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Progress-program

I was recently asking my NGO communications buddies if they knew of any courses that focused on digital campaigning and community mobilisation. The responses I received were largely along the lines of “I don’t think anything like that exists in Australia”, and “hey you should run a course on that”, so I was starting to get a little disheartened.

That was, until Sarah Stokely suggested I grab a ticket to Progress 2013 – and man I’m glad that I did!

In this post I’ve tried to capture some of the highlights of the last two days, and will no doubt add to it as my brain digests the smorgasbord of ideas, critiques, and strategic thinking I was lucky enough to learn about at this landmark event.

Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson, social determinants of health guru and expert on the societal effects of inequality framed our thinking as the morning keynote speaker on day one.

His opening slide encouraged us to consider the question, why are we so miserable?

He explained that at a global level (comparing country-to-country), life expectancy is unrelated to economic growth, happiness and other measures of wellbeing.

However, when we look at the population within countries, health and social problems are more prominent in countries where there is an inequitable distribution of wealth. That is, the larger the income gap, the worse off countries are across a range of areas including: homicide, mental illness, imprisonment, life expectancy, high school drop-outs, maths and literacy scores, social mobility, teenage births, social capital, and the prevalence of trust between citizens.

Research shows that people who live in unequal countries actually trust each other less. Only 15-20% of people living in unequal countries feel they can trust each other, compared to more equal countries, where it’s about 60%.

Richard explained that a naive view of inequality only looks at one end of the spectrum that focuses on poverty and income differences. Whereas a more informed view examines the layers of all the subtlety destructive tendencies that humans possess, ie the psycho-social effects.

Fundamentally it’s about a response to social hierarchy and ranking, and whether people feel valued or devalued.

Richard Wilkinson-Public health slide
Research tells us that friendship is a protective factor of health

We then had a look at the “U shape of inequality” from the 1930’s to the present day. It bottomed out in the 70s (thank you feminism) and is now sadly on the rise again. Richard says we’ve lost any vision of what a society that serves us all might look like – a thought for us to keep in mind throughout the conference.

So what might this more equal world look like, and how do we get there?

Richard challenged us to consider what would happen if we extend the idea of democracy into the economic world, and transform big business and corporate control into democratic spaces.

His talk convinced me that in many respects, some of us have reached the end of the benefits of economic growth, and that now we need to think about how to create a better quality of life for everyone, beyond consumerism.

Tim Costello on the narrative of progress

Tim says that the notion of progress needs to be unpicked. He says it can’t be a narrative about material goods, and that we need to understand its limits. The economic rationalism storyline should have already been unpicked, but it still dominates our public debate and policy making.

Australia ranks number one in the world in terms of medium per capita wealth, and number two for wellbeing. We are healthy and wealthy, but are we wise?

The story of “the wealthier I am, the happier I’ll be” doesn’t necessarily work out the way we think it will when we’re ultimately faced with greed, stress,  and fragmentation of communities.

Working out the narrative of progress was one of the challenges Tim put to the conference attendees. This was particularly important given that the NGO sector is largely written out of the progress story.

His take-home points for us:

  • If we can understand our size and our muscle, we can change this place
  • We need to empower people to define what “the good life” means for them
  • There are a lot of people in Australia who should be having a voice, and they need to be connected

Limited news: a future for media in Australia?

Future-of-media

Panelists:

Tim started out talking about how he often sees journos dealing with Twitter followers like they are some kind of pest. He said journos don’t like being publicly held to account, they don’t like being questioned, and they still resist engaging in meaningful dialogic communication.

This got me thinking about how we can break down the barriers to social media use, how we can bridge the digital divide, and how we can empower citizen journalists to deliver quality, yet independent content. I’m yet to come across a better example than the PakVotes project that I came across in Geneva earlier this year.

We then moved on to discussing the Murdoch press, and how we break down the empire and it’s constraints. The general consensus was that monetising free-to-access media is still very difficult, and the publications that have opted for the paywall option are finding it problematic.

Jamila thinks that by 2020 we’ll have online media accounts where we pay very little (eg half a cent) per article read, but that it will take a while for us to get to the point where culturally we’re ready for that to happen on a large-scale.

She flagged that sponsored content is one of the more promising ways that we can monetise online media. I saw a couple of examples of this when Mamamia ran its “Most Clickable Women” awards, and invited female bloggers to engage in the creation of branded or sponsored content.

