Mobilizing communities for social change: Yes, it works.

This is the weekend when I’ll mostly finish the last set of revisions on my dissertation proposal, in advance of my December 17th, 2014 proposal defense date. [Note: This is a proposal defense, a.k.a. oral qualifying exam, a.k.a. oral comps. It’s not graduation. Graduation is December 2015ish after your dissertation defense.]

As I make revisions, I’m revisiting the work of Dr. Alex Wagenaar who does seriously brilliant work with policy change, time series designs, and health outcomes. Worth reading is THIS great paper that describes the outcomes from the Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol randomized trial.

Here are the highlights:

  1. There were three main goals: (1) reduce the number of alcohol outlets that sold illegally to minors, (2) reduce the availability of alcohol to young people from noncommercial sources, and (3) reduce community tolerance of underage drinking
  2. This is what they did:
    1. Involved public AND private institutions: city councils, schools, law enforcement, alcohol merchants, business associations, media
    2. Conducted 1,518 total one on one meetings (in 15 communities) with leaders and diverse community citizens
    3. Gathered a thorough understanding of the community: culture, history, power networks
    4. Reviewed all of the current alcohol policies and procedures, and compliance histories
    5. United a core leadership group with an active, diverse base of ‘concerned citizens’
    6. Used media advocacy to broaden awareness of the problem and build support
    7. Collected data from youths on alcohol behaviors and from alcohol merchants on purchase attempts and sales to minors
    8. Changed policies, practices and procedures to get to their goals
  3. The results were (1) greater ID checking among on- and off-premise alcohol merchants, (2) less selling of alcohol to underage buyers in on- and off-premise alcohol merchants, (3) less provision of alcohol by 18 to 20 year olds to younger teens.

The big take home message?

It’s absolutely possible to mobilize a community to take action to address an issue, and have a successful public health outcome. The folks in this community trial had NO experience in community organizing – rather, they were trained on the job. And alcohol had not been previously on the short list of ‘community problems’ until the organizers brought it to the forefront.

Let’s keep going on point of sale tobacco control, shall we?

community organizer
(Photo credit:

Enjoy the weekend!

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