Background and Context:
Primary schools are a key setting for reducing student’s skin cancer risk. The SunSmart Program supports schools to implement a best-practice sun protection policy that minimises students’ overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Communication campaigns are effective in influencing awareness and attitudes, while environmental ‘on-the-ground’ strategies are effective in influencing behaviours. Public health campaigns in primary schools in New South Wales (NSW), Australia have traditionally relied on mass communication to promote healthy behaviours. Adopting this approach for the NSW SunSmart Program resulted in only 20% of schools joining the program in two years.
To increase membership of the NSW SunSmart Program by implementing ‘on-the-ground’ strategies.
A review of the school setting identified sun protection as a low priority issue due to the perception that it’s already adequately addressed. To reposition the SunSmart Program, a strategy was developed to enable one-on-one communication with schools about their potential to improve their existing sun protection practices.
Redefining program delivery required reinvesting resources into a long-term community engagement strategy. Critical to the strategy’s success and sustainability was building capacity and empowerment of community-based staff and volunteers to extend program reach and develop localised strategies; tailored communication plans for school segments (e.g. disadvantaged schools); and providing adequate support mechanisms including an efficient campaign management database. Evaluating the strategy and seeking stakeholder feedback on an ongoing basis was integral to continually improving engagement with schools.
Outcomes/What was learned:
The SunSmart Program grew from 20% membership to 75% in three years, resulting in 1,384 more primary schools implementing best-practice sun protection measures and reducing their students’ future skin cancer risk. Challenging the reliance on traditional communication to delivering on-the-ground strategies was a logical but significant shift that enabled effective program implementation within the audience’s contextual environment.