - research, education and service to the community - into much closer harmony. In reflecting on what had been accomplished, it was apparent that the creation of Multimedia Connect simultaneously contributed in direct and significant ways to (1) advancing the research SIG pioneered by positioning the group to study a large-scale dissemination of their proven intervention and (2) exploring the potential of new media in a more generic sense to provide unique support for community public health and human services efforts. Furthermore, Multimedia Connect and specific elements within it (such as a social support network mapping tool) enriches the classrooms of social work and public health programs among others. Most obviously, Multimedia Connect has a direct and positive effect on the community which is the target audience to begin with. In other words, a single media product maintaining its constructed identity without significant modification directly contributes to research, education and the welfare of the community.

These realizations inspired CCNMTL to look for other opportunities to accomplish the same research/education/community "triple play." At present, six other Triangle Initiative projects are underway: five in the area of health and one in the area of social justice. The Triangle Initiative has been well received by the Columbia community of faculty, researchers and administrators. To date, it has received over two and a half million dollars in support.