Let’s begin with the situation facing many primary prevention practitioners:
What should we do when there’s insufficient evidence on which to build our project?
People can sometimes feel confused or become stalled if they can’t find any direct evidence on best practice when building or delivering a particular community project. This doesn’t mean we can’t take action. But it does mean we need to think very carefully about our response, and ensure that we generate useful knowledge when planning and delivering community ‘interventions’.
We should always start from what’s known – this includes being aware of ‘what not to do’, based on what’s previously been proven to be ineffective in reducing AOD harms.
Avoiding processes or procedures that are recognised to have failed should be our first commandment.
Remember, ‘lacking evidence’ is not the same as having none. We can start from where the evidence stops and seek out the most promising path. The ‘path’ might be what has worked for a similar problem, or with a similar target group, but not been tried before in your specific circumstance.
It’s fine to try a new approach, as long as we’re generating useful knowledge, and we evaluate our work.
When we do this, we are contributing to future reductions in AOD harm.
Watch this short video from Kyp Kypri, Professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, to find out more.
Learning what strategies are successful is just as important as learning what isn’t. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Experimentation, creativity, and adaptation to the local community are necessary to keep exploring what will work — and work most effectively — in primary prevention. Keep the key principles in mind, as they should be helpful in guiding the creation of new and innovative programs.
However it’s very important to avoid using the strategies that past programs have already discovered to be unsuccessful – and sometimes even to backfire. Failure is a necessary part of experimentation and exploration – and no failure is a real loss as long as we learn from it.