James Cook University ISSN 1445-6354
Context: The Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) was founded in 2007 with the specific focus of responding to drought-related mental health needs among farmers in rural and remote New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Successive re-funding enabled the program to evolve strategically and increase its reach. Over a decade, the program’s focus has expanded to include all people in rural and remote NSW in need of mental health assistance, and not just in times of adversity such as drought.
Issues: The program’s longest re-funding period, 2016–20, provided the opportunity for a comprehensive review and longer-term planning. Several priorities influencing program renewal were evident at this time: the need to improve data collection and evaluation methods, a reassessment of the program’s primary focus and the need to align with significant government mental health reforms. A program logic model (PLM) was developed, in collaboration with frontline RAMHP Coordinators, to steer reorientation, clarify objectives, activities and outcomes and improve data collection.
Lessons Learned: Four key lessons were identified. 1/ The development of the PLM in collaboration with the RAMHP Coordinators (frontline staff) was found to be an important vehicle for ensuring their acceptance and adoption of strategic changes. 2/ The collaborative development process also provided the opportunity to decide upon consistent terminology to describe the program, facilitating communication of the value of RAMHP to external stakeholders. 3/ The PLM enabled a clear but flexible program structure that aligned with changes in the mental health system to be described. 4/ The PLM provided the foundation for the development of an evaluation framework, including a mobile app, to aid data collection to underpin accountability.
Conclusion: Investing in the development of a PLM early in program reorientation provided many benefits for RAMHP, including improved role clarity and communication, staff commitment to program changes and a foundation for comprehensive program evaluation that integrates with program planning. The PLM proved a key foundational tool to reorient RAMHP by producing a clear program structure that was agreed upon by all staff.