Digital Campaigning: going well beyond clicktavism

Panelists:

This was one of the sessions I was most looking forward to attending, and it delivered! It was a real honour to hear some of the world’s leading campaigners share their approaches to strategy, implementation and evaluation.

Some tips from the gurus:

  • Technology is just an enabler, it’s how we use it that’s important
  • Seize the moment – when something happens in the real world, leverage it!
  • When people see real action in the world it galvanises support in the online environment
  • By challenging politicians to do something about an issue (by collecting signatures for an online petition, for example), you present not only a big stick, but also a very big carrot
  • It’s important to agitate around issues that “no one cares about”, but recognise this will often require a much more long-term strategy
  • Many people fail because their target audience can’t see how it will lead them to success, and they can’t see their role in the journey
  • When people take action you need to celebrate little victories along the way

Moving beyond the “gender card” – opportunities for the Australian women’s movement.

Y women

Josie Swords of Feminaust, Krista Seddon of the YWCA Victoria, Michelle Deshong of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, myself representing the YWCA of Canberra, and Nina O’Brien of Kindling.

Panelists:

Jane began the discussion by saying that she doesn’t see feminism as a movement. She sees feminism as a way of seeing the world, where women are at the centre of their own lives, rather that at the periphery of someone else’s. Jane noted that one of the things that we (women) consistently deal with is a trivialisation of our thoughts, feelings and desires, and that this needs to change.

Rebecca however, was more interested in talking about how we as a collective can move our agenda forward faster. She said the average GetUp member is a 55 year-old woman, and that one of the reasons women make excellent campaigners is that we’re comfortable with emotion, and the vulnerability that leads to connection.

Michelle challenged the position that Jane presented, because she feels like she has only just had the opportunity to start participating in feminism. She sees her race as the first thing that has prevented her participation, and then her gender, which is why she calls herself an Indigenous Feminist.

Michelle believes that gender equity is a conversation for everyone, and that Indigenous women want to participate in feminism while bringing their men along with them.

There aren’t a lot of Aboriginal women who are participating in the “feminist debate”, because they are more comfortable participating in the “Indigenous conversation”. The overlay of cultural context for Aboriginal peoples is very important, and shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to participation in feminist debates.

Jane sees social media as one of the biggest ways that we can move feminism forward faster. The fact that we can have a public conversation without being mediated is unprecedented, and is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

Using the Destroy The Joint campaign as a case study, Jane passed on a few words of wisdom about progressing the feminist agenda:

  • Mock stupidity – it’s the best defence!
  • You have to fight mockery and insults with the same thing!
  • We need to make all progressive movements FUN!
  • Start with a group of people who are like-minded, and want the same outcome. You will have a much better chance of making your campaigns fun and engaging.

Finally, Michelle encouraged us to think about what the world will look like when gender equity exists, and stressed the fact that for us to get there, women’s rights first need to be accepted as human rights.

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Finland-group-shot

Today we had the privilege of meeting board and staff members from the YWCA of Finland! This delegation of wonderful Y women had made a trip to Geneva to connect with the World YWCA office and other key stakeholders in the area, as well as attend some sessions at the Human Rights Council.

For me it was the first time that I’ve really been able to see first hand the relationships between YWCAs from different countries, and get a real sense of the global movement that I’m a part of!

We gathered in the salon, and a quick head count made more than 25 women in the room (too many to capture in a single photo frame).

Finland-meeting

First up was Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda who provided a very warm welcome and song. Love starting the day with a bit of music!

Michelle then talked us through the World YWCA Strategic Plan, and senior team members from the two associations provided a brief update on their key priority areas of work.

We then broke into groups. I was fortunate enough to join the communications professionals to chat and share knowledge and experiences.

It was great to hear from a national association about some the challenges they face and their successful communications efforts, as well as hearing from Sylvie and Ramya about their priority work areas and plans for the future.

After our meetings we came together for another wonderful home-cooked lunch prepared by Anna, and discussed outcomes from key events such as the International Training Institute, the Human Rights Council, and the Commission on the Status of Women.

Tomorrow we’re back at the Palais for a session with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and we’ll also scope out the much anticipated Luminarium exhibition.

