Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Step 2. Build Capacity

Individual and Community Readiness

Assessing readiness involves looking at how ready a community is to accept that a substance abuse problem needs to change, and take action to change the problem. It describes the degree to which individuals, organizations, and/or communities are:

  • Psychologically prepared to recognize prioritized problems as genuine local concerns, and 
  • Motivated to commit their resources to address those problems. 

A community with a low level of readiness for prevention either fails to recognize that it has a substance use problem or denies that one exists. In contrast, a community with a very high level of readiness has not only acknowledged that a problem exists, but has also cultivated community leadership for and participation in prevention efforts, initiated programs and services, and modified and expanded efforts based on regularly collected program and community data. Most communities, however, fall somewhere in between these two extremes. 

It's necessary to think critically about who really needs to function at a high level of readiness for your prevention initiative to be effective. The following are some key groups to consider: 

  • Prevention task force members: Often charged with the responsibility of spearheading prevention efforts, task force members should function at a high level of readiness. Furthermore, task force members must be ready, themselves, before they can begin to promote readiness among others. It is critical, then, that task force members understand the community’s priority problems and genuinely understand and support each step of the SPF process. 
  • Influential community leaders and decision-makers: These may be key stakeholders such as the Chief of Police, the heads of the local Board of Health and Licensing Board, and the Superintendent of Schools. They include individuals who can either make or break your initiative. For example, in one community the schools and parents wanted police to inform them when underage youth were found drinking at parties; however, the Chief of Police was resistant because he thought young people needed safe places to have fun without the risk of getting in trouble. A prevention initiative targeting underage drinking in this community would need to understand and promote the Chief’s level of readiness in order to be effective.
  • Vocal community groups: Parents, young people, special interest groups, activists, and others in your community may feel strongly about substance use, the related problems in the community, or how they are addressed. For example, the police in one community were severely reprimanded by the Attorney General for failing to enforce underage drinking laws. As a result, the Chief of Police instructed officers to strictly enforce these laws. This action was met with great resistance from parents who were more concerned about their children getting into college than about their drinking habits. In this case, an influential community leader was functioning at a high level of readiness, but an important and vocal segment of the community was not. 
  • Motivated and well-positioned community members: Never doubt the potential of a single, highly-motivated, and well-connected community member to bring about change. For example, the mother of a high school football player in one community noticed that alcohol was served at every sporting event, including post-game parties. No one ever considered doing things differently—until she came along. Over a two-year period, she worked to increase the level of readiness among other parents to change this. Alcohol is no longer served at sporting events in this community.

"Matching an intervention to a community’s level of readiness is absolutely essential for success. Interventions must be challenging enough to move a community forward in its level of readiness. However, efforts that are too ambitious are likely to fail because community members will not be ready or able to respond."

- From Community Readiness: A Handbook for Successful Change


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