In this episode of our Pathways 2 Prevention podcast, we interview Dr. Michael Mann, an associate professor, Interim Divisional Dean for the School of Public and Population Health, Associate Divisional Dean for Academic, Student, and Faculty Affairs at Boise State University, about the Icelandic model and its impact on youth development. The Icelandic model is a community-based approach to youth development that has seen remarkable success in Iceland and has been adapted by other countries around the world.

Dr. Mann explains how the Icelandic model works, the factors that contribute to its success, and the challenges of implementing it in different cultural contexts. He stresses the importance of community involvement and collaboration, sustained attention, and strong institutions for achieving positive outcomes for young people.

We also discuss the role of data in the Icelandic model, the importance of communicating data in a way that is accessible to the community, and the need to build a culture of collective action around youth development. Dr. Mann emphasizes the importance of recognizing that some things are so important that we have to work together to make them happen, and that sustaining our collective attention over time is essential for achieving lasting change.

Listeners can learn more about the Icelandic model and Planet Youth, the organization that helps to implement it in other countries, in the show notes. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in community-based approaches to youth development and creating strong, supportive communities for young people.

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think people often get confused when we talk about the Icelandic prevention model because it’s essence, the prescription is really the process itself. It’s not necessarily a certain set of strategies or a certain set of tactics. Often when people talk about the Icelandic prevention model, you hear a lot about, leisure time, athletics. You’ll hear things about, curfew. and all of that was a part of it. but depending upon the community, the strategies that were developed often are very, very different and still have a lot of success. In this episode, we dive into the fascinating topic of how to improve the wellbeing of young people in our communities. Our guest, Dr. Michael Mann from Boise State University and a leading expert in youth development shares insights on how to sustain adult attention and engagement and efforts to support young. We explore the successful Icelandic model, which has made significant impacts in reducing substance use and misuse and other risky behaviors among young people. Dr. Mann also provides valuable tips on effective data collection and communication strategies, as well as the importance of building strong institutions and partnerships to achieve long-term positive outcomes for young people. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this conversation. All right. Podcast listeners. I am excited and honored to welcome Mike to the show. Mike, welcome. Thanks for joining us. yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation since our first email exchange, and quite frankly, been having fun talking to you before we even hit that record button, we’re gonna get into some fascinating stuff. But before we do, would you mind just introducing yourself a little bit about kind of your background and your current role for our listeners? Um, yeah. Um, my name is, uh, Mike Mann. Um, I currently work at Boise State University, in Idaho. I have a lot of hats on, there. Um, for the most part, I’m an associate professor where I, teach students who are interested in public health and education. I do research in this space as well, um, the intersection of public health and public education. I currently have a bunch of administrative assignments where I support people who have that same passion, that same fire, that same mission to do a lot of good in the lives of, people in the communities that they live and serve, live in and serve. I think in terms of the, the context of, of this conversation, one thing it’s really important to know is that although I’m a researcher now and work as a faculty member in university, I spent almost 20 years working as a practitioner before that. So the work I do is really heavily informed by the time I spent as a, a teacher in the alternative school setting, an assistant principal and principal in that setting, and then supporting, different alternative schools, in other administrative roles. And so I think a, a for me, probably the most important thing about me isn’t that I work in a university right now, but it’s, I have a long history of working with communities that care about children, and wanna create the best possible life for them. And, and that’s continued into my research work, but I think that’s fundamentally the most important part of my background. And certainly the, the, the prime driver of my mission in life. I dig it and yes, I think you. Me and all of our podcast listeners feel the same way. We care about the communities we live in, those folks that we live with, and we serve your research, your, your work with communities. What do you do? That’s a great question. I think, you know, the thing that, connected us was through my work with something called the Icelandic Prevention Model. and some people may be familiar with it. I feel like, over the past 10 years, it’s something that has gotten a bit of a global audience. my role in it is actually very, very humble. So I, I’m gonna describe what I think of as the people that are much more important than me. And then I’ll tack on a little bit about, how I’ve tried to be a, a good teammate to them. as, as, as many people know about 20 years ago, Iceland actually had some of the highest substance abuse, rates among adolescents in Europe. and I think at that time they did something really courageous, which was, as opposed to trying to. Use kind of like a bandaid type approach. You know, we, we’ll just do these little tiny fixes and kind of cross our fingers and hope they add up to like a, like a society level change. I think they did a really courageous job of stepping back and saying, you know, how, how, how do we maybe change our systems and our overall approaches, in a manner that’s likely to create the kind of world we want our young people to grow up in. And in most cases, that meant having some pretty kind of ambitious goals. some, some really, I think courageous aspirations for how things could be different. you know, that work started with a wide range of people. knows some of the, the, the, the kind of core drivers of that would be Ingora, for instance, who, you know, spoken all over the world about her role in bringing kind of a really deep sociological perspective to this, to work. Oftentimes, addictions work, we kind of come at it from a psychological perspective, a more individual oriented perspective, and she brought this sense of that often people are a reflection of the communities that they grow up in. And as a result, how do we think about how we not treat individuals? only, but instead really think of society as a patient and think about what society’s need and how we need to make changes in how society is structured and, and, and how we limit exposure to risk for