Shifting the Norm - Changing Rural Alcohol Culture Through Youth Engagement in Horsham
CeRDI researchers have undertaken a pilot study in the Horsham region of Victoria to identify strategies and interventions which have the potential to shift cultural norms in the consumption of alcohol by young people.
As part of the VicHealth’s Alcohol Culture Change Grants for Local Councils, CeRDI was engaged to collaborate with the Horsham Rural City Council (HRCC) to conduct research and promote cultural change with respect to alcohol use by youth in Horsham.
HRCC was one of eight council’s state-wide to receive funding for a pilot (Stage 1) study to assess alcohol culture and identify potential health interventions leading to cultural change and safer, reduced alcohol consumption for young people in the region.
The project aims to capture insights that will form an understanding of the current practices of alcohol consumption and alcohol misuse in the region, and to identify opportunities for cultural change to reduce alcohol use.
Under the research leadership of Dr Angela Murphy, together with Meghan Taylor and Jennifer Corbett, the Stage 1 study sought to examine alcohol culture relating to the sub-population of young people (aged 15-20) within the HRCC through an examination of:
- The influence of rurality on the behaviours, attitudes and social norms for the identified sub-population
- The settings in which the sub-population was most likely to drink
- The influence of peers, parents and community on the sub-population
- The impact of gender on alcohol culture within and across the sub-population
- The strategies most likely to support change in alcohol culture for this sub-population within the context of rurality
Over 200 individuals were involved in data collection, 55% from the sub-population and 45% from the broader community. A consistent theme to emerge across the different data collection methods was the influence of rurality on attitudes and beliefs relating to drinking behaviours, across the sub-population, and across settings. As a result of the Stage 1 study, the following has been identified as relevant to the sub-population:
- Alcohol is viewed as a key mechanism to have fun in an environment with limited options for entertainment. Drinking until you are drunk is a dominant and accepted norm within the sub-population. The lack of alternative activities for rural youth was found to play a role in sustaining this worldview as drinking was conceptualised as a logical and readily accessible alternative to alleviate boredom and to connect with peers.
- The most common settings for drinking behaviour for this sub-population was identified as parties and smaller social gatherings within private homes and in rural locations (farms and halls). Pre-loading prior to attending these settings is a behavioural norm.
- Drinking to risky levels was found to be more likely to occur within a party setting, with alcohol used as a mechanism to socialise, fit in and belong to an identified social group. Those choosing not to drink risk exclusion and identified the need to develop strategies to either hide that they are not drinking or to gain acceptance as a non-drinker within a setting in which drinking (often at risky levels) is the dominant norm.
- Ease of access to alcohol has a significant influence on levels of drinking with the main source of supply identified as being siblings, older peers and parents.
- An exploration of local role models relevant to the sub-population failed to identify role models that had relevance and influence across the sub-population. Parents and peers were identified as being those most likely to shape and influence behaviour within the sub-population.
- While there are no notable differences in quantity of alcohol consumed by males and females within the sub-population, there are distinct gender differences in patterns of drinking and in the level and type of risk taking behaviour. There is also difference in the extent to which drinking is accepted and conceptualised by the broader rural community based on gender.
In addition to the qualitative research findings, a range of important insights were identified through a desktop review including best practice strategies and interventions.
Important strategies for the prevention and intervention of alcohol misuse amongst young people were found to involve collaboration with a wide range of committed stakeholders from within affected communities. Stakeholders included education providers, media, liquor-sales outlets, parents of young people, and the young people themselves.
Social marketing was another method found to be successful in both addressing alcohol misuse and promoting positive behaviour change.
This research data will be used to inform the development of Stage 2 for this project comprising a model to promote a shift in existing alcohol culture among rural young people. The model will provide a multi-level strategy targeting key stakeholders; young people, parents and the wider community.
The innovative elements of this project are found in:
- Placing the planning for change within the control of the sub-population
- Tailoring a multi-level solution specific to a rural location and the characteristics of that location
- Placing technology at the centre of the education and support process
- Providing the opportunity for combined educational processes for young people and parents to ensure that there is a shared platform for change
- Creating an activity based social marketing solution which acknowledge the link between the lack of socialisation activities across rural communities and high risk drinking behaviour in party settings. This approach will work to redefine notions of fun, while working to shift cultural norms relating to alcohol use. This acknowledgement is likely to shape and inform the change process
- Running a parallel Action Research process which will ensure that shifts are captured and implemented as they are identified
A qualitative methodology was used in the study to facilitate the examination of the social impacts of drinking and alcohol use, and to best capture the social and cultural influences on behaviours and attitudes relating to risky drinking for this sub-population.
The research included a desktop review of current literature together with comprehensive local data collection involving surveys and focus group meetings with representative agencies across the region and with young people.
Consultation included interviews (n = 37) and focus groups with young people and representatives from the sports association, youth services, local government, police, health and community services, ambulance and education providers.
In addition, surveys were widely disseminated across the community with over 150 completed.
The results of Stage 1 research have built an understanding of the current practices of alcohol consumption and alcohol misuse in the HRCC. Findings from this research have provided the foundation for another funding submission to VicHealth to conduct Stage 2 of the project.
It was recently announced that HRCC, in partnership with CeRDI, have been successful in securing Stage 2 funding to deliver the interventions identified in Stage 1 over the next two years.
The project titled ‘Rural youth action – Challenging Alcohol Norms (RyACAN)’ involves a multidimensional approach which targets key stakeholders; young people, parents and the wider community to shift norms around alcohol consumption and alcohol misuse in the region.
The program will include building knowledge, awareness and capacity, an integrated education program for parents and young people, and a social marketing campaign to counter current perceived norms and promote alternative choices for young people.
Horsham Rural City Council and CeRDI. (2017). Alcohol Culture Change Initiative for Local Councils: Stage 1 Final Report. Stage 1 Findings and Stage 2 Proposal. Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation. Federation University Australia. 47p.