Home > Evaluation of the National Drug Awareness Campaign 2003–2005.

Keane, Martin (2008) Evaluation of the National Drug Awareness Campaign 2003–2005. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 25, Spring 2008, 4-`5.

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The National Drug Awareness Campaign was developed and launched in May 2003. The overall aim of the campaign was to ‘increase awareness among the general population about current problem drug use and its consequences across society through the achievement of measurable change in the knowledge and attitude of targeted groups’.

The campaign relied heavily on multi-media components, including radio and TV advertising and a website. Live roadshows featuring question and answer sessions were staged, and booklets, posters and a helpline were developed. The campaign slogan, ‘Drugs. There are answers.’, was intended to convey a positive message; this approach was preferred to one that used scare tactics.

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) commissioned a team of external researchers to review the development and delivery of the campaign from 2003 to 2005. The final report of this evaluation was published recently.1 This article will highlight the main findings of this evaluation and will reflect on the main learning points that emerge which can be used to strengthen future campaigns.

Sampling strategy and data collection
Purposive sampling was used to select interviewees from among those actively involved in the campaign development. Those selected included members of the Steering Committee, the advertising agency, stakeholders at local and regional levels and members of the target groups. In total, 94 semi-structured interviews were conducted between November 2003 and September/October 2005 across the three phases of the campaign’s development. In addition, documentary material relating to the development of the campaign was analysed.

Key findings of the evaluation
In an extensive review of the literature, the evaluation team identified certain criteria to inform best practice in developing a drug awareness campaign. The development and implementation of the national campaign were assessed against these criteria.

Theoretical base, aims and objectives: The majority of respondents did not consider that any formal theory, model or framework had been applied to the development of the campaign. The evaluation team point out that the objectives set for the campaign, even if they were met, were incapable of achieving the stated aim of the campaign. In addition, as the campaign developed, key stakeholders reported a growing sense of confusion as to what its objectives were.

Target audiences: The interview participants did not perceive the target groups to be well defined from the start of the campaign, and felt the focus to be ad hoc rather than planned.

Multi-component media interventions: The campaign fared poorly in this area as the roadshows represented the only attempt to bolster the use of multi-media channels with a community dimension.

Message development: According to the evaluators, the theme of empowerment conveyed in the campaign slogan should have encouraged brand consciousness throughout the campaign. However, interviewees reported that they failed to recognise this and that there had been a lack of coherence to the campaign components.

Formative evaluation and process evaluation: Formative evaluation generally involves pilot-testing campaign messages, materials and lines of communication as the campaign is being formed. In this case, the development of the campaign scored highly as it used formative evaluation to assess the roadshows, the cannabis campaign and the convenience advertising. The tracking of the development of the campaign over three years by a team of external evaluators culminated in the final evaluation report presented in this article.

The findings of this evaluation suggest that this campaign suffered from a lack of coherence, because it did not have a specific theoretical framework that could have linked the various components together and given structure. Information awareness campaigns such as this one tend to be based on an implicit assumption that the target audience will react rationally to the messages, and take appropriate steps to avoid the consequences inherent in the behaviour being highlighted, for example, misuse of drugs. It is important that future drug awareness campaigns learn from this evaluation, and that their development is informed by meaningful debate and reflection on the appropriate theoretical approach to take. This evaluation contains a useful review of the literature on these issues that should be used to facilitate this debate. Such a move will contribute to an evidence-based approach to what is effective in raising awareness about drugs and changing attitudes and behaviours associated with their use. (Martin Keane) .

1. Sixsmith J and Nic Gabhainn,S (2007) A process evaluation of the National Drug Awareness Campaign 2003–2005. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.


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