Theories and models

​An explicit vision based on existing theories helps activities to clarify their objectives and show how behavioural change is expected to occur.

Successful primary prevention activities are based on:

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    An existing theory of prevention

  • Your activity should fit into a wider theory of prevention. Theories of prevention look at how behaviour change can occur across individuals, communities and populations.

    The public health approach

    The public health approach to violence prevention targets whole populations, rather than individuals. Public health approaches usually involve four key stages:

    1. Define the problem by determining how much and where sexual violence happens, and who the primary victims and perpetrators are.
    2. Identify risk and protective factors, which increase or decrease an individual's likelihood of perpetrating or experiencing violence.
    3. Develop and evaluate prevention strategies, based on knowledge of risk and protective factors.
    4. Ensure widespread adoption of prevention strategies and continue to evaluate their impact.

    The public health approach

    The Spectrum of Prevention

    The Spectrum of Prevention is a tool designed by the US Prevention Institute to help advocates, practitioners, and educators develop comprehensive violence prevention strategies. It can be used as a model for planning public health approaches.

    The spectrum has six levels:

    1. Strengthening individual knowledge and skills — eg negotiating consent and identifying unsafe situations.
    2. Promoting community education — eg providing groups with useful information and resources for preventing sexual violence.
    3. Educating providers — eg communities, workplaces, institutional leaders and organisations.
    4. Fostering coalitions and networks — eg between sexual violence prevention organisations, community groups, schools, workplaces, and religious organisations.
    5. Changing organisational practices — eg workplace cultures, policies, and practices.
    6. Influencing policy and legislation — eg workplace and organisation policies, and local and central government legislation.

    The spectrum of prevention

    Other theories

    Community readiness model

    The community readiness model uses information gathered from key community members to chart a community's readiness to change on a scale of one to nine. Activities should aim to move communities towards higher levels of readiness to create meaningful social change.

    Community readiness model

    Transtheoretical model of change

    The transtheoretical model of change (TTM) and stages of change model propose that individuals progress through several stages before changing behaviour: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. The theory holds that activities will be more successful when the messages and techniques are tailored to specific behaviour at each level. This theory is particularly suited to bystander approaches.

    Transtheoretical model of change

    Diffusion of innovation theory

    The 'diffusion of innovation theory' suggests that saturating communities with ideas, information, and skills around sexual violence prevention can lead to positive changes in community social norms, eg around safety, equality, and respect, which in turn can lead to positive changes in individual behaviour.

    Diffusion of innovation theory

    Individual-level theories

    Individual-level theories are used to explain how and why individual behavioural change occurs, and suggest that individuals are more likely to perform behaviours that they believe they have the skills to perform, see as socially desirable and in alignment with their self-image, react to positively, and are not prevented from performing due to environmental circumstances.

    Individual-level theories

    Evidence for basing activities on a theory of prevention

    • Public health approach as an essential element — Davies et al., 2003; Urbis Key Young, 2004, both cited in Russell, 2008
    • Public health approach criticised as treating sexual violence as something akin to influenza; however it has moved the debate away from feminist understandings and reframes the issue as one which can be prevented — Carmody (2013)
    • Requires a sound theoretical base focussing on risk and protective factors — Schwere, 2002, in Keel 2005; Hassall & Hanna, 2007, cited in Russell, 2008
    • Target specific risk factors: Individual, relationship community, and society levels — Mulroney, 2003; Hassall & Hanna 2007; Gottfredson, 1998, all cited in Russell, 2008
    • Working at different levels increases the likelihood that goals will be achieved — Arthur and Harrison (2012)
    • Successful programmes need to reflect the overlap and interconnection between sexual assault and domestic/family violence — Quadara & Wall (2012)
    • Interventions should explicitly address human rights and gender equality issues, including gender stereotypes, power relations, and control — Maxwell et al. (2010)
    • Violence needs to be addressed at several levels, including changing social mores and organisational behaviour as well as understanding and developing the skills of healthy relationships. Peaceful and Compassionate Futures: Positive Relationships as an Antidote to Violence — Hromek & Walsh (2012)
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    A theory of change

  • A theory of change is a planning tool that shows the path between where you're at and where you're going. It explains how and why you expect change to happen by working backwards from your long-term vision to identify the outcomes that must be achieved to get there.

