Home > Evaluation of Planet Youth in Western Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force.

Dillon, Lucy (2023) Evaluation of Planet Youth in Western Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 86, Summer 2023, pp. 19-24.

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A process evaluation of Planet Youth in the Western Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force (WRDATF) area was published in July 2023.1 The evaluation documents the outputs from the project to date and explores the views of stakeholders on the project’s implementation and structures. This article presents the international and national contexts to Planet Youth and the Icelandic model, as well as an overview of some of the evaluation’s findings and a reflection on the implications for Planet Youth in the WRDATF and elsewhere in Ireland. As with the evaluation, it considers the role of Planet Youth in the WRDATF moving forward – whether it continues to focus on generating and promoting data or to shift the focus of its resources to deliver on a broader range of its objectives.2

The Icelandic model and Planet Youth

Planet Youth is a research consultancy that runs a guidance programme to deliver the Icelandic Prevention Model.3

As outlined in earlier issues of Drugnet Ireland,4,5,6 the model originated in Iceland in the 1990s when a group of Icelandic social scientists, policymakers, and practitioners began collaborating to address the increasing levels of drug and alcohol use among Icelandic young people. The prevention model that emerged ‘reflexively and continuously links national-level data collection with local level reflection and action to increase social capital’ (p. 19).7 The model is predicated on three pillars of success: evidence-based practice; a community-based approach; and creating and maintaining dialogue among research, policy, and practice.

It is ‘an environmental approach in which parenting, parental supervision and organised leisure time activities, together with increased normative pressure (curfew hours and encouragement of joint family dinners) play a central role in reducing alcohol and drug consumption among young people’.8

In the Icelandic context, following the mapping of the risk and protective factors, a broad range of prevention interventions was introduced. These involved significant public expenditure and included activities such as the extensive development of structured high-quality recreational activities for young people and support for families to spend more time together. Young people’s substance use was monitored on an ongoing basis with a focus on measuring outcomes and identifying changing needs to inform the ongoing development of effective interventions.2 A significant decrease in substance use was found among Icelandic adolescents in the period since the model was implemented. However, it should be noted that evaluations have not been carried out that can establish attribution for the changes in drug use to the model or any particular interventions.

Evidence base

On foot of the perceived success of the Icelandic model, other locations internationally became interested in applying the same approach to prevent substance use among their young people. While the model is broadly recognised as containing effective prevention intervention elements, given the gaps in the current evidence base, questions have been raised about the feasibility and desirability of copying the Icelandic model in other locations with different social, legal, policy, and delivery contexts.

As such, the international rollout of the Planet Youth model has been the subject of debate within the prevention scientific community. There has been a call to develop a stronger evidence base, particularly given the commercial nature of Planet Youth and the resources required to run it. It is beyond the scope of this article to outline this debate in more detail, but the position paper of the European Society for Prevention Research (EUSPR) outlines key questions on the topic.9 Given the nature of the WRDATF evaluation, it does not answer these broader questions posed by the EUSPR paper.

WRDATF context

In 2018, the WRDATF was the first task force in Ireland to fund the implementation of Planet Youth in parts of the region (Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon). It committed to a five-year pilot programme initiated by itself, with the support of partner agencies in the region. County Committees and a Regional Steering Committee, which include funders and strategic partners, were established. The Planet Youth strategy and implementation framework: Galway, Mayo and Roscommon was published in February 2020, which outlined the project’s mission, vision, and objectives.2 The objectives were to:

  1. Improve outcomes and opportunities for young people across the programme’s four domains: parents and family; leisure time and local community; school; and peer group.
  2. Deliver a wide range of evidenced-informed prevention activities which address risk and protective factors.
  3. At county, regional, and national level, build and maintain a strong, collaborative, well-informed partnership of community, agency, and political stakeholders.
  4. Build strong brand recognition and stakeholder involvement throughout the Western Region.
  5. Secure sustainable investment for development and coordination of Planet Youth in the Western Region.
  6. Capture learning and track activities to inform the future development of Planet Youth.
  7. Develop a strategy for sustaining Planet Youth linked to relevant national policies, including Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the national policy framework for children and young people 2014–2020 and Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017–2025.10,11

Evaluation approach

The evaluation of Planet Youth in the WRDATF aims to explore ‘the process of the implementation, development, delivery, and outputs of the Planet Youth project’ (p. 10).1 It does not attempt to explore the impact or outcomes of the project on young people in the region. Its objectives were to:

  • Ascertain how Planet Youth data are being utilised by partner agencies in the region.
  • Examine the effectiveness of the Regional Committee and County Committees as suitable governance and implementation structures for the Planet Youth project.
  • Examine the project’s outputs and identify any notable gaps.
  • Develop a SWOT analysis of Planet Youth.
  • Make recommendations for future Planet Youth initiatives.