Flags

It was refreshing to start the day with some good news. The European Union and the African Group delivered a cross-regional statement on child, early and forced marriages yesterday afternoon at the HRC, and it was supported by over 100 states.

This is particularly important for the World YWCA, as it followed the side event that it co-hosted with Plan International last Friday. It also demonstrates that the advocacy of the World YWCA and its members at The Commission on the Status of Women, Session 57 (CSW 57) has influenced the framing of the issue and subsequent debate.

The language about “child, early and forced marriages” that was part of the agreed conclusions at CSW 57 has featured prominently in discussions at the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council. A great win! The World YWCA will continue to work with its allies to push for a resolution at the Human Rights Council in September.

While Jenna covered the third informal consultation on the draft resolution on the elimination of violence against women, I headed off to a session on freedom of expression.

While waiting for the session to start, a mysterious Kashmiri NGO representative introduced himself and insisted on reading my palm (not the kind of offer one expects in the halls of the Palais Des Nations)!

Palmistry

The conversation went a little like this:

He said: I can see you recently bought an apartment, you’ll buy another one soon.
Me: Wow, looks like I’m going to win the lottery then.
He said: you do things well when you’re going 100%, don’t slow down because you won’t be as effective.
Me: yep, that’s generally how I roll.
He said: you have a queen’s heart.
Me: sweet.
He said: nice to meet you, you can go now.
Me: ok…

People that know me well will be able to make up their own minds about how accurate his reading was!

ICTs

Now, back to business!

Shahzad Ahmad is a development communications expert and is at the forefront of the internet rights movement in Pakistan. He’s the country coordinator for an organisation called Bytes for All, which focuses on building the capacity of human rights defenders through the strategic use of digital communication (wow + awesome).

Bytes for All’s focus areas include:

  • Strategic use of ICTs for women’s empowerment and combating violence against women
  • Youth & peace building in the South Asia region
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Privacy Rights in Pakistan
  • Digital Security for Human Rights Defenders
  • Open Governance
  • Open Net Initiative
  • Greening IT
  • The Internet & human rights
  • Global information society watch
  • Innovation for development
  • Internet governance

He opened by talking about major human rights issues in Pakistan that came about during the last election.

There were violent acts that attempted to prevent certain parties from campaigning, refusing women of their right to vote in certain regions, and curbing of people’s freedom of speech in both online and offline environments. For example, YouTube was blocked by the government apparently due to its widespread blasphemous content. However it was clearly about muzzling the voices that posed a threat to the government of the day.

The Pakistani code of conduct states that religion can’t be used to promote the platforms of political parties. But this is being breached left, right and centre. It also prohibits the display of arms during promotions, yet there are many examples of political parties parading the streets with weapons, aiming to intimidate anyone who opposes them.

Mr Ahmad then introduced the PakVotes project, which is all about empowering ordinary citizens to participate in the electoral process in Pakistan. Essentially, it’s a platform for people who would otherwise be voiceless throughout the election process. The main way they do this is by highlighting people’s stories, and bringing human rights abuses (such as pre-poll rigging, violence at polling stations or issues in voter mobilisation or discrimination) to the attention of the global public sphere.

So one of the first things they did was go out into communities, and train people in the use of smart phone technologies and social media so that they could:

  • report in real time from the field with “just a smartphone”
  • be able to use a variety of social media tools for reporting
  • understand the essence of honest, safe and accurate journalism
  • be able to unearth stories which may otherwise be overlooked by mainstream media

Some key points about their approach:

  • the online platform, www.pakvotesmap.pk monitored and documented violations in different regions
  • citizen journalists reported back on what was happening in their region
  • stories were then picked up by mainstream media, bloggers, and political activists as a source of new and fresh content, who would then report to their own networks about what was happening during the election
  • Storify was used to document their discussions with different minorities and make them publicly available
  • Twitter and Facebook were used to facilitate instant, dialogic communication with citizens and social influencers to raise awareness about the unfolding issues

They had some fantastic outcomes, with thousands of people engaging in the Twitter and Facebook discussions, hundreds of stories being submitted and verified for the website, and gaining significant national and international media coverage on the issue.

Mr Ahmad closed by saying that when you engage the citizen you can promote openness and participation to influence political processes, and that new technologies provide us with a unique opportunity to amplify the voices who otherwise have no voice, and no agency.