    How to create a theory of change

    A theory of change is made up of a “pathway of change” map and a written document. It's best developed by a group with diverse skills and knowledge of the topic and setting where the activity will be implemented.

    1. Identify your long-term outcome — your activity's vision

    • Dedicate a whole session to developing your long-term outcome, or more than one if required.
    • Don’t assume that because you've been working together, that you all have the same understanding of the long-term goal.
    • Be as specific as possible.

    2. Develop your pathway of change map

    • This is the core of your theory of change.
    • The map shows outcomes, not interventions.
    • Work backwards from your long-term goal to the outcomes that must be achieved to make the long-term goal possible.

    3. Define your outcomes

    • For each outcome, define the evidence you'll use to show that the outcome has been achieved. This evidence becomes your indicators.
    • First figure out what would be the best indicator, then figure out how to measure it. Don’t be limited by the data you currently have available — think outside the square.
    • Think about the threshold for each indicator, how much change is required and how long it will take to achieve each outcome.

    More about selecting indicators

    4. Define interventions

    • Decide what interventions are needed to achieve each outcome.
    • Don’t get too focused on the detail of the interventions — that comes later when you start implementing your theory of change.
    • Remember this is a pathway of change — each intervention leads to the next.

    5. Document your assumptions

    • Why is each outcome necessary in the pathway of change?
    • Why have you decided on particular interventions? Bring the evidence and best-practice in here.
    • Is your theory of change plausible, testable and feasible?
    • What is the context or environment your activity is operating within? How does this inform your theory of change?

    Throughout the process, check your theory of change:

    • flows logically
    • makes sense to people who haven't been involved in the process
    • hasn't become too big to be realistic.

    Download an example of a pathway of change (DOC 266KB)

    You can Google more complex examples online if you need them.

    Adapted from The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change — Anderson, The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change (2005) (PDF 533KB)

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    A logic model

  • A logic model (sometimes called a "theory of action") builds on your theory of change to map the inputs, outputs, and outcomes of your activity. It covers:

    • the results and changes you hope to achieve
    • the activities you plan to do
    • the resources you have to run the activities.

    How to create a logic model

    Logic model tool (DOC 34KB)
    Completed example of the logic model tool (DOC 39KB)

    1. Inputs — describe the resources you need, eg facilitators, programme managers, materials.
    2. Activities — outline the activities involved, eg in-school education sessions.
    3. Outputs — describe your specific outputs, eg the numbers of participants you want to involve and the duration, frequency, and timing of activities.
    4. Outcomes — describe your intended short and medium-term outcomes, eg changes in participants’ awareness and behaviour.
    5. Indicators — outline the indicators that you'll use to assess whether you've achieved your outcomes, eg survey results, participant feedback.
    6. Result — describe the long-term impacts that you hope to have on participants’ lives, eg participants will be able to recognise and pursue healthy relationships.

    A logic model can be used as the the basis of an evaluation plan by specifying key indicators of success.

    Planning an evaluation

    These theories and models form a base for your activity to build from. It's best to complete them when you're first planning your activity, but completing them later will still help you measure and evaluate your success.

    Format and delivery

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    Skills first approach

  • Teaching prevention using the skills first approach

    The ‘skills first’ approach means you apply what you learn rather than talk about it.

    The more you practice doing something, the more you’ll know how to do it.

    To learn, it is important to practice often. It works well to use role play and games to practising safety skills such as:

    • fire safety
    • water safety
    • first aid
    • social safety.

    For example, evacuating your work building in case of an emergency is a social safety skill you need to practice regularly.
    Focus on learning and practising new skills

    Preventing sexual violence through skills first teaching

    Teaching prevention programmes is different to general teaching. It’s all about behaviour change and safety.

    Individual problem solving and critical thinking are important, but skills must come first.
    Three myths of behaviour change - What you think you know that you don't

    Tips for using a skills first approach in your teaching:
    • use role plays for all ages and games for younger children
    • teach or coach people in a way that empowers them. Especially given the anxieties caused by topics such as sexual violence.
    • focus on basic skills. This will help to deal with uncomfortable everyday interactions to potentially traumatic situations.
    • use low key scenarios. Make it easy and fun to learn.

    The stages of behaviour change, from being unaware to maintaining the behaviour.


The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change, Anderson, The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change (2005) (PDF 532KB)