The Folic Acid Awareness Community Action Guide outlines various ways you can design, develop, deliver and evaluate a folic acid public awareness campaign in your community. You can take many different approaches to reach women with messages about folic acid and the benefits of taking a daily multivitamin that contains it.
The guide has been designed to be general in nature so that it can be used by many different community organizations across Ontario. In addition to the poster, pamphlet and magnet templates that have been provided, there is background information about the campaign and about folic acid, and a step-by-step process for planning and implementing your own local events along with sample activities, tips and other tools.
The lifetime implications for those born with neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida and anencephaly, and for their families, can be challenging. Not only can these defects impose chronic disabilities; they can affect quality of life. Effective, consistent folic acid education that encourages adequate consumption of this simple B vitamin can reduce the incidence of NTDs by as much as 70%.
The Folic Acid: It’s never too early... public awareness and education campaign launched in 2002 with two key goals:
In addition to advertising and outreach to health professionals, the Community Awareness Guide was developed to reach out to members of the public to provide you with ideas and activities you can pull together to reinforce the folic acid message in your community.
Using the campaign materials, we hope you can develop, deliver and evaluate local activities that will increase awareness of birth defects and how folic acid can help reduce the risk of NTDs – keeping in mind that your community is unique from any other, with particular strengths, capacities and needs. The activities you decide to implement should suit the needs of the women in your area and match the resources available to you.
Community involvement is critical.
Although the vast majority of Ontario women have heard about folic acid, many of them still don’t understand that folic acid is beneficial to pregnant women, that it needs to be taken before conception in order to help reduce the risk of NTDs, and that federal and provincial health authorities continue to stress that 0.4 mg of folic acid each day remains a critical step in reducing the risk of NTDs.
We hope that you will help us share the message about folic acid with women in your community, and help ensure health professionals in your area have received folic acid information from Health Canada, and from us.
You don’t need to be an expert in folic acid or NTDs to help by organizing local community activities that promote awareness and consumption of folic acid. You just need to spread the word, make a difference and be a part of this campaign. Even simple activities will have a positive impact.
You can follow the steps outlined for each activity without a lot of resources, experience or help – but you don’t have to work alone. We’re happy to help you get started, and if you visit a health professional in your area who hasn’t received any folic acid information from Health Canada or from us, you can give them our contact information and a copy of Information for Health Professionals.
This section will take you through a step-by-step process to develop and implement local folic acid awareness activities. We encourage you to read through each step and incorporate as many of the helpful ideas and suggestions as possible. Not everyone will be able to follow all of the steps, so remember: It’s not essential to do everything outlined to make a difference. Any effort is better than no effort at all.
Community-wide activities benefit from varied insights, energy and resources, and a group that is representative of the community. Diverse collaboration and partnerships will enhance the credibility of your efforts in the eyes of the community.
Identify groups, individuals and organizations that have an interest in women or children’s health. Think about people you have worked with on other projects. Be sure to include people from other areas of expertise (e.g., the media or a communications officer at your local Public Health Unit). Make a list of places where women in your community meet, work, shop or gather for recreational activities. Your list might include community health and fitness centres, childcare facilities, churches, libraries, weight loss groups and even grocery stores. Also think about non-profit organizations such as the Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Association of Ontario (SB&H), as well as local hospitals, doctors, nurses, dieticians and other health professionals, and local politicians who may be willing to proclaim a Folic Acid Week in your community.
Since this task can be overwhelming, think strategically about who should be involved and what they might be able to contribute. Try to build a team of people who can bring different perspectives, skills and resources. Contact people and organizations in person if possible or arrange for a group meeting and invite a number of organizations.
How you organize your group is not as important as getting organized period. At your first meeting, you may decide to form a planning committee to coordinate all activities while other committees actually “do” the work. Alternatively, you may find that one group that “does everything” is the answer in your community. Recognize that each agency or individual involved will have different skills, preferences and amounts of time to offer. To figure out who can do what, distribute the Activity List Worksheet and ask each attendee to fill it out.
At your initial meeting, review the Folic Acid: It’s never too early... campaign details, as well as this Community Awareness Guide. Be prepared to explain your reasons for wanting to launch a campaign, and have some statistics (including local ones) and case studies ready so you can easily communicate the importance of the cause and earn the respect and dedication of those gathered around the table. Before you’re done, you want to be sure you obtain a commitment from potential partners to work together.
Before planning can begin, it is a good idea to gather some basic information about your community, the women in it, and the current situation related to folic acid and NTDs. This information will help you to determine which activities will make a difference in your area and to assess the impact of your efforts at the end of your campaign.
To understand what activities will be most successful in your community, make a list of what you know about your community, identify what you need to find out and where you can look for answers using the “Awareness in My Community” worksheet. Find or gather local statistics by asking women in your area some “Key Questions” to determine what they know about folic acid and NTDs. If you want to do more intensive research, you can also look into the number of local births annually and the local rates of NTDs, and whether health professionals know about the benefits of folic acid.
Once you understand your audience – what they know, what they like, what they do – it will be much easier to figure out how to communicate with them in a successful and meaningful way. You can also refer to our “Reality Check” document to help you pick dates to avoid and some to consider to ensure greater success.
Taking the time to develop a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish will keep you on track and clarify what kind of impact you want to have in your community. Drafting a plan also makes it easier to share your vision with others, provide a record of where you began and help you get a clear picture of the amount of effort your program will require. It should contain a clear goal, at least one objective, at least one target audience, an approach, at least one activity, and an evaluation. You can use our “Planning Chart” to help get you started and have a look at our “Sample Plan.”
