Over the past 25 years, the field of substance abuse prevention has come into its own. Researchers have made great strides in identifying effective programs, strategies, and principles that focus on preventing and reducing substance abuse and related risky behaviors. Communities implementing these programs have learned a good deal about what works and what doesn't. And increasing effort—and money—is going into disseminating this knowledge, so that today's practitioners can apply to their own prevention efforts the lessons learned by their predecessors.
With so much information at our fingertips, we are in the unique position to “do it right.” We can develop prevention initiatives that are based on the science of prevention and select from a menu of programs that have been rigorously evaluated and shown to be effective. We can avoid guesswork, use our time and resources more efficiently, and implement programs that meet the needs of our communities and have the greatest likelihood of making an impact.
Furthermore, we have a responsibility to do so. Because if we don't, there is a greater likelihood that our programs will not produce the outcomes we hope for.
Yet, program selection is a hard thing to do. Not all programs are right for all communities. Sorting through the growing number of evidence-based prevention programs currently on the market, accessing the information you need to make informed decisions, and finding the time to do this process justice can all be challenging—which is where feasibility assessment comes in.
What Is Feasibility Assessment?
Feasibility assessment is a structured, systematic process designed to help you assess the ease of implementing a single program or to choose the most appropriate program from among several possibilities.
Determining the feasibility of implementing a particular program—whether you can afford to deliver it, as prescribed, or have the space to do so or a school superintendent who will support your efforts—is a critical step in program selection. Yet, with so many factors contributing to feasibility, keeping them straight and knowing which ones to prioritize can feel overwhelming. Feasibility assessment can facilitate this process.
One way to think about it is to envision a series of filters—criteria that you can apply to programs so that, in the end, the most suitable programs remain. “Most suitable” means those programs that meet the needs you have identified and can be implemented with greatest fidelity to their original program models—given your target population, organizational capacity, and current community conditions.
Why Is Feasibility Assessment Important?
Some prevention practitioners make choices among programs based on their personal preferences or the advice of other colleagues. For example, they might choose a program used successfully by a neighboring community, or one that includes methodologies—such as role playing or video-viewing—that they believe are effective and with which they feel comfortable. At its worst, this is like choosing a curriculum because you like the color of the cover (or choosing a car because you like the cup holder). Feasibility assessment creates a systematic process whereby you can select the program that fits best and avoid relying on your personal preferences.
Feasibility assessment can also help you determine if, or the extent to which, program adaptation will be necessary. All too often, program adaptation is considered the only solution to a bad fit between organizational capacity and program requirements (Harding et. al., 2003). However, it is sometimes possible to increase your capacity so that fewer adaptations are necessary. Feasibility assessment can help you identify areas where this may be possible.
The first step in selection is always to find a program, or programs, that meet your identified needs and objectives. (If you can't, then you should probably choose another priority need.) Once you've narrowed your list, feasibility assessment can help you hone in on the one that best fits your local conditions and is most likely to help you reach your goals.
The Feasibility Toolkit offers one approach for carrying out a feasibility assessment. The tool provides checklists for six areas to be considered as part of this process: Resources, Target Population, Organizational Climate, Community Climate, Evaluability and Future Sustainability.” For example, under Organizational Climate, the following elements are scored: willingness to accept a new prevention program, its fit with existing prevention efforts, the buy-in of key leaders, the buy-in of staff, and a favorable history with similar efforts (e.g., critical incidents, previous program success).
Click below to access the Feasibility Toolkit.
Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract (Reference #HHSS277200800004C).