Representatives from five innovative community-based substance abuse prevention programs, developed by and for Native American peoples, gathered at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC to participate in the fifth annual Native American Service to Science Academy on April 19-20, 2012. Two of SAMHSA’s national technical assistance centers—the Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies (CAPT) and the Native American Center for Excellence (NACE)—offered the two-day workshop.
The purpose of Service to Science is two-fold. First, it supports innovative local interventions seeking to strengthen their capacity to demonstrate and document evidence of effectiveness in impacting substance use and behavioral health in targeted populations. This is particularly important in Native communities, which are disproportionately affected by substance abuse and for which culturally specific prevention programs are not often rigorously evaluated. Second, it aims to increase the pool of effective prevention interventions from which States, Tribes, and Jurisdictions can select to address substance abuse.
“Service to Science is all about helping organizations evaluate their prevention programs with greater rigor,” explains Shai Fuxman, the Native American Service to Science Academy lead for SAMHSA’s CAPT. “We do this by connecting local-level programs to top-notch evaluation experts. We match our technical assistance providers to programs based on needs, areas of expertise, and geographic proximity.”
Prior to the Academy, CAPT and NACE evaluation technical assistance providers visited each program site to meet with program representatives and other stakeholders. Providers learned about community strengths and needs and how the program was being implemented, and assessed the program’s readiness to tackle its evaluation needs.
During the Academy, participants met with CAPT and NACE technical assistance providers to begin developing action plans that outline specific activities for strengthening their evaluation efforts. These included tasks such as prioritizing program activities to determine where to focus evaluation efforts, identifying core program elements, developing a program logic model, and conducting a review of the literature to inform a program’s theoretical framework. The teams developed these action plans collaboratively, to reflect goals set by the program representatives themselves.
“The Academy is really just the beginning of the Service to Science year,” Fuxman says. Follow-up technical assistance is a continuation of the learning community experience and an integral part of the initiative. Over the next six months, programs will be offered 40 hours of technical assistance to use in any way they choose, whether it be designing an evaluation plan or more concretely mapping out a theory of change, Fuxman explains.
The five programs selected to participate in this year’s Academy serve Native American communities in four states: Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. These programs approach substance abuse prevention in diverse ways, from offering family-centered and community-driven Healthy Start services to Native American mothers and infants, to increasing community collaboration to make the environmental changes necessary to reduce youth substance use. The five programs are:
“The Academy was a great opportunity for us,” says Bill Fullerton, Clinical Director of the American Indian Family Center in St. Paul, Minnesota that implements the Wakanyeja Kin Wakan Pi program. “We were supported to apply American Indian ways of thinking to building a logic model and evaluation plan that incorporates a healthy blend of western scientific thought and traditional American Indian ways of knowing.”
Service to Science participants are also eligible for a subcontract of up to $30,000 (pending availability of funds) to make specific enhancements to their evaluation efforts, such as conducting a process or implementation evaluation, running more complex data analyses, or preparing an article for publication.