young people and maximize exposure. Protective factors and, and in doing so, create the kind of opportunity, rich, safe, secure environments in which young people can grow up and thrive. And so, with her leadership, and then really one of her great talents is connecting people across all kinds of different, sectors. and, and, you know, I can name a million people. We can talk about Margaret, we can talk about gly, we can talk about, yon, you know, all these amazing people who were leaders in their own right, in leading their sectors and working together to kind of build this kind of community. And so over the course of 20 years, they went from having some of the highest rates of substance abuse among teenagers in Europe to the absolute lowest rates. and so they, from my point of view, they successfully treated society as a patient and, and created these really great environments for young people in which them thriving is easy. My role about 10 years ago, I randomly, me and Alka Christensen were hired into the same school of public health as assistant professors. we started swinging kettlebells together, which clearly he does more than me if you’ve met us both. I am shaped like a kettlebell and his biceps, I think have kettlebells in them. Um, but you know, through our common time working out and just, just talking, we realized that we had a lot of similarities in how my alternative schools operated in terms of community and, and, and their community building, approaches worked and then started trying to ferre it out. Exactly. You know, at the time, you know, a lot of this model grew very organically. I mean, it had deep theoretical roots, so I don’t wanna take away from that. It was very purposeful and intentional. . But I think a lot of the operational details as often happens kind of organically rose up over time. I think there were some amazingly smart people who recognized what was working and, and doubled down on those things and they recognized what wasn’t working and they ignored those things and eventually kind of, created this pathway that, other, other, I think, communities, can use. But kind of, kind of part of my role was to be this kind of objective person who could look at what they were doing and talk to him about they were doing and maybe ask some clarifying questions. And very often Alki and I would talk and he’d say, oh, we just did this. Like, it was nothing. And I’d be like, what are you talking about? That’s amazing. No one does that, that’s incredibly special. so I think in a, in a lot of ways, in the beginning my role was just recognizing the great work of other people and, and helping them realize that, that what felt common to them might be really special to some other people. And so then we, you know, worked on writing some articles together and, and, and creating what I hope, when I say creating, I mean other people created it. We worked together to give voice to it, and give voice to it in a way that’s portable so that other communities can take those lessons and integrate it into what they do, when they try and create these great environments for young people as well. Told you I was long winded. uh, you got me thinking about, uh, my morning workout. So I’ve got a gym right next door where I, I work out in the basement too. So yeah, we, we, we are cut of a very similar cloth, fascinating though. And I would love to, to dive in a little bit more and unpack the Icelandic model. can you, can you tell us more like I’m, I’m particularly interested in the culture, the, the society, the environment that they were able to create for the youth to, to prosper in those, the protective factor side of the house. What does that kinda look like? Yeah. I, I think, you know, often if, if you at a presentation about this and lucky to be, talking with Icelanders who are far more articulate and, and described as much more beautifully than I do, often they’ll show a picture in, the picture is from somewhere around three or four o’clock in the morning. In Iceland, it looks like it’s broad daylight because in the. The sun goes down, very limited, um, amount of time. But this is a picture from the nineties and it’s literally like the main kind of street area just jammed with teenagers. and you know, this idea that, at that time, probably around 25 years ago or so now, that that was normal. You know, the idea of being 15 out at three o’clock in the morning having drank all night, was just a little bit of a cultural norm. And as often, you know, you know, culture is often described as the things we know that we don’t know we know, you know, there’s so deeply ingrained in how we see the world that, you know, one of the only ways we recognize ’em is to see something different somewhere else, and. Like that’s strange. And then actually it’s, you know, maybe that’s not, we don’t know if that’s strange or I’m strange, but like that’s how deeply rooted it’s that anything outside of that just feels odd. So, this picture that’s famous ended up in the media and really had people reflecting on, is this what we want our norm to be? And I’m gonna be really humble in how I speak about this, cuz clearly I wasn’t there. And clearly I wasn’t a leader in this, but I have been able to listen to people talk about this quite a bit. And, and I wouldn’t make like light of this part. I think that, you know, o you know, one of the, um, and this is gonna sound harsh and, and don’t mean it to at all, but you know, one of the things when you look at something like public health policy, by the way, I’ve never heard the Icelander say what I’m about to say, but if you look at public health policy, you’ll often hear this idea that sadly, too often policy gets written in blood, which means something bad has happened. and then people write policy that the idea of us seeing something bad and acting before it happens is really rare. And so, although in this case it, it wasn’t that extreme, they did see something that definitely got some people’s attention and had them thinking about, you know, they saw an outcome and I think had the wisdom to question, um, whether or not this norm is something that they wanted to continue and, and whether or not, they wanted to replace it was something better. so I think, I think that was the beginning, you know, this idea of, you know, what, what event or, or series of events is enough to initially grab our attention. And is convincing enough to us that we’re gonna make a commitment to do something, that we sustain over time. And so I think, I think that was, a big beginning part of it. I, I would also like to say that I think this idea, and in no way am I making any slight to, Folks who work on the more, psychological end of it, that is an important end of it. But I think the deep roots in sociology are also particularly important. You know, this idea that, we are often a product of an environment. So if we think about young people, we think about the worlds they live in. We have a family space, our caregiver, family caregiver kind of space. We have a school or education space. we have a peer space. we have a, leisure time or like, you know, third space, the things we do between school and family. and if we take a look at those four kind of, areas and we imagine, you know, four circles coming together in a Venn diagram and they overlap, you