The first question I ask any client when helping them tweak their primary prevention efforts is always: “What are we trying to accomplish?” 

Usually, the response I get is high-level. 

“Prevent sexual violence,” or “ensure that out communities know about resources and understand our policies.”

Sometimes, it gets a little deeper, skewing towards ideas like increasing the number of reports, better engagement at events, or reaching new populations. 

This later category is a little closer to where our goals should be, but the hard news is that with goals like this, these efforts are bound to fail. One of the fatal flaws that I see with primary prevention campaigns is they are rarely given specific enough goals

Prevention is a complex matter that must factor in issues like community buy-in, shifts in societal beliefs, the adoption of effective skills, and determining how to quantify change. Where a high level approach is admirable, and ending sexual violence in totality is the reason I do this work, it doesn’t create a strong enough foundation. 

Measuring prevention efforts is intricate, difficult, and time consuming. Setting the right goals for a prevention campaign shouldn’t resort to easy measures of success like the number of attendees, eyeballs on the screen, or people reached. In fact, leaning into the difficult implicit in prevention makes for better efforts.

The following are a few things to consider when creating goals that measure the impact of your prevention efforts.

Use Data to Determine Your Goals

Always ground your goals in data. Preferred data can stem from formal assessment whether climate surveys, Clery or Title IX reporting for your populations, incidents that have occurred in the community as reported to law enforcement, etc.

Data can also stem from outside partners. For example, when I often support universities, I challenge them to reach out to any school districts where they might be recruiting a significant population of students. Any historical data available, whether pertaining to incidents or sexual education curriculum, paints a better picture on the overarching issue. From national data concerning relevant populations to statistics from peer institutions, the more data you can pull from, the better. 

Goals Should Focus on the Roots and Wounds

Preventing sexual violence is like attempting to relocate a forest. Making this change requires a clear understanding of the root systems (beliefs, cultures, and values), their intertwined nature, and how to excavate these over time. 

Time dependent, though, there also needs to be a focus on the wounds. If we’re thinking of the systems of sexual violence like a forest, a fallen tree or fire cannot be ignored. The roots will have to wait. 

Our campaigns must be flexible. They need to target the community-rooted problems while simultaneously adapting to current events whether this is an incident of sexual violence that has occurred in our community or tackling issues relevant to the world at large. 

When Goal Setting Less is More

When it comes to goal settings, not only do we need to be hyper-focused, but we need to focus on few goals.

In setting campaigns, I have found a good system that works to pare down the number of goals we are focusing on. Start by clearly identifying the ten most important goals you want to address. Be hyper-specific in labeling these.

Sexual violence prevention can include addressing rising issues of domestic or dating violence. It can include tackling community engrained concepts that empower rape myths to thrive. It might be addressing frank misunderstandings of consent widely held by one population. Create the initial list of the ten most pressing obstacles.  Here are two questions that help this process: 

What issues are the most pressing?

What issues are foundational to understanding the other issues?

After using these questions as a guide, your next task is to rank your issues in order of importance. There has to be a clear order. 

Once you have your ranked list, look at the top five. Reevaluate their order. Double check none of these can fit with other obstacles.

Now, narrow it down to the three biggest priorities. 

These three goals will serve as the foundation for your next three to six months of efforts. Other issues can be added onto these where appropriate- an effective prevention event can absolutely meet multiple goals- but these three are your biggest focus.

Keep track of the other goals to consider later but stay narrow in your initial scope.

Constantly Evaluate Your Goals

As the campaign moves forward, the goals should be regularly assessed through informal and formalized channels. The good news is that the first few steps of setting hyper-specific goals provides you a strong foundation for assessment. Formalized assessment is one that we know all too well: pre and post surveys, climate studies, and institution-approved research. Within our arena, from compliance to scrutiny, these measures are the gold standard. 

Informal assessments should not be discounted.

Once, I was supporting a campus where the same small group of individuals showed up to their events on sexual violence, excepting the few times events were made mandatory. The staff was at a loss. They frequently talked with the regular attendees. Confirmation existed that the events were engaging. 

Why then did the general population seem disconnected?

Well, the campus wasn’t talking to the populations they were targeting. At first, my campus partner wanted to launch a survey to perspective attendees. Instead, I recommended that we go out in-person. We attended student organization meetings and met directly with athletic teams. We talked to some of the populations they were trying to reach.

The first issue? People didn’t know about the events or activities in question. The second? Messaging felt too formal or punitive in nature, often using compliance terminology that confused students. The third, and largest, problem? 

The students didn’t feel an immediate connection to the issue. Although the goals were right for community based on formal assessment, these aims were not being communicated in a way that the students felt was relevant. 

The goals were right from a prevention planning perspective; the communication about them was not right for the target audience. 

This led us back to the drawing board of marketing. We kept the same goals but figured out better ways to communicate them. We talked with students and figured out how to better discuss the prevention efforts to generate interest. We made the outreach more relevant to the students.

Sure enough, attendance and engagement went up. 

Informal assessment, talking to attendees, working with not only the most engaged but least engaged members of our community, taking time to explore how outside sources view our efforts; all of these are critical to setting better goals and communicating these goals more effectively. 

When we set clearer goals and engage in regular assessment, it paints a picture of how our efforts are working. Taking what you learn, figure out the tweaks. This doesn’t mean completely overhauling the campaign a few days before an initiative. It does mean small shifts to marketing language, event logistics, education offered, or resources created. The more we can assess and pivot, the better we can serve.

Be Clear About The Length of Your Goals

Prevention campaigns need a set start and end date. If you find yourself slotting activities into an unending time frame and never pausing to consider when the campaign has concluded, chances are it is time to pause to recalibrate.

Pauses are vital in prevention planning to reassess goals and figure out what is working. And to recalibrate based on the multitude of occurrences, communal shifts, or societal events that might have happened since your campaign launched. 

Document Everything

Keep track of everything from the assessment tools used to action plans created to campaign session review notes. Documentation helps us keep track of our progress. And it builds a broader framework to use when making future decisions. When working in prevention, it can feel difficult to see the forest from the trees. Being able to look back on goals from years ago and analyze them from our current lens can paint a compelling picture of what we need to do moving forward. 

Keep clear track of your goals and any tools you use to measure them. The virtual and physical documentation of these plans and tools will be instrumental in future efforts.

Setting the right goals is one of the cornerstones of a successful violence prevention campaign. When done properly it not only makes our initiatives more effective, it also takes work off of our plate.

For a few more resources on planning successful prevention campaigns, I’d love to chat with you directly about the obstacles you are facing or provide further resources.

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