SCOPE Thought Piece, Question #3: What are the cutting-edge prevention best practices that you would recommend?

Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D.

Among the many aspects of the educational environment that are associated with a problem, some are more easily modified than others.  For example, past experiences which contribute to problems cannot be changed and some personality characteristics are not easily modified.  What can be changed are:  1) elements of the environment that facilitate problems (and the characteristics that inhibit them); 2) norms and perceptions that encourage problems or impede people’s reactions to them; 3) the response of bystanders to problem behaviors, and finally, 4) problem or issue-specific aspects of the environment.  For these reasons, I personally recommend a combination of environmental management, the social norms approach, and bystander intervention. The elements of the “environmental management” approach have been well-elaborated by the Higher Education Center ( and their website is an excellent resource.

My own work and writings have focused on the social norms approach (see my website and the website of the National Social Norms Institute, and more recently, on teaching the skills and theory of effective bystander intervention.  These three approaches have been scientifically validated and can be effective when implemented appropriately consistent with the guidelines mentioned above.  While any one of these approaches can be employed effectively, a comprehensive approach which utilizes them in a synergistic manner will be stronger.  Good prevention is therefore not an “either/or” approach (i.e. choosing one practice to implement) but a process of combining multiple elements in a “both/and” manner to create synergy between them and to multiply their impacts.

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2 Responses to SCOPE Thought Piece, Question #3: What are the cutting-edge prevention best practices that you would recommend?

  1. Michelle, I think SCOPE should develop a poster from Alan’s four points, above, entitled: What Can Be Changed. That poster should hang on the wall in every prevention practitioner’s office, and should be a slide that prevention practitioners use when informing supervisors, administrators, school and campus leaders and other key audiences of what their office does and what goals it is seeking to accomplish. Alan, thanks for framing so accessibly and obviously a concept that is not easily made accessible or obvious.

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