A (Brief) Primer on Effective Planning for Student Wellness

We talk a lot about the virtues of good planning here at EverFi. Indeed, it is a hallmark of doing effective work—of any kind. This month, you’re likely writing up your end-of-year reports and starting to consider the year ahead. It seems timely for a reminder of the importance of planning and the availability of tools and resources to support this important aspect of your efforts. The first part of any good planning process will be a situational assessment. What are the needs and strengths of your students, and how can they be better supported? These answers may come from your most recent NCHA II or Core survey data, or perhaps AlcoholEdu and/or Haven. You might also look to service utilization reports in order to determine where and how students are accessing your services, and how and whether you are meeting their needs. This phase of planning should also consider what resources and assets are available in order to establish goals that are realistic.

This formative analysis should also consider the broader campus environment and your surrounding community. What are the threats or challenges posed to students making safe and healthy choices? How might you influence the environment so that healthy and safe choices are easier? The research base must inform this part of the thought process. If there is no research base, then the thought process should be informed, at the very least, by behavioral change theory. Environmental changes may include reducing low-priced drink specials in your community, providing more alcohol-free opportunities on campus, expanding access to recreational facilities, or promoting healthy norms regarding sexual activity, consent, or bystander intervention.

Goal setting is best supported using a logic model, where you can map out the impact of your proposed activities into short-term outputs, medium-term outcomes, and eventually long-term impact. A logic model will force you to check assumptions and can help identify gaps in your thinking or efforts that might lead to failure. It also helps identify evaluation measures, which, once collected, will enable you to determine where you were successful, and where along the process things may have fallen short. As you set about articulating objectives in order to reach your goals, a useful tool to follow is the SMART method, which supports creating reasonable, concrete goals and objectives that are amenable to evaluation and improvement. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely or Time-bound. There are several web-based SMART goal-planning tools and guides you might call upon; here and here are just two examples.

Once you have identified what must be done to reach your mission or overarching goal, you can begin to lay out an action plan of what will be done, when, and by whom. It will also help clarify the partners you will likely need to engage, and resources you will need to call upon in order to effect the change you are seeking. While this is an oversimplification of the planning process, thinking through these steps will greatly enhance the success of your campus health and safety efforts. One fantastic compendium of resources to call upon for planning and building healthy communities is the Community Tool Box. This resource contains a host of toolkits, information, and guidance to drive social change in support of healthy communities. The Healthy Campus 2020 MAP-IT model may also prove useful as you engage in this process. Congrats on wrapping up another academic year, and best of luck as you engage this process in planning for the year to come!