To meet these objectives, the views and experiences of stakeholders were sought. Online surveys were carried out with members of the County Committees (24 of the 45 members responded); Regional Committee (three of the 10 members responded to the survey, the other seven had responded to the County Committees survey); parents (103 responded from an estimated 3,000 contacted); and schools (22 of the 91 schools responded). One-to-one interviews were carried out with two of the three County Committee chairs, the Planet Youth and WRDATF coordinators, and project advisers from the University of Galway, and an independent consultant. It should be noted that no analysis of the survey data was included in this evaluation, so the voices of young people are not heard in the report.

Evaluation findings

The overarching message to come from the evaluation report is that, since 2018, Planet Youth has successfully collected survey data on young people in the region and that these data are used by a variety of stakeholders.

The evaluation findings also suggest that, for a variety of reasons, Planet Youth has only had very limited success in supporting the delivery of prevention interventions or actions, and that there have been barriers to establishing primary prevention as a core method of working in the region. Among the findings included in the report are the following.


  • Planet Youth is a valuable source of data on young people in the WRDATF, with surveys having been carried out in 2018, 2020, and 2022.
  • Among the resources developed through Planet Youth, based on the survey findings, were booklets for parents; workshops and webinars for parents; websites with content for parents and students; and a website aimed at supporting teachers delivering Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).
  • There is evidence of the secondary use of Planet Youth datasets by organisations and agencies working in the region: in the development of funding applications; to inform the development of services; and for teaching and academic research at local third-level institutions.

Structure of Regional Committee and County Committees

  • While the relationship between the Regional Committee and the County Committees tended to be seen as positive, there were suggestions that communication between the two could be improved. Some respondents thought there could be a clearer demarcation of roles between the two groups.
  • The overwhelming strength of Planet Youth was seen as a data source on young people, while the strong links made with parents were also noted. Weaknesses included a lack of resources and challenges in shifting the culture of organisations in prioritising primary prevention work: ‘Planet Youth’s success in data collection was not matched by implementation actions’ (p. 55).1
  • Eighty-seven per cent of respondents thought the focus of the County Committees was aligned with Planet Youth objectives. Of those who did not, some indicated that the ‘full implementation of the “Icelandic model” may not be possible in a “West of Ireland” context’ (p. 25),1 which was echoed in the findings from the Regional Committee feedback.


  • The schools that responded (n=22) tended to be positive in their feedback on the experience of having had the survey carried out in their schools.
  • Twenty-one of the 22 schools had shared the school-level survey results with school management and staff, 15 with their boards of management, 12 with their parents’ association, 5 with all parents, 7 with students who had taken part in the survey, and 3 with all students.
  • Some schools used the survey findings to inform their work in the areas of wellbeing, mental health, and SPHE, among others.
  • Less than one-half of the schools that responded to the evaluation had organised a meeting with stakeholders to plan how to respond to the school survey’s findings.
  • Schools noted that ongoing support and engagement from Planet Youth to support implementation of actions would be helpful.


  • Among the main ways that parents engaged with Planet Youth were: 60 of the 103 parents that responded to the survey attended a Planet Youth school presentation; 52 read the Guidelines for Parents booklet; 28 read the Parent Power booklet; and 19 attended a Planet Youth workshop.
  • Seventy-six per cent of parents reported discussing the Planet Youth survey results with their child. Fifty-four per cent said they felt better informed on the issues as a result of engaging with Planet Youth; 38% said they had made some small changes to their parenting approach as a result; and 11% said they had made significant changes. Ten per cent said that it had no impact.
  • Follow-on interactions from Planet Youth and more support from schools with follow-up actions were called for by parents.

