2012 Town Hall Meetings: Hey, Look What You Did!!!
Wow! That’s the first word that comes to mind when reviewing the preliminary results of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2012 Town Hall Meetings initiative to prevent underage drinking. Despite budget, staff, and capacity reductions faced by many community-based organizations (CBOs) committed to prevention, hundreds of you responded to the call. Almost 1,400 CBOs to date have registered on the Town Hall Meetings subsite their intent to host a total of 1,546 events. But these numbers don’t even begin to tell the real success story about this year’s Town Hall Meetings.
In 2012, Town Hall Meetings were held in every state, the District of Columbia, and six territories (i.e., American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Palau, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). SAMHSA captured some indicators of the success of these events from the online Organizer Survey, which more than 70 percent of CBOs completed. A preliminary analysis of survey data indicates that 41.7 percent of the 2012 Town Hall Meetings discussed possible changes in local policies and legislation. More specifically, almost one fifth (18.4 percent) of CBOs said that their events resulted in plans to introduce or implement a social host ordinance.
About 400 selected CBOs participating in this year’s initiative each received 40 copies of a printed participant form to hand out and collect at their events. More than 5,000 forms have been received to date, and clearly show that Town Hall Meetings fill an information need in the eyes of attendees. For example, 81.5 percent of participants said that they acquired new information about underage drinking and its consequences from Town Hall Meetings they attended. Sixty-six percent reported that the Town Hall Meeting event addressed the most important underage drinking issue(s) facing their community to “a great deal,” while the number-one concern identified among 55.5 percent of participants was easy youth access to alcohol. These responses demonstrate that this year’s increased attention to evidence-based environmental prevention responded well to what troubles many of the youth and adults in attendance.
In 2012, SAMHSA responded to requests from CBOs for a national Town Hall Meetings theme that might unify nationwide events. The chosen theme was Getting to Outcomes to convey the idea that these activities could be an integral part of a community’s comprehensive plan to achieve measurable reductions in underage drinking. SAMHSA supported this tagline with action-oriented materials about environmental prevention—a proven approach to reduce underage drinking—and a series of corresponding Town Hall Meeting e-alert articles and two national webcasts.
While the number of CBOs that adopted the 2012 theme is unknown, it is clear that many CBOs embraced the spirit of the theme and structured their events to promote prevention strategies that were achieving good outcomes. A preliminary analysis of media coverage of Town Hall Meetings supports a finding that environmental prevention was a key topic for many events. Social host ordinances led the list of recommended policies, followed by compliance checks, responsible beverage service training requirements, and other policy-oriented approaches.
The 2012 Town Hall Meetings have been a catalyst for underage drinking prevention efforts, from more conversations between children and their parents to greater commitments from communities to enact stronger prevention measures. Youth themselves are becoming more active self-advocates. More than three fourths of CBOs responding to the Organizer Survey indicated that youth played roles in planning and organizing their events.
Achieving positive outcomes from underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings isn’t a new concept. But the extra effort CBOs put into this year’s initiative is yielding impressive returns.