STEP 3: Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is pivotal to prevention success. It brings together all of your data collection and capacity-planning work to create an overall vision of what your coalition is attempting to do and how it will evaluate the results of its efforts. Strategic planning increases the effectiveness of your prevention efforts by focusing energy, ensuring that staff and other stakeholders are working toward the same goals, and providing the means for assessing and adjusting programmatic direction as needed.

Use the information you obtained via your needs assessment to develop a strategic plan for addressing substance misuse and abuse in your community. Detailed guidelines on developing a strategic plan are provided here.

STEP 3: Strategic Planning comprises the following primary tasks:

TASK 1: Prioritize Intervening Variables

Intervening variables are factors identified in the literature as being related to substance misuse and abuse, including risk and protective factors, in your community. For example:

·       Adolescents have easy access to alcohol in their parents’ homes

·       Adolescents do not perceive the use of alcohol as potentially harmful

·       Adults in the community host house parties in which alcohol is provided to all attendees regardless of age

·       Local businesses inconsistently implement responsible alcoholic beverage service strategies (e.g., always asking for identification and refusing to sell in absence of proper ID)

·       A college campus in your community has high levels of social availability of alcohol


Identifying these factors and prioritizing among them is a critical part of the SPF planning process.


While different criteria can be used to prioritize these variables, communities often consider two in particular when making this decision: importance, the extent to which various intervening variables impact the problem in question, and changeability, how easy it may be to change the intervening variable. You may want to select intervening variables that are high in both.


When prioritizing intervening variables, it is also important to look at substance misuse and abuse in a comprehensive way and to consider the potential consequences of addressing one risk or protective factor vs. another. For example, restricting or reducing access to certain substances may cause an increase in consumption of others. For each intervening variable you consider, think about the potential for unintended consequences and ways to anticipate and address these issues.


When examining the data you have collected, ask yourself how important a particular factor is in addressing substance misuse and abuse in your community.

Example: The problem is youth alcohol consumption, and the data show that youth are more likely to obtain alcohol from peers via their parents (social access) than from stores (via fake IDs or targeting stores that are known not to ask for ID). Therefore, social access is “high” in importance, whereas retail access is “low.”


When weighing the importance of intervening variables, consider the following:

·       Does the intervening variable impact other behavioral health issues?

Example: Poor parental monitoring may be a risk factor for not only alcohol misuse and abuse but also such risky behaviors as early sexual activity and prescription drug misuse and abuse. Therefore, focusing on this risk factor may impact more than one issue.

·       Do the intervening variables directly impact the specific developmental stage of those experiencing the problem?

Example: The identified problem is binge drinking among 18–25 year olds. Therefore, the risk factor of “parental monitoring” is less important than it would be among 12–17 year olds.


When assessing the changeability of a factor, you may want to consider the following:

·       Whether the community has the capacity—the readiness and resources—to change a particular intervening variable

·       Whether a suitable evidence-based intervention exists

·       Whether change can be brought about in a reasonable time frame (i.e., changing some intervening variables may take too long to be a practical solution)

·       Whether the changes can be sustained over time


If the community has ample resources and sufficient readiness to address this intervening variable, if a suitable evidence-based intervention exists, and if sustainable change can occur within a reasonable time frame, then the factor would be considered high in changeability. If there are not adequate resources or if the community is not ready to address the intervening variable, the changeability of the factor may be low.


Another factor you may want to consider is time lapse, or the amount of time between substance misuse and abuse and its consequences. A short time lapse may make it easier for you to show a relationship between your activities and improved outcomes.

TASK 2: Select Evidence-Based Interventions

When developing a plan to address substance misuse and abuse in your community, it is important to identify and select strategies that have been shown through research to be effective, are a good fit for your community, and are likely to promote sustained change.

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is a great body of research demonstrating the effectiveness of various strategies to reduce underage alcohol consumption and its consequences. Literature reviews, published studies, unpublished evaluation findings, and other resources may help you identify the strategies with the greatest potential to affect the intervening variables you identified as a priority.


