Evaluating prevention activity

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Guidance on monitoring progress in primary prevention on a population and project level.

Measuring progress in prevention

Preventing violence against women and family violence is a complex and long-term goal. To prevent violence against women we must address the drivers of the problem, as well as factors that can make the violence worse. These drivers are expressed through social and individual norms, structures and practices and are deeply rooted in our social fabric, making them difficult to change. For this reason, population-level change to prevent violence against women requires sustained and coordinated action.

The complex and long-term nature of primary prevention activity makes measuring and demonstrating progress a challenge. While measuring the prevalence of violence against women or changes in individual attitudes are important, alone they are not enough to know if we are on the right track to preventing violence against women in the long term. Seeing reduced rates of violence against women will take time, however there are short and medium-term indicators that give us an idea of whether we are making progress.

How does the process of change happen?

To determine what can be achieved through primary prevention, we need to understand how change occurs over time. 

Our Watch’s 2017 publication Counting on Change explains that the first step to creating lasting population-level change is an investment in the necessary prevention infrastructure. This can be measured in the short-term using process measures that give an indication of what is being done to support change (such as leadership from government, and positive legal and political reform).  

This strengthened infrastructure will then lead to measurable improvements in the gendered drivers and reinforcing factors that lead to violence against women. These can be measured in the medium-term through evidence of changes in rigid gender roles and women having greater decision-making power.

The impacts of these improvements are likely to increase demand for support services as the community starts to become more of aware of the problem, less likely to condone it and more likely to seek support when violence occurs. 

Ultimately, rates of violence will decrease as we achieve greater progress in changing the structures, norms and practices that drive violence against women and family violence. This will first be demonstrated through a reduction in 12-month prevalence rates. Lifetime prevalence rates will take the longest to change.

Population-level evaluation

Primary prevention is most effective when applied holistically, through different prevention actions that complement each other and act synergistically. To get the full picture of progress, changes must be understood and measured together at the population level, not just at the level of individual interventions or programs. 

Counting on Change is a national guide to monitoring prevention in Australia. This world-first guide identifies indicators that can be used to measure population-level change through the primary prevention of violence against women.

In addition to providing an evidence-based guide to measuring progress at the population level, this guide is also a useful reference for policymakers or program designers looking to develop their own monitoring and evaluation frameworks on a smaller scale, such as at the state or regional level.

Australia’s population-level progress monitoring

Tracking progress in prevention, released in 2020, comprehensively tracks national progress towards primary prevention over the past ten years. The report demonstrates that Australia’s approach to prevention is based on sound evidence, shows encouraging signs of progress and is heading in the right direction.

Another important mechanism for measuring progress in prevention at the population level is the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS). Commencing in 1987, the NCAS is the world’s longest running survey of its kind. Through telephone interviews with Australians 16 years of age and over, the NCAS tells us how people understand violence against women, their attitudes towards it, what influences their attitudes, and if there have been changes over time. It also gauges attitudes to gender equality and people’s preparedness to intervene when witnessing violence or its precursors. This information has been disaggregated and data for different population groups is available.

Project or program-level evaluation

Monitoring change at the population level is only part of the task. Knowing what works at the program level is critical to building the evidence base for prevention. It also helps communicate successes to stakeholders and opens the possibility of expanding programs. 

While some population measures may be useful for evaluating programs, it is important that these evaluations are tailored to the specifics of the initiative or project. The measures chosen should be sufficiently precise to measure the outcomes of a particular program.

VicHealth has a useful guide to evaluating primary prevention projects.

An intersectional approach to evaluation

It is critical that prevention programs consider the diversity of women’s backgrounds, social positions, and identities at every stage of the planning process – from program design through to evaluation and monitoring. However, measurement focusing on aggregated data at the population level can obscure the diversity of women’s experiences. 

Counting on Change offers strategies for strengthening an intersectional approach to monitoring and evaluation, such as:

  • Developing indicators and measures collaboratively with people from different communities and refining them through consultations. In the analysis and communication of results, people from diverse backgrounds should also be involved.
  • Establishing an intersectionality advisory group.
  • Searching datasets that can be disaggregated by population groups and reporting them comprehensively.
  • Highlighting gaps in the data on intersectionality.
  • Reflecting and asking difficult questions about the intersectional lens being applied and how it can be improved.

Evaluation and monitoring resources


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