know, individual young people are often an expression of what’s happening in those areas. if we think about like leisure time, the leisure time kind of area, if there’s not much for kids to do, it’s easy to access alcohol and there’s lots of places to use it, but guess what kids end up doing? You know, they do what’s available to them and what’s easy for them to do. And, so I think their perspective was, you know, bringing these kind of sociological lenses. How do we create an environment, a social environment, a policy environment, sometimes a physical environment, in terms of access and those kinds of things, that make it most likely that students are gonna turn out well, make good decisions around, substance use, and, and making them less vulnerable to abuse. You know, kind of like one of the classic examples when we think about this is, you know, we, we can describe a situation in which a young person lives or grows up in a high risk environment with low levels of opportunity. you know, schools that don’t serve them especially well, families that maybe have higher rates of poverty. Or, or, you know, really struggling, economies, that don’t have a lot of opportunities or things for young people to participate in. And we, we flip all that and say, well, you take another community in which, you know, it’s, it’s, you know, people aren’t maybe struggling economically so bad. I mean, I’m not gonna saying let’s make ’em affluent. Let’s just say people have their needs met. they’re in good schools. there are things for young people to do that are positive and pro-social. and, you know, what are the chances that you’re gonna have a young people, you know, the, the young people growing up, they’re gonna look like that environment and we know the chances of that are really, really high. And so this idea of. If we want young people, to make choices, against substance use and that make them less vulnerable to substance abuse, then then the kind of environment we ask them to grow up is, is really important. And, and the spirit of being long-winded, I will add this, you know, often what we’ll say is, the environment’s hard and so we’ll teach young people to be resilient. We’ll teach them to swim against the current of the environment that adults have put them in. And I’m not against resilience, but at a fundamental level, and this is controversial, I mean this in the softest, most loving, gentle way possible. From our work, I’m always very hesitant about the idea of asking young people to be better victims of the environment that we put them in. And instead wanna ask us as adults to create resilient environments, environments in which the adults have taken responsibility for the situations we put young people in. And instead we’ve created an environment in which you would have to kind of go against the grain of all that positive opportunity to make , a bad choice or a, or a harmful choice. So I think that’s kind of in a, in a lot of ways, the essence of what they’re trying to do. Let’s create an environment in which it’s very hard to have a bad outcome, and, and change environments in a way, help environments grow in a manner, that, that reduces the likelihood, of young people, getting themselves into some trouble. And so, you know, I think that’s kind of the cultural roots, you know, how do you. Shift that thinking to recognizing that there’s something happen, that we’re accepting, something that maybe we don’t want to accept. And then in domain by domain, family, school, leisure time, peer strengthen those domains so that they’re operating in a way that of course, most students are gonna end up doing well and they’re gonna flourish. So much wisdom there. I, I’m feeling scatterbrained cause Oh, I wanna talk about this. Oh, I wanna talk about that. Oh, I wanna talk about that. but, but I think so many things resonated with me, and, and you probably saw me podcast listeners. I know you can’t see me, but I’m over here nodding. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . What, what I see often with coalitions and communities here in the United States is policy programs are, are so reactionary. say there was a a D U I accident or fatality on a prom night, and there’s the, the reaction based upon an emotional response, albeit very important, we take action. But what I’m hearing is the, the Icelandic model, they, they paused and they, they went through a, a, a process to determine what the best action was. So often when we see. Reactions happen. Policy ha ha happen here in the states. It’s something bad happened, we need a policy. Boom, let’s put it out there. Said, let’s look at all the objective data. What are some of the positive implications? What might be some of those negative implications? What, what are some of the opportunities? What is the potential? What new innovative ideas outside the box thinking can we bring into this? And I also feel like they also brought a layer of that critical thinking. Yeah. But what are the implications of not acting, of being successful? And then boom, they took action. That’s kinda what I was hearing. Yeah, I think so. You know, and again, I, I don’t wanna oversell times that I wasn’t there. I will celebrate them strenuous and joyfully because I, I feel really lucky to be a part of this very small part of the really great work, that they’ve done. You know, I think to, to me, part of the thing I think is so important about their approach is I think lots of places, as you described, an event happens. And then we, we reassess. So, you know, this picture is taken there. People are looking at it in the media and there’s an opportunity to reassess. I think one thing I love about them is that they took advantage of that opportunity and they actually reassessed. I think, I think we have all kinds of opportunities to reassess and, and we whiff on it. We don’t do it, you know, or we reassess at a very superficial level. but I think for them there was a kind of a deep reassessment and people, you know, you know, kept people focused on that. I think out of that, and this to me is, is one of the great strengths of, of, of this approach is the idea that, you know, I think things like, attention are a treatment. you know, how do we create, you know, a system in which, or a process in. We’re able to sustain adults’ attention over time. So, you know, you described it, you know, something terrible happens in the States. People get anxious, you know, we’ll have a community meeting, you know, 500 people will show up. We’ll have a community meeting three months later and five people show up. And so how do we sustain attention over time? and when I say that I’m not being necessarily ugly, I people have a thousand reasons why 90 days they aren’t there anymore. I’m, I’m not being judgemental about that, but I am saying that in order to make progress, we can’t forget the tragedies that we don’t want to have happen again. And so we have to have some system. And so in this case, what I, what I think is really helpful and over time, and again like, you know, I think a lot of this developed over time and organically and people tried this and they tried that and this worked and, and although it was definitely based firmly in scientific principles, you know, there, there is, there is a science to what we need to do and then there’s