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Step 1: Assess Needs

Step 1 of the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) helps prevention professionals identify pressing substance use and related problems and their contributing factors, and assess community resources and readiness to address these factors.

In Step 1 of SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), prevention professionals gather and assess data from a variety of sources to ensure that substance misuse prevention efforts are appropriate and targeted to the needs of communities.

Data help practitioners identify and prioritize the substance use problems present in their community, clarify the impact of these problems on community members, identify the specific factors that contribute to these problems, and assess the readiness and resources needed to address these factors.

Engaging key stakeholders in all aspects of the assessment process will help ensure their buy-in and support the sustainability of your prevention initiatives. Share your assessment findings with them and other community members. The better they understand community needs, the more likely they will be to participate in—and sustain—prevention outcomes.

Problems and Related Behaviors

You can use the following questions to assess the substance use problems and related behaviors in your community:

  • What substance use problems (for example, overdoses and alcohol poisoning) and related behaviors (for example, prescription drug misuse and underage drinking) are occurring in your community?
  • How often are these problems and related behaviors occurring?
  • Where are these substance use problems and related behaviors occurring (for example, at home or in vacant lots; in small groups or during big parties)?
  • Who is experiencing more of these substance use issues and related behaviors? For example, are they males, females, youth, adults, or members of certain cultural groups?

This information can help you identify—and determine how to most effectively address—your community’s priority substance use problems(s). To answer these four assessment questions, you will need to do the following:

  • Take stock of existing data: Start by looking for state and local data already collected by others, such as hospitals, law enforcement agencies, community organizations, state agencies, and epidemiological workgroups.
  • Look closely at your existing data: Examine the quality of the data that you’ve found, discard the data that are not useful, and create an inventory of the data you feel confident about including in your assessment.
  • Identify any data gaps: Examine your inventory of existing data and determine whether you are missing any information. This could include information about a particular problem, behavior, or population group.
  • Collect new data to fill those gaps: If you are missing information, determine which data collection method—or combination of methods—represents the best way to obtain that information. Data collection methods include surveys, focus groups, and key informant interviews. See finding epidemiological data for more information.

Data may reveal that the community has multiple areas of need that are contributing to substance misuse. You will want to establish criteria for analyzing assessment data to guide your decision on which substance use problem(s) to make your priority.

Assessing Risk and Protective Factors

Prevention practitioners have long targeted risk and protective factors as the “influencers” of behavioral health problems. After selecting one or more prevention priorities, practitioners need to assess the factors that are driving or alleviating these problems. Targeting appropriate factors is key to producing real and lasting change.

As the names suggests, risk factors increase the chance that certain problems will occur, while protective factors reduce the likelihood of these problems occurring. Identifying which risk and protective factors exist in a community can reveal opportunities to influence substance use patterns and behaviors. To be effective, prevention strategies must address the underlying factors driving these patterns and behaviors. It doesn’t matter how carefully a program or intervention is implemented. If it’s not a good match for the problem, it’s not going to work.

Also, remember that the factors driving an issue in one community may differ from the factors driving it in another community. Because every community is unique, it is important to determine which factors are contributing to substance use and related problems in your community, and address those.

Learn more about risk and protective factors.

Assessing Resources and Readiness

Assessing a community’s capacity to address substance misuse is a key part of the prevention planning process. Understanding local capacity, including resources and readiness for prevention, can help you:

  • Make realistic decisions about which prevention needs your community is prepared to address
  • Identify resources you are likely to need, but don’t currently have, to address identified prevention needs
  • Develop a clear plan for building capacity (SPF Step 2) to address identified prevention needs

Assessing community readiness, in particular, helps prevention professionals determine whether the time is right and whether there is social momentum towards addressing the issue or issues they hope to tackle. Community readiness is just as important in addressing community needs as having tangible resources in place.

Learn more about assessing community resources and readiness.

Publications and Resources

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Last Updated: 04/18/2017