Tools From Epidemiological Workgroups Help Communities Harness the Power of Data

In 2005, SAMHSA broke new ground in substance misuse prevention with the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), a five-step planning process to guide the selection, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based, culturally appropriate, sustainable prevention activities. The framework’s reliance on data is a unique aspect that helps ensure that prevention activities target those populations in greatest need. States, tribes, and jurisdictions – as well as the communities that they fund – were expected to use data to inform all aspects of decision-making, from assessing prevention needs, to monitoring the implementation of prevention strategies, to evaluating prevention outcomes.

But as practitioners began implementing the SPF across their states, they discovered that their community providers often struggled with how to apply the model. “Our providers understood why it was important to use data. They just weren’t sure how to do it,” explains Anne Rogers, data and resource manager for Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse, one of the first states to begin using the SPF.

To address this need, many states, under the leadership of their state epidemiological workgroups, developed guides or toolkits for their local providers. Over time, they revised these materials to incorporate lessons learned from their experiences implementing the model. Today, SAMHSA’s State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroups (SEOWs) are disseminating several of these practical, community-tested guides to support the prevention work of communities nationwide.

Sustaining the SPF

Maine's Strategic Prevention Framework: Guide to Assessment, Planning, and Evaluation – 2011 (PDF | 1.1 MB), is a prime example of one of these tools. The guide is a one-stop resource that uses concrete examples and reader-friendly language to walk local-level providers through the data-driven steps of the SPF. The guide offers tips and tools for addressing topics ranging from identifying data gaps and building an evaluation team to conducting data analysis.

SEOW contract managers Sandeep Kasat and Alisa Male give the Maine guide their highest rating. “The simplicity of the language and the comprehensiveness of the guide are what make it outstanding," says Kasat. “We wanted to capitalize on the important lessons that Maine had learned while implementing its Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant (SPF SIG) and captured in its guide. We knew other states and communities could benefit from Maine’s experience. By developing such guidance documents, state epidemiological workgroups not only provide concrete guidance but also reinforce and sustain an ongoing awareness of data that supports effective and efficient use of prevention resources.”

Lessons from Maine

Maine’s prevention leaders first recognized the need to develop a guidance document when the state received its SPF SIG in 2005. Rogers explains, “Some communities had been doing data-driven prevention work all along, but others said, ‘This is completely new to us.’ So we set out to summarize and synthesize information on the SPF.”

Sarah Goan, a project manager with Hornby Zeller Associates who co-wrote the guide, also saw the need for a document that would be helpful to both novice and more seasoned practitioners. Goan says, “If you were new to the field, the guide explained the basics of how data informs each step of the SPF. If you were more experienced, the guide included tips to help you determine if you were on the right track.”

The guide has been used extensively throughout the state. Community-level providers say that, thanks to the guide, the SPF process has now become thoroughly integrated into their work. Karen Hawkes, director of Maine’s Healthy Sebasticook Valley Coalition, shares her experience: “As a new hire in 2009, I found a copy of the guide on my desk. As someone new to the concept of data-driven, evidence-based practices, I relied on the information it contained. Now, the SPF is engrained in how I think about data and prevention.”

The Maine guide also served to increase the visibility of Maine’s epidemiological workgroup. Rogers explains, “Though communities may not be acutely aware of [the presence and work of their epidemiological workgroup], the Maine guide and subsequent products keep communities engaged with the data the workgroup collects and raises their capacity to engage in data-driven work.”

For more information contact:

Anne Rogers, Data and Resource Manager for Maine Office of Substance Abuse, at anne.rogers@maine.gov

Alisa Male, Contract Administrator of SAMHSA’s State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW) contract, at alisam@smdi.com

Published: 
07/01/15
Last Updated: 07/24/2018