Public participation in effective development of a regional drug strategy: experiences from the South East region of Ireland
- Ireland’s national drug strategy, ‘Reducing harm, supporting recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025’, was launched in July 2017. Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Forces (DATFs) are responsible for strategic and operational coordination in the implementation of the strategy. While the national strategy is entering its second year those working in drug and alcohol service, users of the service, their families and friends describe limited action and change at a regional level.
Aim: To develop a regional drug strategy aligned with the national drug strategy through public participation and engagement with service providers, users of the services and their families.
Method: Six focus groups and five public consultation events were conducted across the South East Region adapted from the World Café Event Methodology (1) over a 4 month period in 2019. This methodology is used to facilitate productive dialogue between groups of people concerning a particular issue of relevance to the group. The methodology has seven core principals; the events must have a clear purpose; be hosted in a hospitable space; explore questions that matter to the participants; be open and inclusive of everybody’s contribution; have diverse viewpoints; have opportunities for people to listen together for insights and discoveries and have a forum by which participants can share collective discoveries. Three key questions were used to guide the discussions and related to emerging issues of substance misuse, current supports and resources and enablers for change at a regional level:
- What are the emerging issues of substance misuse, how do we identify and report them?
- Are the support and responses to substance misuse working and how can we develop the ones that are and change the ones that are not?
- How do we advocate for development actions to address the needs of service users, their families and communities?
Data was thematic analysed and grouped under key objectives of the national drug strategy. Key priorities identified were discussed at length and agreed through negotiated consensus. To ensure the effective implementation each objective was constructed using specific, measurable, achievable, resourced and time-limited (SMART) terminology.
Results: A number of key goals were identified for development into a three year regional drug strategy and consisted of 6 main priorities and 23 objectives, including educational targets, enhanced service provision, opportunities for rebuilding of social capital and initiatives for reducing drug related harm. Each priorty was subdivided to fit under a working sub-group to ffacilitate the action and ensure objectives could be met in a timely manner.
Conclusion: This is the first regional drug strategy developed and aligned with the national drug strategy through public participation and engagement at a regional level in Irealnd. The use of participatory decisions are more inclusive of different perspectives and values and were shown to identify emerging need in substance misuse and sustainable solutions for real improvement at a regional level. This method could be adopted in other DATF areas to improve the role out of national strategic objectives.