Rock!

No matter what country you live in, you’ve probably seen a mass media government campaign or two that focusses on ‘tackling youth binge drinking’. In Australia a recent and significant effort in this area was the Federal Government’s Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare campaign. I took a closer look at this $20 million effort to change young people’s attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol to see how it stood up against evidence-based strategies and successful social marketing initiatives from around the world.

Summary

 On 10 March 2008, the Australian Government announced a $53.5 million “National Binge Drinking Strategy” (the Strategy) that aimed to address risky alcohol consumption among young Australians. The Strategy comprised three components: a $14.4 million investment in community initiatives that focused on exploring the cultural and social aspects of binge drinking, including $2 million towards supporting the Club Champions program –  developing elite sports ambassadors to promote responsible drinking messages; $5.2 million towards supporting the Good Sports program – supporting local sporting clubs to promote responsible drinking messages; and $7.2 million towards a community based grants round – establishing partnerships between non-government organisations (NGOs), local governments, sporting groups, police, and other groups to develop local solutions to youth binge-drinking. The second component of the Strategy was a $19.1 million investment in early intervention programs that encourage young people to take on personal responsibility for their drinking behaviours, and the third component was a two-year, $20 million social marketing initiative entitled Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare, that sought to highlight the ‘costs and consequences’ of binge drinking for young people.

The focus of this report is the principle key element of the Strategy, the Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare campaign (the Campaign), which ran from 21 November 2008 to 30 June 2010.

Target audiences

The Campaign targeted two key groups:

  1. Primary target audience: teenagers aged 15-17, and young people between the ages of 18-25.
  2. Secondary target audience: parents of 13-17 year olds.

Objectives

The main objective of the Campaign was to “contribute, along with the range of existing education, policy and regulatory initiatives, to a reduction in harm associated with drinking to intoxication amongst young Australians.” (Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing [DoHA], 2008). In terms of alcohol-related harms, the Campaign focused on short-term or immediate harms such as injury or accidents, rather than the long-term impacts of heavy drinking such as chronic disease. Specifically, the Campaign aimed to:

  1. Raise awareness of the harms and costs associated with drinking to intoxication among young people.
  2. Increase perceptions of the possibility of personally experiencing a range of short-term negative outcomes from intoxication, as well as increasing personal perceptions of the seriousness of these outcomes.
  3. Deliver personally relevant messages to encourage, motivate and support the primary target groups to reconsider the acceptability of the harms and costs associated with drinking to intoxication, assess their own drinking behaviour, and make changes to their own behaviours where necessary.
  4. Deliver personally relevant messages to encourage, motivate and support parents of young people to examine their own attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol, talk to their children about alcohol and the consequences of drinking to intoxication, and to become role models for responsible alcohol consumption.

Delivery

The Campaign adopted a traditional social marketing approach, whereby ‘‘brand’’ merchandising techniques are used to sell or market social behaviour change in a similar fashion as product marketing. In brand marketing schemes, information about a product is transmitted with the goal of changing behaviour and increasing product consumption. Social marketing represents a variant of brand or commodity marketing, with the goal of persuasively changing behaviour through value or attitudinal change. Standard campaign applications of these ideas have typically relied on public service announcements (PSAs) and ancillary communication strategies, for example, television, radio, print media, and billboards to inform the public with a goal of changing beliefs, attitudes, and eventually behaviours (Scheier, Lawrence & Grenard, 2010).

The key message “Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare”, was delivered via a range of mass media channels, including, television commercials, cinema commercials, radio commercials, online advertising including a game entitled The Drinking Nightmare, out-of-home advertising, print media such as posters, brochures and postcards, and educational resources for parents and teachers including online fact sheets, and an interactive CD-ROM.