an art to getting it done. And I think we have people who are really good at both to me and, and you know, I think people often get confused when we talk about the Icelandic prevention model because it, in an it, it’s essence, the prescription is really the process itself. It’s not necessarily a certain set of strategies or a certain set of tactics. Often when people talk about the Icelandic prevention model, you hear a lot about, leisure time, athletics. You’ll hear things about, curfew. and, and all of that was a part of it. But, but depending upon the community, the strategies that were developed often are very, very different and still have a lot of success. So really the heart of it is this, this process of how do we bring people together? How do we collect data that is related to the, the domains I was talking about, in terms of family, school, peers, leisure time, how do we look at a list of risk and protective factors, and then do actually some diagnos. In this community, which risk and protective factors in each domain seem to be contributing to the best possible outcomes in the young people in a specific neighborhood, like a catchment area of a school. And then how do we work with people in all the domains we listed, to develop some goals around what are one or two things we can do together to strengthen this environment for young people? And so you collect some data, you go through that process of creating some common goals about how we wanna strengthen the social environment. You implement those goals. In one to two years, you give a survey again to see how are we doing? Are things getting better or worse? You look at the risk and protective factors. Again, what targets are out there that we can see that we can make a good difference? Which of those targets feels the most constant with this community? you know, one community might say, oh man, it seems like young people who, whose parents spent a lot of time with their friends’ parents, so they’ve built some social capital. Man, it’s really working well. It’s, it’s reducing rates of use. But one community may have a lot of reasons to say, man, we don’t really think if, you know, we can set a goal that will be effective there, but the one next door does that one, picks that goal up and the other one picks up a different goal. And so I think this sense of like, you know, again, there’s a process in which we’re, we’ve raised awareness, we’ve collected data, we’ve made data informed decisions in a way that is, You know, create a certain amount of social cohesion, that we as a community are deciding on something we want good for our young people together. we’re trying to implement that and then we collect the data again and get on the scale, see, see how we’ve done, often. And gosh, I feel like everything I’m gonna say on this, podcast is gonna make people mad at me. For those of you who know me, you know how goodhearted I am. I, I don’t mean anything bad about it, but, in general, I think in the States, at least, a lot of our coalition work around substance, use prevention doesn’t go anywhere. you know, this I think provides a structure that Propels Community Coalition work forward, and that holds it accountable because you’re getting this data at regular intervals, which gives you a sense of whether or not you made progress together. It’s giving you clear targets through diagnostics that’s specific to the community you serve. Not just these general scientific principles, which are important but are really most important in the context of local data that’s telling you what works specifically with the young people and the families we’re serving. And so I think the, as you said, the process is the, is the prescription. So it just provides a little bit more structure. I think the other thing there, it often does that is so important is part of the goal of this is to say, how can we strengthen the institutions that are dedicated to serving young people? How do we strengthen families? How do we strengthen schools? How do we strengthen, afterschool programs and, and leisure time opportunities? How do we strengthen, strengthen social services that are dedicated to, serving young people? And so we, you know, we build these institutions, which hopefully a reflection of our values, we just say, Students learning, is so important to so many of us that we’re gonna invest some of our collective resources there. and, and so I think that part of it too, where we’re strengthening institutions over time. We’re strengthening relationships over time. We’re strengthening our ability just to agree on the obvious things, which is we want our children to be well. and to act on that. And so I think this kind of, you know, people often ask how is this different from traditional, kind of coalition work in the us? And in this case, I would say there’s a very clear structure. There’s a very clear plan, it’s a very database. Um, it, it. Combines practitioner and practitioners and scientists effectively and families effectively, it creates sustained attention over time across all of the parties that really need to be engaged in that. and it strengthens institutions that are dedicated to serving young people. So that’s what this does. The thing that I think we often don’t do that’s in that is we do things like fund work on one to three year grants, trying to solve social problems that took one to three decades to create. we often put people in coalitions who, although they are good people, in my experience with them, most of them have dedicated their lives to doing great things in the world. We ask them to collaborate while also asking them to compete for the next grant. and so that’s a huge obstacle to collaboration. If, whether or not I’m gonna be able to pay for my children’s, school and, and my team can pay me pay for a mortgage is at risk because we’re doing too much with our neighbor. and people will say, no, that doesn’t happen. It, it absolutely happens. Um, you know, , I think coalition work often in the States is very, very heavy on planning and not super heavy on getting it done. and, and that’s because doing it is hard and as opposed to creating strong institutions with the capacity to get it done. I mean, often when I work in the states we spent enormous amount of time trying to build the capacity to act because we’ve underinvested in institutions designed to do. This good work in communities that need it. And so we try and piece together enough capacity from these four different grants until eventually we have it for, you know, 18 months until one of the grants is gone. And then we’re trying to figure out how to do that next piece. And so I think another thing that can be missed in their good work is just saying, this is something we’re gonna make a commitment to and we’re gonna build, you know, we’re gonna recognize. And one thing we have talk about is that you want the scope of the solution to match the scope of the problem. And so if this is a generational problem, if it’s taken decades to develop, it’s probably gonna take a while for us to be able to address it appropriately. And how do we build strong institutions able to keep that capacity over time so we can make and sustain progress? I love it. And what, what stands out to me that is, is unique and powerful about the Icelandic model? Would