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    Nicholas

    Thanks for a great overview of HSM and raising some really useful questions Margo. Here are a few initial thoughts in response.

    With this project we were most interested in figuring out what participants do on the blogs. It was an important place to start. Most health programs create the message, disseminate it to an audience, measure the effectiveness.

    HSM asks the participants to create the content. For that reason we wanted to start by figuring out what they say.

    The other unique aspect of HSM here, is that because participants create content we have a ‘naturally occurring’ record of their descriptions, reflections and accounts of the program. By examining how what they say changes over time we think we can illustrate how participants change not just how much they drink but also how they think about drinking. It was important to start here because it highlights how HSM is different to other health communication approaches.

    From here, I agree with you that the next step is to figure out more about who says what and how. That means lining up the blog material with socio-economic, lifestyle and identity variables. And, of course, collecting consumption and well-being data over time, and seeing how blogging is related to consumption change.

    We already know that those who blog more write in a more reflective fashion over time, and are more likely to ‘theorise’ the HSM program for their peers. The next step is to see if those highly engaged bloggers come from particular backgrounds or experience different changes in consumption or well-being. From our analysis so far in 2012, we know that these engaged bloggers don’t display any differences to the HSM population in terms of age and gender spread. One thing we learnt in this first phase of research is that to collect this kind of information well we need to build it into the HSM process and website design. That’s the next step.

    The question of the role public commitment plays is an interesting and tricky one. In in-depth interviews we’ve done with bloggers they describe three functions of the blogs (and we also see these themes in the blogs themselves): (1) the accountability of public commitment, (2) a reflective space that supports the change process, and (3) a way to animate peer-to-peer conversation.

    The first step for us in this research was to map out how participants used the blogs. HSM aims at cultural change. In this regard, I think public commitment could have an effect both in terms of the individual and their wider peer network. That is, public commitment might keep the individual accountable, but also public commitment might signal to peers a challenge to drinking norms or stimulate a peer to peer interaction. Another significant issue with this question is that a lot of this boundary testing happens on Facebook. It is not possible to collect these interactions from Facebook, but the anecdotal examples we have from participants sending us screen grabs of Facebook or recounting stories to us in interviews, suggests that the act of making the public commitment online animates interesting exchanges between peers. For this reason, it would sell HSM short to only examine public commitment and the blogging in terms of the impact on the individual participant.

    My initial interest was in whether participants’ blogs could provide a new measure of change, that might open up our thinking about what constitutes an ‘outcome’ or ‘impact’ in a health communication initiative. I’d be interested to hear of other health initiatives that set out to stimulate and evaluate the kind of peer to peer interaction or ‘cultural change’ (in terms of how people speak about and ‘identify’ themselves with drinking culture) that HSM sets out to. And, I’d be interested to hear if there is any research out there that isolates and quantifies the effect of public commitment in a health communication context.

    Naturally, this research is part of an iterative process of developing the evaluation and evidence base for the program. If you’re interested to know more or pose questions contact Nic at n.carah@uq.edu.au or Chris at chris@hellosundaymorning.com.au

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