The television, print and out-of-home advertising follow a consistent approach in delivering the key message. Each piece of media depict two scenes, the first of a group of young people happily consuming alcohol, the second of a scene illustrating one of the negative short-term consequences of binge drinking. The situations, actors and consequences of each scene were chosen to ensure the maximum relevance for both genders and for younger and older drinkers within the 15-25 year age range. After conducting pre-campaign market research with the target groups, four pairs of scenes were used:

  1. ‘Party bushes’, in which a couple are photographed having sex at a party in the bushes, coupled with the statistic “one in two Australians aged 15–17 who get drunk will do something they regret” (designed for maximum relevance for females and 15–17 year-olds);
  2. ‘Pedestrian accident’, in which a male pedestrian is hit by a car, coupled with the statistic “four Australians under 25 die due to alcohol related injuries in an average week” (designed for maximum relevance for males and 15–17 year-olds);
  3. ‘Coffee table’, in which a female is injured by falling through a glass table, coupled with the statistic “on average, 1 in 4 hospitalisations of people aged 15–24 happen because of alcohol” (designed for maximum relevance for females and 18–25 year-olds); and
  4. ‘Pub fight’, in which two males exchange blows, coupled with the statistic “70 Australians under 25 will be hospitalised due to alcohol-caused assault in an average week” (designed for maximum relevance for males and 18–25 year-olds).

Two 60-second advertisements were used on television and in the cinema. The first, which featured ‘Party bushes’ and ‘Pedestrian accident’, was designed to appeal to the younger members of the target audience. The second featured ‘Coffee table’ and ‘Pub fight’ for maximum relevance to older members of the primary target audience. The online advertising featured a moving image of a beer glass being raised as if to the viewer’s mouth and one of the statistics mentioned above (Ipsos-Eureka Social Research Institute, 2009).

Risk issue definition

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 major types of disease and injury. These include liver cirrhosis, diabetes, road traffic accidents, several types of cancer, violence, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (World Health Organization, 2011). The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (the Guidelines) state that alcohol-related risk comprises both the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime, and the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking (National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC], 2009).

Alcohol misuse results in substantial harms to Australians. Each week some 60 people die and a further 1500 are hospitalized because of their own alcohol consumption (Pascal, Chikritzhs & Jones, 2009). Not only does alcohol misuse impact on the drinker, it also imposes costs to the community, including healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity. In 2010, one in five Australians aged 14 years or over drank at levels that placed them at lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. This equates to 3.7 million Australians drinking at long-term risky levels, compared to 3.5 million Australians in 2007. In 2010, almost two in five Australians aged 14 years or over drank at levels that placed them at risk from short-term harm at least once in the previous 12 months. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of people drinking at risky levels monthly increased from 4.9 million to 5.2 million (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2011). From the period 1995-2005, 32,696 Australians aged 15 years and over died, and over 80,000 were hospitalized each year due to risky or high risk alcohol consumption (Pascal, Chikritzhs, & Jones, 2009).

In terms of Australia’s overall alcohol consumption, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) generates its estimates about the amount of alcohol consumed by Australians based on the amount of alcohol available for consumption in Australia in a single year. In 2009-2010, the estimate of alcohol consumption was 10.3 litres per person, which is equivalent to 2.3 standard drinks per day, per person aged 15 years and over. According to the ABS, this figure has remained relatively stable since the mid 1990’s (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011).

This report focuses on the Campaign’s attempt to reduce the occurrence of risky single occasions of drinking, or binge drinking, among young Australians.

Précis of previous research

There is surprisingly little research literature about the way that Australian news media treat the issue of binge drinking, or Australia’s ‘drinking culture’, despite the fact that it is a frequently reported issue. A 7-year snapshot of [1] mainstream Australian news media coverage referencing the term ‘binge drinking’ indicates that reporting of the issue has remained stable over this period, with around 1000 news items per year. However, from 2008-2009 coverage more than quadrupled, which is likely to be attributable to the launch of the Campaign (see Table 1 below):

Table 1

News articles referencing ‘binge drinking’ from 1 January 2005 – 1 January 2012

Year

Number of news items

2005

726

2006

622

2007

1186

2008

4866

2009

2889

2010

1314

2011

1304

While international analyses have examined the relationship between media framing of alcohol issues and youth binge drinking culture, little attention has been given to the way in which young people receive, interpret and react to dominant news frames. Studies in the United States have explored the role of parents, public health advocates, and news frames influence young people’s drinking behaviours (Askelson & Campo, 2009). However, this research largely ignores the social, political and cultural actors that shape the way that young people perceive alcohol. While research indicates that parental involvement is an important protective factor (Askelson & Campo, 2009), in isolation, the likelihood of media framing having a significant impact on parent’s attitudes towards managing their child’s alcohol use is arguably small. Further, the likelihood of college students changing their behaviours and attitudes towards drinking as a result of increased parental intervention is at best minimal, particularly for young people that live on campus, away from the family home.