be a couple things. One being that that paradigm, that mindset, that society is the patient. and that what I see often here in, in at least the states is when we look at environmental or individual programs, we tend to skew towards the individual. One because of funding, but two, i I, this, this is where I might, you know, frustrate people, but it’s easier to get data on that than the environmental strategies. The environmental and, and the environmental change is so much harder. And because of the, the grant tructure, the, you gotta have your deliverables, you gotta hit your numbers, your your get rid of all that. We. Skew towards those individual and they are so important. I will push that comprehensive approach till I’m blue in the face, but we shy away from environmental cuz it’s hard. Yeah. I agree with that. You know, and look, I mean, you know, it’s a, it’s, it’s a weird balance. It sounds like we’re both trying to kinda like, a tightrope we’re trying to walk. Right. What I do, I care very deeply about individual young people. I mean, we can sit here and I can go name. It was, it was funny, a, a few weeks ago I was talking to someone I worked with when I very first started working at alternative schools. In any case, like I’m naming kids from when I was 20 years old, like, oh, do you remember, you know, this person and that person. And we’re, and just it’s so vivid and, what I want for their lives. I still feel like in a really deep personal way that’s connected to that exact young person. and so, you know, this idea of wanting great things for individuals and knowing that no system is perfect and that when, when young people aren’t well served by these broader approaches we’re talking about that there will always need to be some kind of, individual level treatment options. Absolutely. I just think what we’re saying is we want those to be rare in the except. And not what our plan is. You know, if the plan is well, we create environments that are very difficult to be successful in, and young people are, are, are struggling, almost predictably struggling sometimes. And then we try and treat our way out of it. Well, I mean, there’s an enormous amount of harm that’s done to that individual young person, if that’s the strategy that we, we choose. An enormous amount of harm can be done to whole communities that can be ravaged when a large number of their young people, struggle and, and, and, and suffer, with addiction. And I think in addition to that, then, then there are people who are, you know, a a little more, aspirationally or heart driven about these things and just what it means to young people and their families and communities. But even just in terms of the financial models of just how incredibly expensive treatment is, you know, The social cost and the individual cost motivates me. But if you’re someone who’s motivated by the economic cost, so I think it’s easy to make a case that we, we shouldn’t have a model that ignores a problem until it’s so massive that is done terrible amounts of social harm and incurs massive, you know, costs to, to correct it if we even can. And so, you know, so the individuals matter, but I think in terms of being able to reach as many individuals as possible, these social type of interventions are really, really essential. You each life matters immeasurably, but the way to impact the most number of lives isn’t necessarily one by one. It’s by creating an environment in which most people are going to come out pretty well. And, and, and we save, And, and we li hopefully limit the amount, of, of harm done to people that we have to respond, you know, to in terms of, of them being further down the road in terms of the, the negative consequences they’re dealing with and, and over a lifetime. You know, I mean, I, I certainly have people in my life, that I love who have had issues related to addiction that would absolutely have loved to have never been introduced to the struggles that they have to deal with every day. And there’s a huge cost there. So I, I think we can care about both at the same time and, and we can be smart enough to realize that funding one doesn’t preclude funding the other. and that in a perfect world, this problem is so small that, you know, that, if we can limit the worst harms as much as possible, I think it’s easy for us all to be on board with that. Yes. And one of the other things that really jumped out at me that just felt powerful and different than what I’m used to here in the States as far as prevention, is the, the focus was to, to strengthen organizations that, that serve the young people too. I, I feel like our go-to is, okay, let’s do this program. We’ve gotta go teach this many classes in the schools. You gotta go do this, this, and this. But the way you articulated that, strengthen the organizations that support young people. That, that also, yeah. Made my heart feel happy. Well, and I think woven into it too. And, and, and you don’t wanna over idealize something. And I wanna, again, be careful not to like, speak past, you know, I’m sharing, you know, what I’ve seen a little bit and what people have shared with me about their stories. and I don’t wanna undersell it cause I also work a lot in this space with these folks. But I don’t wanna pretend like I was more significant than I was, especially in the beginning of it cause I wasn’t even there. but I think this idea, of, yeah, building these institutions is important, but I don’t wanna act like that, that sustaining them isn’t a bit of a battle sometimes. I think anytime you have a massive problem and it seems like you’ve really gotten your arms around it, of course, are there temptations to say, well, maybe we don’t need those resources to go there. And we should shift them to something else. Now we know what’s likely to happen. You pull those resources and, and likely, you know, it’s the problem of funding prevention forever. You know, how do you demonstrate the value of something that didn’t happen? You know, part of it is showing, well, this is the harm when it was happening, this is what we did to make that harm be dramatically reduced. and then I think we have to again, be able to sustain enough adult attention over time to, to be able to realize that if we take away the things that are protecting, young people, families, and communities, then, then there’s a, a, a great likelihood that we could have problems again. And, you know, maybe the magnitude of them are smaller or maybe they’re bigger. We really don’t know that. But, but we do know that if we have certain things in place and they serve people, we keep them in place. And, I, I, we can use a million examples of this, you know, at some point, at some point in my life, a home that I lived in, caught fire. And, you know, I wake up, I, I smell burning, I look around, I can’t find it. I think I’m crazy. I try and lay back down, but I can’t, like, I just still smell it. I don’t know what’s going on. and finally I find it, it’s outside of my house, and a corner of the house has caught fire and I call 9 1 1. and, a fire station somewhere, an alarm goes off and people fill a truck and they come to my house and, and they save my house. And we understand that keeping that capacity all the time is important. You know, whether or not, a house is on fire every hour on