A catalog of evidence-based strategies related to underage alcohol consumption, which includes assessments of the strength and effectiveness of the evidence, is available here.


For each strategy you consider:

·       Review the research evidence that describes how the strategy is related to your selected intervening variable(s)

·       Based on this evidence, present a rationale describing how the strategy addresses the intervening variable(s)

Note: Be sure to discuss potential strategies with your TA provider.

This process will help you develop a logic model that shows how your selected strategies will lead to improvements in outcomes related to substance misuse and abuse.

Conceptual Fit

Think about how relevant the strategy is to your community and how it is logically connected to your intervening variable(s) and desired outcomes. To determine conceptual fit, consider the following questions:

·       Has the strategy been tested with the identified target population? If so, how? If not, how can it be applied to the target population?

·       How will implementing this strategy in your local community help you achieve your anticipated outcomes?

Practical Fit

Given your community’s readiness, population, and general local circumstances, how effectively could you implement this strategy? Consider the following:

·       Resources (e.g., cost, staffing, access to target population)

·       Organizational or coalition climate (e.g., how the strategy fits with existing prevention or reduction efforts, the organization’s willingness to accept new programs, buy-in of key leaders)

·       Community climate (e.g., the community’s attitude toward the strategy, buy-in of key leaders)

·       Sustainability (e.g., community ownership of the strategy, renewable financial support, community champions)

Potential Impact

When selecting strategies, it is important to consider their comprehensiveness and potential for long-term impact. While strategies that are more narrow in focus (e.g., educating parents or teachers) may be simpler to implement, approaches aimed at changing policies, systems, and environments (e.g., development and implementation of social host liability laws) may be more likely to promote sustained improvement in outcomes.


TASK 3: Establish Outcomes for Each Strategy

For each selected strategy, you will need to establish measurable outcomes. Identify the intervening variable(s) being addressed, indicate the strategy, and list the anticipated outcomes: short-term (the change in the target group who received your strategy), intermediate (the change in the intervening variable), and long-term (the ultimate impact of the strategy on the issue identified in your problem statement).


  • Intervening variables: Poor parental monitoring and supervision of children, lack of clear parental disapproval of substance misuse and abuse
  • Strategy: Communication campaign aimed at reaching 90% of parents of eighth grade students with information on the importance of communicating the harms of alcohol use to their children
  • Outcomes:
    • Short-term: Parents of eighth grade students believe that alcohol use is harmful for youth
    • Intermediate: Parents of eighth-graders clearly communicate disapproval of alcohol use to their children
    • Long-term: Decreased rates of alcohol use among eighth grade youth
TASK 4: Identify Resources Needed for Implementation

Specify all resources needed to implement each selected strategy and to measure the related outcomes. Consider the following:

  • Human resources (e.g., staffing, partnerships, volunteers, coalition membership)
  • Skills (e.g., data collection and analysis, prevention and intervention knowledge and skills)
  • Fiscal resources (e.g., monetary, in-kind)
  • Material resources (e.g., space, equipment)
  • Existing resource gaps that will limit your ability to effectively implement the selected strategy or strategies
TASK 5: Develop a Logic Model

A logic model is a chart that describes how your effort or initiative is supposed to work and explains why your intervention is a good solution to the problem at hand. Effective logic models depict the activities that will bring about change and the results you expect to see in your community. A logic model keeps program planners moving in the same direction by providing a common language and point of reference.

Logic models may be used for various purposes (e.g., program planning, implementation, evaluation) and can feature different elements (e.g., inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes).

Use the information you gathered in Step 1 and Step 2 of the SPF to develop a community-level logic model that links local problems, related intervening variables, evidence-based strategies, and anticipated outcomes. Your logic model should include the following categories:

  • Problem statement (for BSAS initiatives, this is taken from the RFR [Request for Response])
  • Brief description of the local manifestation of the problem (can be quantitative, qualitative, or both)
  • Intervening variable(s) (the biological, social, environmental, and economic factors that research has shown to be related to substance use and consequences of use, including risk and protective factors)
  • Strategies (programs, policies, and/or practices to address the problem, and specifically the intervening variable; these should be evidenced-based, with measurable outputs—e.g., number of advertisements placed, sessions conducted, persons trained)
  • Target group
  • Outputs (the extent to which the strategies are being implemented as planned)
  • Expected outcomes (short-term, intermediate, and long-term)

Further guidance on developing a logic model, including a template and a completed example, is provided here.