A recent Australian study about the communications activities of alcohol industry-funded body, DrinkWise, demonstrates how journalistic practices routinely circulate a range of expert opinions and ideas without providing context, background or critique of each position. By presenting industry and health researchers’ voices on an even playing-field, expert opinion is devalued, and at times, health researchers’ criticisms of the alcohol industry appear to strengthen rather than undermine it’s communications efforts. This is demonstrated through the alcohol industry’s involvement in public policy, academic research, and news media, all of which contribute to legitimising its position within public discussions about alcohol consumption. While some publicity does not play immediately in the industry’s favour, the fact that it is engaged in discussions and debates provides an opportunity to maintain and reinforce political and economic structures that facilitate branding and consumption, while at the same time actively engage in brand-building activities in social and cultural environments (Carah & van Horen, 2011). A 2011 study of Australian news media’s treatment of the contested ‘alcopops tax’ on ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) in 2008 supports the notion that the opinions of health advocates, experts and industry representatives are presented by media without providing any context or background for the audience (Fogarty & Chapman, 2011).

It is clear that further work needs to be done to establish an adequate understanding of the structural and societal factors that shape the way young Australians perceive alcohol, and the extent to which news media influences their attitudes and behaviours. Further, the use of social media as an effective channel for engaging at-risk young people to achieve attitudinal and behavioural change is yet to be explored.

Campaign analysis: Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare

The Campaign was highly ambitious in the sense that it relied on a mass media approach to achieve its proposed core objectives of increasing knowledge, influencing attitudes, and changing behaviours among the target population groups. International evidence on successful public health education campaigns on low-risk drinking levels show that mass media approaches can be effective in reaching a broad target audience. For example, Canada’s highly successful Born Free campaign about abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy involved disseminating information at the point of sale, as well as the promotion of key messages through television, radio, and print media (NHMRC, 2009). While mass media campaigns can reach a diverse cross-section of the population, they are less successful in engaging specific population groups when messages are generic, both in terms of framing and the medium by which they are delivered (van Gemert & Dietze, 2011).

How people behave is determined by many factors and is deeply embedded in social situations, institutional contexts and cultural norms. A non-targeted approach to communication may be particularly ineffective for some of the diverse cultural and demographic groups within Australia. Messages targeting Indigenous groups, for example, may be most effective if they are tailored specifically to them (recognising that Indigenous culture is also heterogenous). Other groups that may require specialised tailoring include recent migrants, the elderly and young people (Australian Public Service Commission, 2007). In order to influence the attitudes and behaviours of young people who engage in risky drinking it is clear that a more targeted approach is necessary.

Age is one of the crucial considerations in the design of social marketing campaigns that aim to affect attitudinal and behavioural change in a population group. While the Campaign targeted young people from age 15 through to 25, and the parents of these young people, research shows that messaging and education about sensitive issues and risk-taking should begin at a much earlier age. According to the World Health Organisation, “the needs and developmental abilities of young people vary with their age; thus programmes must take these factors into account. This is commonly referred to as “developmentally appropriate programing.” For example, concepts in school curricula should be sequenced smoothly from primary levels to secondary levels to reinforce previous learning experiences and make links for new learning; this process is sometimes referred to as a “spiral curriculum.” For sensitive issues such as HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, education should begin as interest begins to increase but before the target group has become involved in risk-taking behaviours. The building blocks for dealing with such sensitive issues should be in place at the very beginning of children’s education. Such building blocks include self-esteem, positive values of cooperation and teamwork, the protection and promotion of health, and pro-social behaviour. However, to help young people develop positive behaviour and avoid risks, these topics must be taught in a way that is increasingly specific to actual situations in their lives.” Further, the pre-teen and early teen years are arguably the critical period in which drug influences by peers are most active and also reflect the formative years of identity formation when youth are most vulnerable to certain risk behaviours (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992).

