Assessing vital mental health initiatives
Those who work every day in Australia's defence can be exposed to high-pressure situations and stressful conditions, both at home and abroad.
And if not catered to effectively and compassionately, mental health and wellness issues for Defence personnel can have serious negative copnsequences for both individuals, for Defence organisations and for Australian society as a whole.
Significant steps have been taken in recent years to embed new initiatives and better practices that increase wellbeing for Defence staff. But are they working?
The Department of Defence had implemented a Continuous Improvement Framework to monitor and evaluate the mental health and wellbeing initiatives being implemented across Defence under the Defence Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2018-2023.
That docuiment set as its goal: "For Defence to be a trusted and respected organisation that helps and supports our people in relation to their mental health and wellbeing and one that responds appropriately when they experience mental health problems or illness."
But due to a number of factors there had been limited engagement by the owners of the various mental health and wellbeing initiatives across Defence resulting in very few requisite M&E plans being completed and the quality being highly variable.
Defence sought to understand what was contributing to this lack of engagement and to improve engagement to help ensure they would have sufficient information to inform the continuous improvement and eventual evaluation of the initiatives and the strategy as a whole.
ThinkPlace was engaged to help understand the factors affecting engagement and to help design an improved and streamlined approach.
We commenced by undertaking user research with the owners of the mental health and wellbeing initiatives to understand their experience and the factors that were affecting their ability to effectively engage with and complete the M&E activities.
Based on this research we identified a number of factors affecting engagement including; a lack of prioritisation of M&E activities at all levels; limited time and resources allocated; perceptions that the process was too onerous, comprehensive and complicated; and a low level of evaluation expertise and experience.
Based on the findings, we identified that a more streamlined approach was necessary to help overcome these issues and increase engagement and uptake of M&E activities.
HOW WE DID IT
We determined that a Theory of Change Methodology would help achieve this and help the owners of the initiatives better understand why they were doing what they were doing and how they could practically improve their initiatives to improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes across the defence population.
We then co-designed and co-developed the Theory of Change documentation for two such initiatives to test our approach and iterate as required.
We built clarity around what the activities being undertaken were intended to achieve; identified desired outcomes over the short, medium and long term; and identified indicators and other measures which could be used to show whether the desired outcomes had been met.
In completing the Theory of Change documentation we had developed, we also sought to build a framework that showed the relationship and connections between the different initiatives to help show the collective impact of the initiatives in improving mental health and wellbeing across the defence population over the life of the strategy.
Based on our learnings from these two prototype initiatives, we refined our documentation and approach, further streamlining the process and documentation. We then rolled out the updated approach and documentation across all of the defence's mental health initiatives. We held co-development workshops with relevant stakeholders for each initiative, working through all components of the documentation, while building the capability and understanding of the stakeholders present.
By developing an updated approach that was informed by the users of the M&E documentation, we were able to design a streamlined approach that addressed the key issues while still providing sufficient detail to inform effective continuous improvement and evaluation.
We were able to help Defence develop and implement a consistent approach to M&E and build a solid foundation, upon which future monitoring and continuous improvement activities could be built and which would provide sufficient information to effectively evaluate the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy at its conclusion in 2023.
Our approach and documentation were very well received across Defence and will contribute meaningfully to ensuring that mental health and wellbeing initiatives aimed at defence personnel are more effective and more helpful.