Archived: Community insights inform larger scale prevention programs

7 June 2016

Even the most effective policies can fail because they are not implemented properly in the schools, sports clubs and workplaces that have direct contact with large numbers of people. But there is very little literature on how to roll out and implement interventions successfully across multiple sites – ‘at scale’.

Luke Wolfenden

The Prevention Centre is addressing this problem through a research project led by Associate Professor Wolfenden, an NHMRC Fellow at the University of Newcastle. The project aims to generate evidence on strategies that have successfully enabled interventions to be scaled up.

Evidence base

“Policy makers and practitioners are largely bereft of an evidence base to guide implementation efforts – but without implementation at scale, effective health promoting interventions are unable to benefit public health,” said Associate Professor Wolfenden.

The problem is exemplified in the difficulties most schools have in implementing healthy canteen policies. Although these policies were introduced in most Australian states more than 10 years ago, an audit conducted by Deakin University indicated that about 65-95% of schools in most Australian states were still selling foods that were discouraged by state healthy canteen guidelines or policies.

“On that basis we found there was a failure to implement the policy in many schools to the point where the potential benefits of the policy weren’t being realised in the community,” Associate Professor Wolfenden said.

The researchers found many school canteens thought they were complying with the policy, when in fact they did not understand its complexities. Addressing knowledge barriers, offering guidance and providing staff training were important factors influencing successful implementation, he said.

Systematic reviews

The Prevention Centre project will comprise a series of systematic reviews looking at how risk factors for chronic disease such as smoking, nutrition, alcohol and physical activity are being addressed in childcare services, schools, workplaces and sporting clubs.

The project aims to generate evidence regarding the effectiveness of scaling interventions that can be used in larger planned program roll-outs across 50 or more locations.

“This research will tell policy makers and practitioners what approaches have worked in the past and provide evidence that health decision makers can use in their own contexts,” Associate Professor Wolfenden said.

Helen Signy, Senior Communications Officer