It has become increasingly clear that governments cannot simply ‘deliver’ key policy outcomes to a disengaged and passive public. In the areas of welfare, health, crime, employment, education and the environment, achieving significant progress requires the active involvement and cooperation of citizens (Australian Public Service Commission, 2007). Social media can be defined as a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the way that organisations, governments and individuals communicate. For governments, digital communication tools provide opportunities to influence the attitudes and behaviours of individuals and communities, particularly young people. An important aspect of effective social media use is communication strategies that are based on a dialogical paradigm. Successful social media strategies typically encompass the following criteria:

  1. Connectedness: regularly engaging in two-way conversations with target audiences.
  2. Meaningful participation: target audiences are actively participating in opportunities made available to them through social media outreach.
  3. Uptake of information: information and key messages are being accessed and used by target audiences.

While the Campaign utilised social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, the underlying communications strategy was focused on a broadcast or one-way paradigm. The Campaign’s social media profiles were merely used as communication stations for pushing messages and information to as broad an audience as possible, rather than tapping into the more powerful paradigm of dialogic communications. The profiles are clearly designed and governed by the Department of Health and Ageing, with little evidence of input from young people. Updates are restricted to the key Campaign messages such as “Going out this weekend? Don’t risk turning your night out into a nightmare. Know your limits and aim to stick to them. Avoid peer pressure and drinking more than you want to” and “Are you going out this Anzac day? To help keep track of how much you have had to drink, avoid top ups and finish your drink before you go for a refill.” Since the launch of the Campaign, parody Facebook pages have been created by young people, such as Don’t Turn a Night Out Into a Nightmare – Plank Responsibly, which has 67,556 ’likes’ as opposed to the Government’s official page with 198,769 ‘likes’. The parody page was created by an individual with no broader marketing budget, which demonstrates the effectiveness of authentic messaging and the potential for some social media initiatives to spread ‘virally’. The parody page is still regularly updated, whereas the Government page has remained static since July 9, 2010. The effective use of social media was a missed opportunity, and one that should be explored in future youth-oriented social marketing campaigns.

The Government’s official evaluation of the Campaign consisted of an analysis of 4,363 online interviews in November 2008, and 4,200 in April 2009 with young people and parents of young people. The sample was then broken down into gender, location, cultural background, and level of alcohol consumption. While the results indicate that campaign messages were well-received and retained by the primary target audiences, there is less evidence to show that the Campaign had an impact on drinking behaviours. Further, while quantitative data is useful in terms of tracking trends and patterns in attitudes and behaviours, a qualitative methodology such as semi-structured interviewing or focus groups would be more useful in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours of the target groups.

Implications for risk communication

It is questionable as to whether mass media campaigns are the most appropriate vehicle for engaging at-risk youth population groups. Alternative approaches include non-paternalistic, highly-targeted peer-based interventions, and the innovative use of social media to deliver key messages, information, and importantly, foster dialogic communication with young people (Gemert et al., 2011). Smaller-scale social marketing, such as tailored communication for individuals or small groups, is growing in popularity and has substantial applications using the Internet and handheld devices. However, tailored health communications is a new field and has not yet been widely applied to prevention and health promotion, and there is limited evidence of its effectiveness in these applications (Kreuter, Farrell, Olevitch & Brennan, 2000). Further research in this area is needed in order to establish an understanding of the effectiveness of these alternative approaches.

Research about the media reporting of the implementation of the Australian Government’s ‘Alcopops Tax’ suggests that effective communication about changes to alcohol policy needs to: clearly demonstrate the case for change, understand the arguments of opposing actors, ensure that evidence is readily available to support claims, and use case study examples to further illustrate arguments and add a dimension of authenticity to the frame (Fogarty & Chapman, 2011). However, given the nature of the risk communication environment it would be naïve to propose that positions of power in framing risk issues can be won and permanently held by a particular actor, regardless of the level of support for or salience of a frame at a particular point in time. It is perhaps more important for health advocates to acknowledge the complexities of the risk communication environment, and where possible, seek assistance from strategic communication experts to provide support in navigating and negotiating this tricky terrain.

A common communications approach of health researchers, policy-makers, and other experts is to challenge the credibility of organisations such as DrinkWise, as a legitimate player in the alcohol policy debate. This has often proved ineffective, as by acknowledging DrinkWise and shining a light on their messages, they are then intrinsically accepted as a key part of discussions. By battling the alcohol industry lobby, the focus is then removed from the alcohol ‘environment’, that is, the entertainment, cultural, media and marketing spaces in which the industry promotes and facilitates alcohol consumption. Instead, health experts should channel their efforts towards shaping the way in which public debates are framed, that is, the current media template about alcohol consumption. This proposal poses a significant challenge to the Australian health sector, as there is already a well-established framing of experts promoting ‘nanny state’ or ‘wowserish’ alcohol policy reforms, particularly when the focus is on the regulatory environment. In order for a shift in the current media template to take place, professional strategic communicators must lead the way in shaping conversations with the media, key political stakeholders and the alcohol industry (Carah & van Horen, 2011).