The goal is what all of your activities and efforts should strive to achieve. Our overall goal is to reduce the number of pregnancies affected by NTDs by promoting folic acid consumption.
Objectives should help you reach that overall goal and should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Identifying the current situation in your community and thinking about what change or difference you’d like to see in four months can help you set the objectives you’ll work towards. Based on what you find out about your selected group(s) of women and your community, set one or more appropriate objectives. One of our objectives is to increase the number of women who take a multivitamin containing a minimum of 0.4 mg of folic acid.
In terms of a target audience, our overarching primary target group is women between the ages of 18 and 45. Depending on the information you gather about women in your community, you may be able to identify one or more specific target groups to concentrate on; e.g., women between the ages of 18 and 24 if they are a predominant group. Your efforts will be more successful if you can tailor your activities to the needs and interests of particular groups, so the “Key Questions” outlined above can help.
Once you’ve clearly identified your objectives and defined your target audience, it’s easy to determine an overall approach. For example, if the goal is to reduce the number of pregnancies affected by NTDs, and you know a lot of young women in your community have unplanned pregnancies, you may want to reach young, sexually active women with messages about the importance of taking a daily multivitamin containing folic acid.
You can then develop your activities to reach them where they shop, work or go to school, and you can deliver messages to them through the newspapers they read, television programs they watch and radio stations they listen to. Your activities can be as simple or complicated as you can manage and should be designed with your audience(s) and community in mind. For ideas and suggestions, see our list of “Sample Activities.” Remember, any activity you do, regardless of how big or small, is important.
Last but not least, measuring the success of your campaign will be important, not only for you and your team, but for the our provincial campaign, too. Evaluations can help provide evidence of a need for additional funding, resources or activities, and can be used to improve and revise an ongoing program in the future. (More on this in the “Evaluation” section below.)
Once you have your plan in place, you can start thinking about how to make it happen using some key tools to help you communicate successfully with your audience and pull off your events.
When you brought your team together, you assessed who could realistically do what, which means you already know your project is manageable from a people perspective. If not, make sure you can recruit enough volunteers to help with research, event execution, media outreach and more – before you get started.
Some financial resources may also be required. If you have funds set aside, great. If not, or if you don’t have enough, you may be able to call on corporate partners or other community organizations for cash contributions or in-kind support such as printing. If you need to ask for help, you can use our “Sample Letter,” which should include your program plan and statistics to support your request.
You may also want to consider access to potential spokespeople, including health professionals or local celebrities or politicians, as well as access to technology such as computers, phones, fax machines and printers.
It’s important and helpful to describe each activity in as much detail as possible, including who is responsible for it, when it should start and finish, and what resources you’ll need. The chart below provides an example of the detail you should strive for in planning your activities. Try to list each activity, and break them down into smaller tasks, so that the whole team can keep track of what needs to be done and when (similar to the example below).
|Activity||Partner Responsible||Start Date||Finish Date||Resources Needed|
|Printing invites for event||Copy Shop||February 15||February 28||One volunteer to write invite, facilitate printing and send them out|
|Writing Media Kit||Local College||January 2||February 25||One student copywriter|
|Finding out due dates and prices for all local media advertisements||Community Action Team||January 15||January 30||One volunteer|
Communication resources should include the poster and pamphlet on this website. You can also have fridge magnets made and as for others in the community to help spread the word. And of course using the media to spread your message is very important, as they are a direct link to your target audience.
Develop a comprehensive list of media contacts in your community and be ready to explain to them why it’s important to share your information with their audience. Communication resources you can use to help you with the media and the community at large can include the following:
View our tip sheets below for more information:
Once you understand the resources available to you, and the best way to use them to communicate with your audience, you’re ready to implement your plan.
Right before you start, conduct one more review of the plan, make any necessary adjustments and ensure all partners are ready to go. A checklist can help you determine if your activity is ready to be launched. It will vary depending on the activity, but you can find a “Sample Implementation Checklist” here. Once you’ve reviewed and accounted for everything on the list, you can finally get started with the implementation.
Make sure you have a timeline that indicates when all the elements of your plan will be ready. When are you doing research? When are you communicating with the media? When are you printing invitations for your event? When are you booking your spokesperson on a local cable station? What are the due dates? Who is responsible for each task, and what are the expectations? Share the schedule with everyone on the team so they are all literally, and figuratively, on the same page.
There are two main aspects of evaluation you should consider: process and outcome.
Process evaluation is a tool to help ensure everything is on track. Process evaluations alert you to any minor problems before they become too big, help identify what is working and what isn’t, and help determine what, if anything, should be revised before the next event.
For each indicator or measure you want to use, identify what information you need and how you’ll collect it. You can ask specific people to take responsibility for evaluating activities. Confirm they know what they’re expected to measure and the specific information they’re required to collect. To help you determine how well the process is working, considering using our “Sample Evaluation Checklist.”
Outcome evaluations measure the effectiveness of your activities based on your objectives to let you know if your efforts actually made a difference. You can use our “Sample Outcomes Chart” as your model, and you may want to consider giving a post-presentation survey to event participants to help you determine what they’ve learned about folic acid as a result of your efforts.
It’s important to plan your evaluation before you implement your activities and base your evaluation on your goals and objectives. But remember …
If you can help reduce the risk of one baby being born with a neural tube defect, you’ve made a difference.
You can also download and print a complete PDF version of the entire Community Action Guide by clicking on the cover image below.