the hour, or, you know, we just understand that there’s certain things that we keep capacity, there’s capacity we keep around our government. There’s capacity we keep around self-defense. There’s capacity. We try and keep to keep community safe. There’s capacity we keep around, you know, medicine and the need to intervene medically. You know, I think this idea that we, we understand that certain things are are important enough. That we keep capacity, is something that we’re familiar with, but I think that we struggle with a little bit around the space of children. and somehow, and, and let’s say this like in the states, do we invest heavily in education? I mean, I think the answer to that’s yes. Like we, we do invest a lot of money in education. are we often constrained in how we use that money or whether or not enough of it gets to actual teachers and schools and classrooms. I mean, those, those I think are some challenges. But, but I think this idea of, you know, how do we build the strongest possible institutions, you know, you know, we’ve just been through a pandemic. I talk to teachers all the time and, and I’m not gonna lie, they’re tired. And if you ask them how valued they feel right now, at least of the teachers I talk to, they don’t feel like they’re part of an esteemed institution. In which people are grateful for them taking on the sacred trust of trying to help their young people, discover their strengths and grow, you know, the most meaningful and, and opportunity filled, lives possible. you know, they, they, they, they feel, you know, as though they aren’t trusted and as though people will, heap limitless demands on them. and that. As hard as they try to meet as many of those demands as possible. They’re often met with, a lack of gratitude. I mean, not even like a, I mean, I don’t, I don’t know many teachers that feel like they need a tick or tick parade, but just, you know, a thank you now and then, like, never hurts anyone. And so, so how do we cr strengthen these institutions full of people devoted to serving our young people and, and help make sure that as a society we’re treating people as though they’re as valuable as they are and that we’re funding their efforts in a way that gives them a chance of achieving the goals that they need to achieve. and that we agree with. And let, let me say this, cause I think this bears repeating cuz as I’m talking, you know, I’m definitely a community oriented person. but I, I will say this, my community orientation. Doesn’t come from, you know, I’m, I’m politically a very hardcore independent. you know, it’s, it’s certainly not pol a political agenda anywhere. it’s certainly not, you know, having worked, I’ve, I’ve worked in, you know, countries that have socialist parties. I’ve worked in countries that are very, very far to the right. you know, I think people have children across all kinds of political party lines, and all of that means almost nothing to me. Where, where I learned about the importance of working in community came from, honestly, growing up in the south, in the United States of America. You know, my family’s originally from Alabama. I spent most of my formative years in Florida. and, you know, it was, it was my, my grandmother and my mother that taught me things about like, you know, you know, being a good neighbor, and, you know, treating people how I wanted, to be treated myself and, being able to recognize. When we were on the same page, you know, being able to have this balance between wanting to have our individual liberties and freedoms, which I think people are certainly entitled to, but also being wise enough to realize when. It’s in our common interest to work together. You know, we, let’s, let’s raise the barn as a community. You know, let’s put the steeple up on the church as a community cuz one person can’t do those things by themselves. And so, you know, I think, you know, what we’re talking about here in terms of community is something to me that’s so much more basic than politics and, and, and is really ground in pragmatism, not ideology. that if I’m in my backyard and I’m trying to move a tree stump that’s too heavy, you know, I’m not gonna double down on doing it by myself. I’m gonna just be wise enough to ask my neighbor, Doug, if he can give me a hand. And if I’m reasonable to him, he’ll gimme a hand. And so it’s that level of working together as a community that I think, I think it’s an important, I think it’s really easy to like label this as something, and it’s certainly not anything other than, you know, realizing that, you know, you know, the only way for me to have the only important influence on my child is for them to live inside my home. Never go to school, never go to the grocery store, never consume media, don’t listen to the radio, you know, don’t go online. I mean, at some level, you know, we are all in this together when it comes to, creating an environment in which, you know, kids have a chance to really, thrive. And so, you know, it’s, it’s that kind of very pragmatic, practical level. and I think one thing I really like about this approach is it’s, you know, it has nothing to do with any kind of ideology beyond the ideology of. How do we sustain adult attention over time? And, and keep us really focused on the priority of making decisions that are in the best interest of young people. And, and by the way, applying them in very specific ways. So let’s say the community, we say, well, so they, they run the data, they look at the risk and protective factors. and in that specific community, they, they realize, and by the way, some of these are near universal truths. But you, you still wanna look at local data and see what’s most impactful, but they’re like, man, really, students in this school who report that, young people that, that, that, that it’s safe to try your best in. And that if you do, your friends won’t make fun of you if you make mistakes, right? That, that it’s socially okay to try your best at school and that it’s a safe place to make mistakes. And a community can say, we wanna set some goals around that. And there’s a role for parents in that and how we communicate to our children about the importance of school and how let’s not, it’s, it’s okay to do your best. Let’s encourage our friends to do their best. Let’s not make fun of kids who make mistakes. There’s clearly a role for that in schools. There’s a role for that in peers. How do we teach peers to reinforce each other in a way that creates these safe spaces? There’s a role for that in the leisure space in terms of afterschool programs or, you know, if, if I’m, if I’m coaching a team and I say, Hey look, academics is important in this team. You know, in order to continue being a part of this team, you need to be trying your best and working hard in school. And we need to have positive reports back. And so in this way, a whole community can come around what looks like. A school related goal, but it’s not, what it’s really is, is it’s a young person related goal. This, this protective factor is so important that we can all come together and kind of reinforce it together. And so it’s really that kind of pragmatic teamwork, that I think is, is so helpful in this approach. Well, so some of the things that I’m hearing and talking about teachers and building the capacity of