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Iowa’s Coordinated Town Hall Meetings

Underage drinking is clearly a problem that can best be resolved through a unified approach. In Iowa, community-based organizations that host a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are an example of statewide collaboration. Recommendations made by the National Prevention Network of community-based organizations (CBOs) to be invited to host Town Halls are coordinated through the Iowa Department of Public Health. An independent statewide organization, the Alliance of Coalitions for Change (AC4C), agrees to help coordinate scheduling of these events and also the culmination meeting, which is held after all of the other Iowa Town Hall Meetings have taken place. For 2012, 33 events were scheduled across the state.

AC4C communicates with participating Iowa CBOs and provides them with Town Hall Meeting survey questions. In 2012, some questions that AC4C asked all event organizers to add to their participant surveys included “How easy is it for youth to obtain alcohol?” or “Where do youth obtain alcohol?” At the culmination meeting, survey results and other issues and recommendations identified at the earlier events are reported. AC4C uses survey data to help frame support for state-level policy changes. The survey provides snapshots of the underage drinking environment in Iowa, accessibility to alcohol by underage drinkers statewide, and opportunities for implementing prevention measures across the state. In this way, Town Hall Meetings provide Iowa with an ongoing mechanism for gathering community feedback that can be used to assess progress in reducing and preventing underage alcohol use and its consequences. In the 2012 AC4C survey, for example, 88 percent of youth and 97 percent of adults answered “Yes” to the question “Do you believe adults who provide alcohol to youth on their own property should be held accountable?”

Other states may want to adopt the Iowa model in making Town Hall Meetings an integrated element of continuous, statewide strategic planning.

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