Key stakeholders

  • There was a suggestion that Planet Youth needed to be based in a statutory agency such as the WRDATF; otherwise it would ‘not be taken seriously’ (p. 50).1
  • Some key stakeholders called for more resources for staffing and outputs from Planet Youth. It was reported that Planet Youth is ‘not resourced to deliver outputs/implement changes. In the future Planet Youth could seek funding for their own actions but for now can focus on dissemination of information as well as influencing stakeholders’ (p. 50).1
  • Some stakeholders suggested that there is a need to clarify the roles of committees and their members: ‘meetings are not harnessing the potential from the members in the room’ (p. 51).1
  • A recurring theme in the findings on this strand of the evaluation was the long-term and challenging nature of bringing about and influencing a cultural shift towards primary prevention in relevant organisations.

Comment on moving forward – the focus of prevention

Some clear and valuable messages for prevention stakeholders in Ireland emanate from this report. Since 2018, Planet Youth in the WRDATF has been a valuable source of data on young people in the region. However, the findings of the evaluation strongly suggest that moving forward there is a need to clarify the role of Planet Youth. Indeed, this is reflected in the recommendations section of the report, where ‘role clarification’ is called for (p. 58).1 Should the WRDATF continue to focus its resources on generating more data or should it move more towards supporting, developing, and implementing prevention interventions, thereby encouraging a prevention culture among policymakers and service providers in the region?

The findings would suggest that there is an appetite among parents, schools, and other stakeholders for more activity in the region to develop responses to the needs identified in the surveys.

While no analysis of the surveys was included in the evaluation, the findings of the 2018 and 2022 surveys indicate trends of concern affecting young people and their drug use in the region.

For example, while there has been a reduction in the percentage of young people surveyed reporting lifetime-cannabis use between 2018 and 2022 (e.g. 15.4% vs 11.4% in Mayo), there has been an increase in daily vaping (e.g. 6.5% vs 17.2% in Mayo), and an increase in two areas of those reporting drunkenness in the last 30 days (e.g. 26.2% vs 34.1% in Mayo), with no change in the third area. There has also been a decrease between 2018 and 2022 in the percentage of young people saying that their parents would be against it if they got drunk (e.g. 74.3% vs 53.4% in Mayo).

Actions need resources, and while the report includes a section on project resources, it only focuses on those related to staffing.

It does not report on the cost of carrying out the surveys or any reflection on whether, moving forward, the WRDATF and its partners will use those resources to collect more data or move towards a model where resources are used to deliver on prevention activities in the region. A decision which, it could be suggested, might help to deliver on WRDATF’s wider range of objectives, as laid out in its strategic and implementation framework for Planet Youth in 2020.2

The learning from this report provides a valuable opportunity for Irish stakeholders, especially those deciding whether to invest resources in Planet Youth in other regions, to reflect on the best way forward for prevention in the Irish context. It highlights the need for a balance between investing in data collection and interventions.

1    Carroll and Daly Consultants (2023) Evaluation of the Planet Youth Project in Galway, Mayo & Roscommon 2018–2022. Galway: Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/39178/

2    Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force (2020) Planet Youth strategy and implementation framework: Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. Galway: Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force. Available from:

3    For further information on the Icelandic Prevention Model, visit: https://planetyouth.org/about/

4    Dillon L (2018) Planet Youth. Drugnet Ireland, 66 (Summer): 24. Available from:

5    Dillon L (2020) Strategy and intervention framework for Planet Youth. Drugnet Ireland, 74 (Summer): 21–23. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/32737/

6    Dillon L (2019) Planet Youth in WRDATF. Drugnet Ireland, 71 (Autumn): 9–11. Available from:

7    Sigfúsdóttir ID, Thorlindsson T, Kristjánsson AL, Roe KM and Allegrante JP (2009) Substance use prevention for adolescents: the Icelandic Model. Health Promot Int, 24(1): 16–25. Available from:

8    Planet Youth is included on the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) Xchange Registry. Its evidence rating is ‘Additional studies recommended’. For further information, visit:

9    For further information on the EUSPR position paper, visit:

10  Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2014) Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the national policy framework for children and young people 2014–2020. Dublin: Stationery Office. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21773/

11  Department of Health (2017) Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017–2025. Dublin: Department of Health. Available from: https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27603/

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