TASK 6: Develop an Action Plan

An action plan is the detailed sequence of steps that must be taken for a strategy to succeed. It is one component of your larger strategic plan. An action plan states:

  • What you are trying to accomplish
  • Who is responsible
  • The timeline for completion
  • How you will measure success

Your action plan should be comprehensive, logical, and data-driven; it should include your community-level logic model, plans for addressing identified resource and readiness gaps, and how you have and will address issues of cultural competence and sustainability.

An Action Plan Template and a completed example are available here.

Keep in mind that good planning requires a group process. Whether decisions are made within a formal coalition or among a more informal group of partners, these decisions cannot represent the thoughts and ideas of just one person; they must reflect the ideas and input of individuals from across community

TASK 7: Monitor and Assess Cultural Competence

Cultural competence should be visibly interwoven throughout your intervention.

As noted by CADCA and the National Coalition Institute,36 members of your municipal grouping or coalition may come to the table with different levels of understanding regarding substance misuse and abuse and how to plan, implement, and evaluate interventions. Some may not be familiar with logic models or may not understand how a formal logic model may differ from their usual approaches. Ideally, you will not start working on a logic model until all coalition members understand and are comfortable with the process. Several training sessions may be needed to get everyone to the same baseline of understanding, thereby promoting fruitful discourse and consensus building.

Note: The cultural competence planning process may identify several areas of discord among members of your organization or coalition. This is actually a good opportunity to address these differences early on, thereby preventing the issues from resurfacing later and derailing your work.

To increase your group’s cultural competence, you’ll need to be open to modifying your planning and thinking processes to reflect the preferences of the target population(s).


Some American Indian and Alaska Native communities prefer planning processes that are circular, such as using a Mind Map to brainstorm rather than a linear list or table.

Faith-based organizations may believe that action-oriented plans should be tempered by other forms of spiritual guidance about the best way to move forward.

Listening to and incorporating different viewpoints will help you develop a plan that is culturally competent and shows respect for participants’ values, and is therefore more likely to succeed.36

A plan to increase your group’s cultural competence should do the following:

  • Include measurable goals and objectives with concrete timelines.

Example: Develop an outreach goal of contacting 30 different community organizations within six months, with the ultimate goal of recruiting 12 new partners.

  • Ensure that you are involving representatives from all sectors of the community in your prevention efforts.

Example: If the aim of your logic model is to reduce the consumption of alcohol among 10th-graders, outline the steps your group will take to include young adults from diverse backgrounds as full participants in your efforts, rather than solely as the target of your activities.

  • Indicate who is responsible for the proposed action steps, and outline some of the potential resources needed.

It’s important to review your cultural competence plan on a regular basis.

TASK 8: Develop an Evaluation Plan

It is a common misperception that evaluation starts only at the end of a project. Though evaluation is the focus of Step 5 of the SPF, it should be considered during each preceding step. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation are essential to determine whether your desired outcomes are achieved and to assess the effectiveness and impact of your intervention and the quality of service delivery. Data collection for evaluation purposes should be built into the project design and should be part of your strategic plan. Your evaluation will ultimately affect the sustainability of your intervention.

You will need to make plans to collect baseline information before implementing your intervention and to track outcomes over time by collecting quantitative and qualitative data. In addition, you should have a plan for securing and maintaining the commitment of community members, agencies, and other strategic partners who will be involved in the evaluation. By fostering relationships among all the partners involved, it is more likely that they will be inclined to provide political support, cooperation, volunteers, and other resources on a long-term, ongoing basis. Your evaluation plan will also monitor how well your group is functioning and identify areas for improvement.

For more on program evaluation, see Step 5: Evaluation.