The industry funded alcohol education charity Drinkaware has released an independent review of its activities, with mixed findings over its effectiveness to date. Download the report here [pdf] or appendices.
The review was carried out by consultancy firm 23Red which in the executive summary identifies its main findings as:
2.1 This is a mixed report. The reviewers found that much has improved since the last review of the Drinkaware Trust, notably the funding position. On the other hand, while some things are now well done, others are poorly done or are lacking entirely. No stakeholder group is entirely happy with the current status quo.
2.2 In consequence, while recognising that there are inevitable tensions facing an organisation with the remit and funding base of Drinkaware, this report calls for substantial changes to the way in which Drinkaware operates. These changes affect the way the Trust is funded, its governance model and the way it carries out its core activities.
The report identified successes including achieving "near-ubiquity for the Drinkaware.co.uk URL", improved stakeholder engagement, improved approaches to campaigns and some success against some KPIs, particularly relating to 11-17 year olds. However the report states that:
"...all groups of stakeholders are dissatisfied with the status quo to some degree. Their dissatisfaction focuses on three key areas:
- The lack of an evidence base, both to inform what Drinkaware does and to evaluate how it does it
- A perception of industry influence resulting in a suspicion that Drinkaware is not truly independent of the alcohol industry
- Weak stakeholder engagement, resulting in Drinkaware’s isolation within the alcohol harm reduction community"
Also of concern are findings from a currently unpublished study by London Southbank University and Kings College London (Moss, Dyer et al) which found that exposure to Drinkaware posters actually appeared to increase alcohol consumption. Drinkaware Posters from the 'Why let the good times go bad' posters were used in a simulated bar environments and lab settings, where drinkers consumed more when posters were displayed.
In 2009 Professor Iain Gilmore warned of "very little evidence that health messages work to prevent binge or harmful drinking" when the campaign was announced. Then Alcohol Concern Chief Exec Don Shenker also wrote of a "real concern that the very message ‘Why let the good times go bad’ will actually reinforce the notion that you need alcohol to have a good time" in a DDN article cynical of tactics behind industry funded activity.
Drinakware have however since been engaging with the authors of the study to explore the implications and have reportedly ended the ‘Why let the good times go bad’ campaign. The findings however raise questions for all drug and alcohol related information campaigns and evaluation methods. Other studies such as a US anti-drug media campaign have previously suggested the potential for counterintuitve responses.
Looking forward, Drinkaware has certainly not yet convinced the public health community at large of its role or ability to delivery activity that genuinely addresses alcohol misuse. However its publication of an arguably critical independent report may go some distance to improving its future standing. With a new Chief Executive at the helm since earlier this year, Drinkaware certainly faces some real challenges.