How it Works

The prevention model

Our three pillars of success are:

In the 1990s a group of Icelandic  social scientists at the Icelandic Center for Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA), along with policy makers and practitioners, began collaborating in an effort to better understand the societal factors influencing substance use among adolescents and potential approaches to prevention.

ICSRA developed an evidence-based approach to adolescent substance use prevention that involved a broad range of relevant stake holders who worked together on this community-based, socially embedded and highly participatory effort.

Global and local observations

In developing our approach, we relied on global research findings, as well as our own local observations about those individual and societal factors that contribute to the likelihood of adolescent substance use in Iceland. Based on the literature, and informed by our own work, a community-based, bottom-up approach was designed to deter adolescent substance use. The emphasis of our approach was on getting all relevant stake holders to the table to build a network of support, monitoring and opportunities for positive youth development at the local community level.

We aimed to demonstrate that it is possible to develop theory-driven intervention to promote and facilitate social capital on the neighborhood level, in order to decrease the likelihood of adolescent substance use by strengthening the supportive role of parents and schools and the network of opportunities around them. The prevention model that emerged reflexively and continuously links national-level data collection with local-level reflection and action to increase social capital.

The model builds upon traditional planning models (iterative cycles of evidence, reflection, action) but with characteristics inspired by Icelandic spirit and temperament.

Quick iteration

Several characteristics of Icelandic culture distinguish the model from other planning approaches. Because of its size and scope, everything happens quickly in Iceland; indeed, one full cycle of the iterative model can be completed in just one year. The model is based on quick and confident action, fuelled by the Icelandic values of independence, cooperation and roles for everyone.

Moreover, vertical and horizontal integration of information, ideas, activities, and analysis is natural and relatively easy. The result is a model of intervention that has been grounded in efforts to address adolescent substance abuse but could be applied to a wide range of emergent health issues.

The preceding text is taken from an article that describes the Icelandic Model in detail.

The Method: Four Steps


In the first step, a coalition of social scientists and policy makers use data to identify the scope of the problem and the broad outlines of the approach to be pursued.


In step 2, action shifts to the local level as team members ‘hit the road’, discussing the local data in communities and neighborhoods throughout the country.


Step 3 is local action in multiple sites, informed by the national data but animated by the uniquely different spirit, talents, and imaginations of neighborhoods, towns and regions.


Step 4 is integrative reflection; as local activities are reviewed by participants, process and outcome dimensions of the aggregate activity are explored, and then analyzed with the new round of national data.

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