the organization that serve youth and the youth themselves is the community, the importance of the community coming together to talk about their values as a community. You br you mentioned values earlier and that, that word jumped out at me cuz it’s Oh, so important. And what I’m hearing is a community comes together and say, Hey, these are the val things we value. These are the protective factors that we value. So let’s build those up. Yeah, I think so. And I think, you know, it’s funny because I’m not like a you know, I, I’m, I’m a little bit, I definitely have, like, I’m a big hearted person, but I’m also not like, particularly like, you know, let’s sit around the campfire and hold hands and, you know, so there’s like a balance to that. But, but I like how you described, I do think there’s so much value to us just being able, you know what I’ll, you know, how do we create time and space? For adults to reflect on how important our children are, not only individually, which I think a lot of us do as parents, like, I mean constantly, but how do we do that together? I don’t know that the spaces for that are as common as maybe they have been. and how do we create a space for that to say, Hey, like. You know, we share this common value, this is important to all of us. and then to be able to do something to act on that. And by the way, like not big things, you know, little things, you know, some example goals might be, you know, things like, you know, we might find in the data that, and again, these are common things that are very often scientifically, but you’re looking for what appears most relevant in a, in a community. What’s, you know, they, they’re all gonna have some amount of impact, but you’re looking for specific to that community. What are like the high leverage kind of things that might, we might be able to choose from? So say in a, in a given community, what we’re noticing is, is that young people who report. that they’re two things. One, that their parents know where they are, like pretty much all the time. and that they communicate effectively with their friends. That young people who report those two things really have low rates of substance use and abuse in that community. And so we might encourage family members to do, or things like, you know, call up your, your child’s friends, parents or caregivers and spend time getting to know them. Or maybe set a goal that once a month you’ll invite some friend, of your, some, some parents or caregivers of your child’s friends to your house and you’ll have a meal or you’ll go to their house. or something simple as your child says. They’re gonna spend the night with a. You just pick up the phone and call and check in and make sure that’s really kind of what’s happening. This idea of, of, you know, kinda monitoring and co monitoring together. And these all seem like super simple things, but these are also things that it’s easy for us to miss as adults, especially in our super fast world in which, which is just as much as being connected is important to us, there’s a lot of science that shows that being gets disconnected is, is easier than maybe it’s been in the past. And so, you know, part of what this approach does is it does, it does encourage us to make these connections in our community, but in like super authentic ways that by the way, don’t only benefit young people in terms of credit creating this protective environment, but that often just benefit families and communities more generally. I would say one thing I really love about their approach is you build this capacity. With the intent of reducing adolescent substance abuse, which is awesome. But then there’s all these other benefits that we tend not to count, right? And in this case it might be the benefits of more co cohesive communities or the benefits of knowing our neighbors better, or the benefits of being able to communicate with people in ways that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to before. And then how do we leverage that to greater good? I mean, there definitely have been times in Iceland where people said, well, we, it seems we’ve kind of tackled this. Maybe we should disband it. And people are like, no, let’s take the same capacity and maybe focus thing on things like youth quality of life or youth mental health or indicators related to thriving. And so, you know, we can begin by doing things that reduce, that prevent substance abuse, reduce substance abuse, but also that have a lot of, I think really, you know, That build the capacity in a community to to, to have the kind of relationships and the kind of cohesion that not only create these great outcomes for young people in terms of that very narrow space, but that can then be applied to young people in other ways. And that also have just a, a lot of benefits to any adult that lives. I mean, these are the kind of communities, I think not everybody, but a lot of people dream of, right? That we, that we, you know, I used to live in a really small town, 450 people. and, you know, I, I’m not, I tend to be a little more introverted, so I’m, I’m not wanting to walk down the street and have everybody stop me and, and ask me about my day and have a very long conversation about it. Like, I’ll admit that limitation as a human being. But you know what? I love being in a town. When I walked down to the, to the, the post office, we all waved at each other and we had some of those conversations and, and you just knew that, That, that there was a certain amount of, of care and courtesy and that, and that if, and that if you had a problem you could go to your neighbor’s house and knock on the door and that someone would be receptive and helpful. and so I, you know, I think, you know, community building, especially around the goal of of, of being good for young people is, is really at the heart of this. And, and, and there’s just so many benefits to it. there’s two things that I, I would love to touch on as well. so I, I’m curious about the execution, the implementation factor, you’ve capacity building of the organizations that serve the youth. You’ve talked about your values as a community. What does it take to implement Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a great question and I’m, I’m gonna try and not. You know, there’s, so, you know, we have kind of what we call our founding principles, you know, the, the guiding principles, which we’ve talked a lot about. But then there are also kind of these 10 core steps of how you execute the model that I don’t think this is the right environment to go through, all of them, but I, I’ve definitely touched on them. You know, this idea of. How do we build a local coalition? how does that coalition de develop some institutional capacity, maybe some initial funding. How do we, engage community members and let them know, Hey, we want to collect some data on young people. To understand the environment they’re growing up in. But we wanna talk to you first. You know, we want this to be something we do together. And how do we share that process so teachers and parents and other caregivers can say, Hey, yeah, this is something that we’re doing and we all wanna participate in. There’s an actual data collection process, including some data-driven diagnostics that, like I said, we, we envision a school as the hub of