Having access to good data and understanding how to use it is the foundation for effective prevention programming. Assessment data helps communities understand the nature of substance use in their communities—the seriousness of the problem, how it might have changed over time, and who is being most affected. Process data helps them monitor whether prevention interventions are being implemented as planned, and where changes may be needed. And outcome data can reveal whether these interventions are making a difference.
Over the past three years, Prevention Solutions@EDC (PS@EDC) has been working with the Dedham Organization for Substance Awareness, or DOSA, in Massachusetts to build the capacity of its coalition members to use data. During this time, they have supported the coalition in using data to inform their prevention planning efforts, convened parent focus groups to fill data gaps, and streamlined DOSA’s data tracking and reporting systems. In the upcoming months, they will continue to work with the coalition to help them use their data to address existing health inequities in the community.
Using Data to Prioritize and Plan
When DOSA received its first Drug-Free Communities Grant in 2018, one of their first tasks was to develop an evaluation design—a plan for how they would evaluate their prevention efforts. They understood it was important to develop this plan early on, as it would determine which local problems they would address, and how they would measure the effectiveness of the strategies they implement to address those problems.
To support the coalition in developing their plan, PS@EDC engaged coalition members in a 3-hour, interactive “data dive” dialogue process. Working in small groups, members began by naming their assumptions about substance use in their community, and their expectations about what the data would reveal. They then examined and interpreted local data sets—a parent survey, two student surveys, compliance check data as well as data on fatal and non-fatal overdoses in the community. They explored questions such as “what patterns do you see?”, “which groups seem most at risk?” and “what surprises you?,” and created charts and other visuals to communicate their findings with one another. They shared their observations, discussed the implications of what they learned, and decided collectively which problems were most pressing. Then, in a follow-up meeting, they used these priorities as the foundation for their logic model—a visual roadmap that linked problems to goals and defined the strategies the coalition would use to reach them.
“The activity was extremely rewarding,” said PS@EDC Technical Assistance Specialist Shai Fuxman. “Coalition members who’d never before engaged with data were pushing up their sleeves and digging in. The activity helped to dispel myths about who was engaging in substance use—and who was dying from it. And because the entire coalition was part of the review and decision-making process, we felt confident that the plans the coalition made would be well-supported and therefore more likely to be successful.”
The “data dive” also modeled for the coalition an inclusive process they could use to review and analyze community data in future years.
Streamlining Data Tracking Systems
As part of funding requirements, DOSA needed to share with their funder data on prevention programming (e.g., how often programs were delivered, who they reached) as well as data on coalition functioning (e.g., number of meetings, how many members attended). These data would also help the coalition determine which processes and programs were working well, and which might need mid-course correcting. To help them track this information in a way that would make reporting easier, PS@EDC developed a tracking sheet that aligned directly with DFC’s required deliverables. Coalition activities were entered into the system and immediately assigned an activity code that corresponded with specific DFC categories. It also tracked which sectors were involved in the activity, making it easy to see where partnership gaps existed.
“Coalitions often struggle with reporting; they know informally that they’ve been busy doing great work, but they haven’t been tracking the numbers to prove it,” said Fuxman. “The tracking system we developed with DOSA was easy to use, and because it was tied directly to funding requirements, made reporting much easier.”
Filling Data Gaps: Convening Parent Focus Groups
Under its DFC grant, DOSA’s focused its prevention efforts on three priority areas: youth alcohol use, youth marijuana use, and vaping. To better understand parent attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of these issues, PS@EDC convened two parent focus groups. The sessions explored a range of topics, including potential factors that could be contributing to use, parental communications and monitoring, social norms related to substance use, and preferred prevention activities. Most participants agreed that education for both parents and youth would make the biggest difference in bolstering youth substance misuse prevention efforts: parents needed more information on how to recognize signs of substance use/misuse and youth needed to know more about the impact of use on their bodies. The sessions also provided important context for the written survey that the coalition routinely administered to the parents of Dedham high school and middle school parents. “The focus groups helped to flesh out the answers we’d received on the survey,” said Fuxman. “It helped us answer the question “Why?”
Moving Forward: Addressing Health Equity
In June 2020, Dedham’s Board of Health issued a statement naming systemic racism and personal prejudice as a public health issue and is committed to addressing all forms of both within the community in the interest of advancing health equity. Over the next few months, PS@EDC will continue to partner with DOSA leadership to develop and pilot a process for assessing the impact of the coalition’s substance misuse prevention efforts on the health of specific population groups that experience discrimination and exclusion because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions. Specifically, they will look closely at their community data to identify affected populations and prospectively assess any unintended health impacts, both positive and negative, of the coalition’s work and other related town-based efforts; develop evidence-informed approaches to minimizing or eliminating the negative impacts, and maximizing the positive impacts of the coalition and related efforts on vulnerable groups; develop an action plan for implementing these approaches, and develop a data collection plan for monitoring implementation.
“In a way, our previous work with DOSA “primed the pump” for this focus on health equities,” says PS@EDC TA Provider Jess Goldberg, who will be supporting the coalition in this new area of work. “They had a clear vision for how they would weave data into everything they did. DOSA now has the evaluation capacity to take on this new priority and serve as a model for other communities. We look forward to supporting them as they develop a process for how community-based prevention coalitions can best address health inequities, identify and fill gaps in equity and service provision, and share lessons learned.”
DOSA was one of two coalitions selected in 2020 to win CADCA’s GOT OUTCOMES! Coalition of Excellence award. to learn more about PS@EDC’s work with this award-winning coalition, contact Jess Goldberg at email@example.com.