Since 2014, the Impact Norwood Prevention Coalition has been a driving force behind dozens of initiatives to reduce substance use among young people, including community education about the consequences of use and programs to reduce the stigma associated with addiction. To support these efforts, coalition leadership has relied on the dedicated participation of individuals from across the community, including teachers, police officers, religious leaders, health care administrators, clergy, parents, and young people.
“Our coalition is very diverse and very engaged,” says Coalition Director Aubrey Ciol. “We value the unique perspective each member brings and rely on their contributions. People stay involved because they know their voices will be heard.”
So, when the coalition began considering what it wanted to accomplish for the remainder of its 5-year Drug-Free Communities grant, Ciol was committed to engaging all members in the strategic planning process. To facilitate this work, she brought in PS@EDC TA Specialist Jess Goldberg to assist in creating a strategic planning process that was participatory and collaborative.
“Our goal was to create a community-driven process that engaged diverse perspectives,” says Goldberg. “But we also wanted to make sure that members had the skills and supports to make informed decisions.”
To achieve these goals, Ciol and Goldberg designed a two-day, highly interactive planning session that included a review of the prevention science, careful data analysis, and ultimately, strategy selection. Thirty members attended the first session; all returned a month later for the second.
Goldberg began by posing five critical public health questions: what are the problems facing Norwood, who are they affecting (and at what developmental stage), where are they occurring, and why? Noting that groups frequently jump to problem-solving, she underscored the importance of developing a clear picture of what was going on in the community before moving forward.
To develop this understanding, Goldberg led members in a careful review of the town’s community assessment data. These included data from youth, parent, and community surveys; school records and district profiles; hospital and police data; and youth and parent focus groups. Members broke into small groups and wrestled with the findings, working to make connections and provide context for what the data revealed. Some of the findings were particularly alarming: among middle and high school students, use of electronic vapor products had sky-rocketed over the previous three years, Alcohol and marijuana use also remained high, though slightly lower than surrounding communities.
Members then explored factors that, according to data, were associated with these problems.
“There are lists and lists of risk factors associated with all types of problems,” said Goldberg. “What we wanted to do is identify those specific factors that were contributing to Norwood’s high use rates.”
Across the three areas of concern, the factors that seemed to be the key drivers were attitudes favorable toward use and easy access.
“We were surprised by the number of high school students who reported that alcohol was ‘easy to get’, and by how few saw the dangers in marijuana and vaping,” says Ciol. “We were also surprised to discover that many parents still saw alcohol use among teens as a ‘rite of passage.’ Looking at the data helped coalition members understand that if we wanted to build a healthier Norwood, we needed to not only limit access to alcohol and vaping products, but also influence how people thought about these behaviors. These weren’t the only factors we could have addressed, but they rose to the top as the most important and most changeable.”
Ciol was thrilled with the process, which not only helped to define the coalition’s path forward but also raised awareness of the coalition’s role in addressing related behavioral health problems, such as bullying and suicide.
“Now, when we think about prevention, we’re doing so more holistically,” says Ciol. “We’re considering strategies that reducing substance misuse, but that can also play a role in promoting mental health.”
Ciol has set aside separate time for the coalition to choose its prevention strategies but feels confident that they are well-prepared to do so.
“The guidance and direction we received from Prevention Solutions was invaluable. Jess listened to what we hoped to accomplish, then structured the sessions so they made sense for our coalition. Members were excited to be part of the strategic planning process, and Jess made the content easy to understand. She also created a comfortable, flexible environment and followed the lead of the group. We were never rushed, and this led to a deeper understanding of the content and a truly collaborative, thoughtful end result.
To learn more, contact Jess Goldberg, PS@EDC TA Specialist, at email@example.com.