There are at least two methods for gaining a first-hand understanding of the situation in a community: direct observation and exploratory walks. Direct observation involves studying the community in order to identify characteristics or situations with nuisance potential (disorderly conduct, incivility, deteriorated physical environment, etc.), while exploratory walks are aimed at assessing urban environments (neighbourhood units, streets, blocks, etc.) from the standpoint of users.
The main purpose of such walks is to determine how a given environment affects the population's feeling of safety and to gauge the extent to which people feel they are at risk of being assaulted. Exploratory walks are designed to establish whether the environment's characteristics enable people to know where they are and where they are going, to see and to be seen, to hear and to be heard, and so forth. The present guide, which is part of the Safety Diagnosis Tool Kit for Local Communities, discusses the first method: direct community observation. It is intended to provide a framework for gathering meaningful information that will lead to a better understanding of problems noted, especially by the population, in various private or public places: for example, around high-density family housing, around shopping centres or districts and around bars or other establishments that serve alcohol. In this guide, the terms site, place and life setting all refer to areas where observation sessions will be carried out.
A second edition is also available: Safety Diagnosis Tool Kit for Local Communities: Guide to Direct Observation of Community Safety – 2nd edition