Colleges and universities are taking a wide range of approaches to tackle issues of student wellness. When asked to describe prevention efforts in place, it’s easy to default to listing out the programs offered to students. This list often varies from campus to campus in terms of the number of programs, the timing and target audience, and the underlying evidence-base for each. Even on campuses with widespread programmatic offerings and successes, however, an exclusive focus on programs is a myopic approach to prevention.
Prevention should not be thought of strictly as a program or even a series of programs. Effective prevention is an on-going process. This process should be informed by theory and research, participated in by multiple key stakeholders, embedded into the institution’s mission and goals, and continuously assessed, adjusted, and improved.
While certain aspects of prevention will necessarily vary from school to school, there are several key elements and a general process that is fairly universal as far as effective prevention:
1. Identify focus areas
Every school has a unique set of strengths and challenges. Formative evaluation (i.e., a needs assessment) can inform programmatic focus by helping to define “the problem(s)” as well as the areas of strength that can be leveraged. Campus-wide climate surveys are a great tool for identifying focus areas.
2. Build fruitful partnerships
Violence prevention efforts have an array of key stakeholders, regardless of how these efforts are currently housed, structured, and funded on campus. It’s important to align with the values and interests of stakeholders and develop a shared vision for prevention. Having a structure for partnerships will strengthen the capacity and impact of collaboration
3. Set SMART goals
Prevention efforts should be streamlined at accomplishing a set of explicit goals. Strategic planning efforts should include the creation of an evaluation plan that will assess progress towards meeting goals. Share your goals widely on campus.
4. Choose effective strategies
Once focus areas have been identified and goals set, prevention strategies should be selected that best align with the needs and goals of the institution and it’s students. Examine the literature base for relevant programs and approaches that are supported by data, and involve students in the process of selecting/developing prevention approaches.
5. Develop a comprehensive approach
As prevention strategies are identified that are aligned with goals and needs, be sure that all critical elements of prevention are being covered. A comprehensive approach should include the right topics, the right delivery, the right timing, and the right people (delivering and receiving programming).
6. Implement with fidelity
As prevention programs are delivered, keep track of key programming metrics. These should include date and location of programs, topics covered, who presented, the number of attendees, the type of program, and the type of people who attended.
7. Assess impact
Every program should be evaluated based on criteria tied to specific goals. If goals relate to bystander behaviors, surveys should include measures of bystander confidence, intentions, and intervention efficacy. Consider the use of both quantitative and qualitative measures of impact.
8. Disseminate findings
Distribute results of prevention efforts to partners and key stakeholders on campus. Consider strategies for framing positive and negative findings to garner the most support possible. For example, if a program is found to be very effective, describe the need for expanding the reach and content of the program to grow impact. If a program does not demonstrate positive results, focus on the importance of knowing what’s not working and the distinct areas that could be modified and improved.
9. Iterate and improve
Procedural and programmatic assessments should be relied upon when making necessary adjustments to improve or grow prevention efforts. Continue to rely on research literature when modifying programs, and consider ways to contribute to the literature by publishing or publicizing findings. New goals and strategies should be developed as old goals are accomplished or become obsolete.