Town Halls Meetings Are Getting to Outcomes—California
Community-based organizations in California are bearish in using Town Hall Meetings to mobilize their communities around evidence-based prevention of underage drinking. In 2010, community-based organizations held more than 100 events in 40 of the state’s 58 counties and timed their events to occur during April, which is Alcohol Awareness Month. A report prepared by the Governor’s Prevention Advisory Council (GPAC) Underage Drinking Prevention Workgroup found that 20 percent of these events resulted in plans to develop a social host ordinance or other alcohol-related legislation. Additionally, 5 percent of the events led to development of new community coalitions, and 17 percent recruited new members for existing coalitions. The GPAC report concluded that “The THMs [Town Hall Meetings] represent an important step in addressing underage drinking and implementing the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking which states, ‘Underage alcohol use is everybody’s problem—and its solution is everybody’s responsibility.’”
Promotion of California Town Hall Meetings took place on both the state and the local levels. The California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP), in partnership with California Alcoholic Beverage Control and the California Friday Night Live Partnership, sent a toolkit of Town Hall Meeting promotional materials and handouts to each participating community-based organization in the state. ADP also sent out a statewide press release in March 2010, which also provided a list of locations, dates, and times for the 104 planned Town Hall Meetings in California. Community-based organizations supplemented this release with more localized promotions, most commonly using e-mail or some other electronic media source, such as Facebook, to market their event.
A noteworthy change between California Town Hall Meetings held in 2008 and those in 2010 was an increase in the number of young people who took charge of planning and conducting the events in their communities. An overwhelming 87 percent of 2010 Town Hall Meetings in California featured youth presenters, followed by community leaders at 82 percent of events. A majority of the community-based organizations also used materials created by youth, such as video documentaries and PowerPoint slides. One community-based organization reported that its youth developed a “photovoice” showing community conditions related to alcohol and alcohol advertising. Younger Town Hall planners pulled in younger audiences, too: The GPAC survey found that if youth planned the event, youth were likely to be well represented in the Town Hall Meeting audience. The GPAC report attributed the increase in youth participation to the involvement of California Friday Night Live Partnership, one of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national partner organizations in the biennial Town Hall Meeting initiatives.
Most respondents to the GPAC survey reported that coordinating and planning a Town Hall Meeting was hard work, but definitely worth the effort. For example, respondents from the Sacramento metropolitan area, where more than one Town Hall Meeting was conducted, reported that the events played an important role in passage of a local social host ordinance. Other community-based organizations pointed to the opportunity presented by Town Hall Meetings to engage parents and the community in candid conversations about their roles in addressing the issue. Almost all reporting community-based organizations planned to hold future events.
Planning coordinators for the Town Hall Meetings in California made these recommendations for future event hosts:
- Plan early and advertise well in advance of the event.
- Partner with other agencies in your community.
- Make resource documents available in languages other than English.
- Engage youth in event planning. Youth-led events empower youth and draw large numbers of youth participants.
- Have attendees commit to a pledge of action, and have someone responsible for followup.
2012 Town Hall Meetings
Community-based organizations in California pledged to hold more than 90 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-sponsored Town Hall Meetings during 2012. Another statewide report on how these meetings support local efforts in “getting to outcomes” in preventing underage drinking is under development.