Strategies, activities, and programs that evaluation research has shown to be effective are based on evidence. Some of these activities help individuals develop the intentions and skills to act in a healthy manner. Others focus on creating safe and supportive learning environments.
After two decades of prevention programming and evaluation, those charged with implementing prevention programs can now choose from a range of strategies and approaches that have solid research evidence demonstrating their effectiveness. This brings a high standard of research evidence into the decision-making process while taking into account the contextual and experiential factors that influence decisions. Evidence-based prevention refers to a set of prevention activities that evaluation research has shown to be effective. Definitions of what constitutes "evidence" have been debated in the literature and the field, but most agree that evidence is extremely important for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers charged with the task of making decisions about the funding and implementation of prevention strategies. A Centers for Disease Control feature, Using Different Types of Evidence in Decision Making, provides guidance on using evidence in decision-making processes, most notably in violence prevention.
SAMHSA’s Identifying and Selecting Evidence-Based Interventions provides the following guidelines for confidence in evidence-based strategies:
- Guideline 1: The intervention is based on a theory of change that is documented in a clear logic or conceptual mode.
- Guideline 2: The intervention is similar in content and structure to interventions that appear in registries and the peer-reviewed literature.
- Guideline 3: The intervention is supported by documentation that it has been effectively implemented in the past, and multiple times, in a manner attentive to scientific standards of evidence, and with results that show a consistent pattern of credible and positive effects.
- Guideline 4: The intervention is reviewed and deemed appropriate by a panel of informed prevention experts that includes well-qualified prevention researchers who are experienced in evaluating prevention interventions similar to those under review; local prevention practitioners; and key community leaders as appropriate, e.g., officials from law enforcement and education sectors or elders within indigenous cultures.
Colleges and universities should select carefully those approaches most consistent with the campus culture and then adapt them to addressing the particular characteristics of the institution and surrounding community.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report A Call to Action (2002), “the research community can provide schools with techniques that will enable them to realistically assess their alcohol-related problems, develop research-based programs designed to prevent or ameliorate these problems, adjust programs to meet individual schools’ needs, and define measurable outcomes that can be used periodically to reflect a program’s success or the need for its further adjustment.
New techniques have enabled researchers to compare alcohol-related problems in large groups of college students and their noncollege peers and to map the extent of these problems, nationally and regionally. Armed with this information, researchers can determine how new laws and policies, alcohol-prevention programs, and trends in the general population affect drinking patterns among college students and their noncollege peers. Research shows that a number of personal factors, from family background to alcohol use during high school, influence college students' drinking patterns. In the college environment, additional factors contribute to drinking patterns; for example, membership in fraternities or sororities, sports teams, and other social groups and college organizational factors such as size, location, and number of commuter students. Recent techniques enable researchers to test models for prevention that encompass a multiplicity of factors.
The strength of evidence, or “evidence status,” of tested approaches will fall somewhere along a continuum from weak to strong. Strong evidence means that the approach “works”—that it generates a pattern of positive outcomes attributed to the approach itself, and that it reliably produces the same pattern of positive outcomes for certain populations under certain conditions.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report A Call to Action (2002) states: “Sound research follows the principles of the scientific method and uses as many rigorous methodological techniques as possible when designing studies. Among those techniques are randomized assignment of study subjects to control and experimental groups, use of pre- and postobservations or multiple observations when feasible, and use of probability sampling. Whereas findings from inadequately designed, implemented, or analyzed research can lead to erroneous conclusions, credible research advances the practice of alcohol problem prevention and treatment by generating, methodically applying, and testing new ideas.”
According to SAMHSA’s Identifying and Selecting Evidence-Based Interventions, "even evidence from multiple studies may be judged insufficient to resolve all doubts about the likely effectiveness of an approach designed for a different population or situation. When deciding between two approaches, experts suggest choosing the one for which there is stronger evidence of effectiveness if the approach is similar, equivalent, and equally well matched to the community’s unique circumstances.”