Linda Langford, Sc.D.
Prevention should always be strategic in the sense that each component of the effort should be systematically planned based on data and research with overall aims in mind. However, improvements to a prevention initiative can be incremental and still be strategic. Making incremental changes is not the same as creating efforts piecemeal, although they might seem similar on the surface. The key to success is making changes to individual components with the bigger picture in mind. For example, a planning team might choose to focus their efforts in a given year on assessing and improving a core prevention curriculum for first-year students that serves as one element of an overall prevention effort. This review would address both the curriculum itself and how it fits in as part of a larger initiative. One good group exercise is to list the goals and objectives for both the overall initiative and for the specific curriculum (one trick is to use “change language” like increase and decrease for each goal or objective.) Then review the curriculum content, as well as the audience, timing, dosage, related prevention efforts and any assessment results, asking yourselves whether what you’re teaching and how you’re teaching it are succeeding in achieving the desired results. Armed with this analysis, the group can then begin to make decisions about the content, timing, dosage and audience of the core curriculum, considering both curriculum-specific and overarching aims.
In terms of recommendations for constructing a curriculum, there are some general principles that apply. For example, successfully increasing skills requires that participants have the opportunity to practice them and receive feedback, and complex information usually will require multiple “doses” over time. However, most decisions regarding content, timing, dosage and audience depend on the aims of the curriculum and how it fits into the overall initiative. We recommend that planning teams start by clarifying their goals and objectives based on an assessment and then choose or create the curriculum to achieve those desired results.