The Guidelines summarise the current evidence-base on risk levels associated with alcohol consumption for adults, young people, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. The Guidelines have now been in place for three years, yet there has been no comprehensive education campaign to promote them (FARE, 2012). An evaluation of the limited promotional material regarding the Guidelines commissioned by DoHA astutely points out that “The guidelines will not engage the community nor influence attitudes towards the consumption of alcohol merely by virtue of their existence” (Horizon Research, 2011). While there have been a handful of short-term campaigns in the past two decades aimed at reducing the levels of harm associated with alcohol use among the Australian population, and young people in particular, none have proved successful in significantly changing drinking behaviours. While evaluations indicate that awareness of past campaign messages has been high, and the retention of these messages has been successfully obtained by target population groups, drinking behaviours have largely remained unchanged. With this in mind, it raises a serious question as to why the Australian Government chose to invest a further $20 million in the Campaign.

This review demonstrates that in order to significantly change young people’s attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol, a multipronged approach is needed. This includes ongoing public education and social marketing campaigns, as well as policy reform that addresses the environment in which alcohol is marketed, sold, and consumed. Future social marketing campaigns should take a long-term view, be well-resourced, adopt a dialogic communications paradigm, include both targeted and specific messages for different target audiences, and ideally take place within the context of population-wide alcohol policy reform.

References

Andrea, S. Fogarty and Simon Chapman (2011). Framing and the marginalisation of evidence in media reportage of policy debate about alcopops, Australia 2008-2009: implications for advocacy. Drug and Alcohol Review (30): 569-576

Askelson, N. M., S. Campo, et al. (2009). The Missing Role of Parents: A Content Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Parenting Practices and Communication Strategies for Addressing Binge Drinking. Communication Research Reports 26(1): 50-61.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2009-10.Canberra: ABS

Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.drinkingnightmare.gov.au/internet/drinkingnightmare/publishing.nsf/Content/about-the-campaign

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. Retrieved from http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=32212254712

Australian Public Service Commission. (2007). Changing behavior: A Public Policy Perspective. Retrieved from http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications07/changingbehaviour.pdf

Carah, N. and van Horen. (2011). Drinkwise, enjoy responsibly: News frames, branding and alcohol. Media International Australia (141): 5-16

C. van Germert, P. Dietze, et al. (2011). The Australian national binge drinking campaign: campaign recognition among young people at a music festival who report risky drinking. BMC Public Health 11(1), 482-489

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. (2012). 2012-2013 Pre-Budget Submission. Retrieved from http://www.fare.org.au/policy-advocacy/submissions/

Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Miller, T. Y. (1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 64–105.

Ipsos-Eureka Social Research Institute. (2009). National Binge Drinking Campaign – Evaluation Survey. Retrieved from the National Binge Drinking Campaign website http://www.drinkingnightmare.gov.au/internet/drinkingnightmare/publishing.nsf/Content/research-eval

Kaplan, Andreas M., Haenlein, Michael. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons 53(1): 59–68.

Kreuter M., Farrell D., Olevitch L., Brennan L. Tailored Health Messages: Customizing Communication with Computer Technology. (2000). Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia.

Pascal, R., Chikritzhs, T. & Jones, P. (2009). Trends in estimated alcohol attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 1996-2005. National Alcohol Indicators, Bulletin No.12. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology.

Scheier, L. M. and J. L. Grenard (2010). Influence of a Nationwide Social Marketing Campaign on Adolescent Drug Use. Journal of Health Communication 15(3): 240-271.

World Health Organization. (2011). Global status report on alcohol and health.Geneva: World Health Organisation.

World Health Organisation (2001). Skills for Health, Skills-based health education including life skills: An important component of a Child-Friendly/Health-Promoting School. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/school_youth_health/en/


[1] Outlets include regional and metropolitan daily newspapers, 2GB radio, 3AW radio, and AAP news bulletins.

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