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Program Planning and Social Marketing Guidance for Health Promoters - The Tools of Change Web-site


This week's OHPE feature is provided by Adriana Stagni, who writes about 'Tools of Change' - a web site that includes specific tools, case studies, and a planning guide for helping people take actions and adopt habits that promote health and/or are more environmentally-friendly.

A. Challenges of Health Promotion

Planning - arguably the most important stage of any program - is often neglected in the rush of day-to-day demands. Even when you find time for planning, knowing how to go about it without overlooking important details is a challenge in itself. For those programs that require your target population to take action or adopt healthier habits, there is the additional challenge of engaging them.

Lochside Elementary School in Victoria faced the challenge of educating students about bicycle safety and encouraging them to travel by bicycle. They found that students were in favour of riding to school, but parents were concerned about their children's safety.

The Montreal Dietary Dispensary (MDD) aimed to reduce the number of low birth weight babies born to disadvantaged mothers. These women faced several barriers, including a lack of income, a lack of nutritional knowledge, social isolation and depression.

These two programs and many others have met the challenges of health promotion and learned from their experiences. Although no two situations are the same, certain approaches to planning and engaging the public have proven effective again and again. You can learn from the experiences of other programs, and apply many of the same approaches to improve the impact of your health-promotion programs.

In planning your programs, you will need to take the same steps that were taken by Lochside and MDD, including targeting the audience and deciding how to finance the program. To engage the public and promote healthier actions and habits, you can adapt practices that have already been successful in changing people's behaviour, to your own situations. Lochside's Bike Smarts program overcame the specific barrier of parental concern by keeping parents informed, stressing safety, and encouraging parents to participate so they could see for themselves the skills the children were acquiring.

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B. Free Online Help Available from Tools of Change

Free help is available online for those who plan and run health promotion programs, from Tools of Change, an interactive, bilingual web site founded on the principles of community-based social marketing. It is located at This site will help you:

- Save time, while improving the impact and financial attractiveness of your programs

- Learn to apply community-based social marketing tools more effectively in your programs, to boost participation and impact

- Create draft communication plans using interactive worksheets

Because it is sponsored by such organizations as the Government of Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and Cullbridge Marketing and Communications, Tools of Change is available free of charge to users.

This site has three main sections, which are interlinked: Planning Guide; Case Studies; and Tools of Change. The Planning Guide and Tools of Change sections are applicable to any program, while the examples in these sections, which come from the Case Studies, can be customized to match your areas of interest.

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C. Planning Guide

This section guides you through the process of planning your program, from Setting Objectives to Measuring Achievements, with step-by-step instructions. At each step there is space for you to plan your own program, which can be developed over a number of Internet sessions if desired. When you are finished planning your program online, the system organizes your ideas into a draft communication plan, which can be printed, or saved into a word-processing program for further refinement.

Each planning step is illustrated with plenty of examples that are customized according to your interest profile. You can link directly from each example to the case study, to find out more about the program.

For example: Imagine that you registered (free of charge) on Tools of Change, selected Nutrition, Fitness and Health Promotion as your three main topics of interest, and are now planning your program online. The first step in Setting Objectives is to "Identify the problem(s) you want to solve or the situation you want to change." There will be room to answer this question for your own program. You will see several examples related to Nutrition, Fitness and Health Promotion; the first example will be "The Montreal Dietary Dispensary was established to prevent low birth weight in babies." If you want to find out more about the MDD program, you can link directly to the complete MDD case study from this example.

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D. Case Studies

This section contains Case Studies of community programs from across North America. It includes a broad sampling of programs so as to offer a wide variety of approaches and tools used, locations, types of organizations and participants, activities being promoted and problems being addressed.

More case studies are being added, making the site increasingly useful. Presently, a grant from the Climate Change Action Fund is allowing the addition of 20-40 new case studies on health topics including Sustainable Transportation, Active Living, Fitness, Heart Health and Environmental Health.

All the case studies have a great deal of detail and measured results. They follow a standardized format, which consists of a brief introduction, Background, Setting Objectives, Getting Informed, Delivering the Program, Measuring Achievements, Providing Feedback, Financing the Program, Results and Contact information. The case studies can be searched by topic area, location, key words, and other factors.

The use of community-based social marketing tools in the program is pointed out for easy identification. "To ensure that clients could make it to the MDD center, child care and transit passes were made available on an as needed basis... (Overcoming Specific Barriers)." From this mention of the Tool Overcoming Specific Barriers you can link directly to the relevant section to learn more about this Tool and how to use it.

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E. Tools of Change

As in the Planning Guide, each Tool contains step-by-step instructions, plenty of examples and space for you to plan your own programs. Some of these Tools provide fundamental ways of motivating people to take the action you wish them to take (e.g. Financial Incentives and Disincentives, Norm Appeals). Methods for overcoming people's forgetfulness are offered in the Tool Prompts. Some of the Tools in this section, such as Home Visits, are combinations of a variety of techniques, presented together in formats to help you reach people most effectively.

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F. Next Steps

1) You are invited to visit Tools of Change (, register for free and use the guides to plan your next program, or improve your existing programs. Read the case studies in your particular field of interest to see what others have done.

2) If you know of potential case studies that foster behaviour change and have measured results, please suggest them to us using the form available on the site, or by contacting us.

3) We are also looking for case study writers for our new intern program. To find out more about this program, contact us.

4) We are always looking for new ways to tell people who can benefit from the capacity-building resources on Tools of Change that the site is available. If you can help us, through an annotated web site link, a note in your newsletter or listserv, or by distributing our flyer at conferences, or if you have other ideas, we would be pleased to explore ways of working together.

Tools of Change is run by Cullbridge Marketing and Communications ( To discuss ways of working together, potential new case studies or the intern writing program, please contact Adriana Stagni at (416) 531-6249.