the community that serves a group of young people. So, although this is not a school program, it’s definitely a, a program in which schools are often a very important partner. we do everything in our power not to add to their burden, cuz schools are already doing so much, but instead be, a source of support for them where we’re able to better connect them to families and, and other policy makers to support their work. But so they do some distribution and, of, Of, of, of, of survey instruments. And then we create a report that describes the neighborhood that that school serves. So it’s not the school itself, but it’s like the school catchment area and the diagnostics are very specific to that neighborhood or catchment area. we, we go through a process where we do a lot of reaching out to families and community members and professionals that serve youth and have, dissemination meetings and trying disseminate findings in a lot of ways. You know, sometimes through reports that are, very graphic heavy, and minimize the text and just make it easy for people to see what’s happening in a community. we tend to have live community meetings as well as online community meetings where we can, where local folks for the most part can take people through the data and discuss, what are you seeing in the data. Is this consonant with your experience with young people in our community? And when we look at some of the risk factors we wanna try and decrease, or protective factors we wanna increase, which ones are the ones that feel possible in this community, that feel consonant with our community’s values that are in step with where we’re trying to go. And as a result, the community can really get behind them. I think there’s levels of community level goal setting and then trying to, you know, once those goals are set, going to all these key institutions and stakeholders and saying, what are some things you can do? To support progress on those goals. How might you align your policy or practice, in a manner that, you know, is gonna contribute to this community, changing the environment together. And then, you know, you really focus on letting young people be immersed in those kind of environments. And then you repeat the process again. You know, you, you, you, have the coalition. Take a look at what we’re doing, get some more data when you can see over time where a few things have changed. You know, one is our rates of actual substance use and abuse among young people, but also how they’re reporting risk and protective factors that we’re targeting. Are they saying that whatever our goals were, that they’re reporting a difference from their perspective? and and, and being able to look at both of those things gives us a, a real sense of p progress, which I think is super helpful in coalition work. Just this idea that, you know, because we are measuring. and when, when we do this, we generally try and measure the whole population. So, you know, our, our goal is to have 70% better response rates, and we often have ’em in the high eighties or nineties. So we really have a clear sense of what’s happening with all the students in this community, which is pretty undeniable. You know, when you start to see those indicators get better, you get excited and wanna do more. If they’re not, it makes you rethink, did we really implement this like we needed to and double down and, and either try harder or try something new. but it, you know, so I think like those kind of, you know, that I would say that’s like without going exactly step by step, those are kind of the bigger rocks in the process. And is, is there a, a link I can put in the show notes to, for folks to go learn more about all this? Absolutely. I mean, I can link you to a couple of PDFs, which I think are super helpful. And then I definitely want to, you know, we, so there’s, there’s kind of the scientific side of this, and then there is, the Planet Youth organization based out of Iceland, who is comprised of many people who were very much a part of this work, long before I’ve ever been a part of it, and who are making this available, to people all over the world. And so, you know, I would say that, you know, they, they are the, the, the, the prime disseminators, right now of this kind of work. And there are many other organizations doing good work all over the world, around the Icelandic prevention model. But, but, but I, you know, in terms of planet youth, you know, really the people who founded this approach, you know, also have, have, have founded that and, and, and just have, you know, unbelievably, rich and important experience. and so yeah, I think they’re, they, and, and you know, they, they kinda have two sides, you know, they have a, they, they certainly are service providers. Their goal is to, you know, help people implement this. and so they have some free content on their website, which I think everyone should take a look at. And for those people who can think about, you know, getting some of the other services they might provide, that’s, that’s great too. But you’re gonna find tons of them being the good. They are lots of free stuff just designed to help, are. Beautiful. Beautiful. Listeners, check the show notes for that link. And The last thing that is really on my mind is we’re nearing an hour of conversation, is sustaining adult attention. I, I’d lo I wanna learn a little bit more about that. How in the, how in the world do you do that? In this, this era? I think it’s getting harder. I mean, I think that’s an honest answer to that question. you know, I think there are a few things and these, these feel like subtle points, but I think they’re important points. So I think, there’s an important part in how data is collected. That helps. So, so some people say, well, why do you try and survey a whole population? and instead of sample sampling is, you know, you can get a smaller number. It’s representative, it’s, you’re going to, can you do a great job to sampling the answer That’s yes. In terms of a sustaining attention. I think this idea of a, of a, of trying to just, when I say population sample, I mean sampling all the young people in the community of a certain age. And usually we’re looking at like middle and high school. is that there’s something just super relevant about that. So what you’re saying is I’m looking at data of the kids that are sit my child and all the kids sitting around my child. yeah. So let’s save a 90, 80% success rate. Someone will say, ah, we don’t know anything about those, those two, you know, the 20%. Well, that might be true, but imagine this, your child’s sitting in class and you look at the 10 people around them, and it gives us a vision of what’s happening with eight outta the 10. Like, is that meaningful to you? And I think the answer to that for most people is yes. And so I think that strategy, you know, this sense that, that we’ve gone out of our way to really hear what young people are experiencing from their point of view, and we’re presenting it in a way that’s incredibly accessible. To the community at large, and that the people that are presenting it are trusted people in the community that, that gain our attention just by being the people who say it. You know what I mean? So, for instance, like I, me as a researcher, I, I’m not gonna present these findings. I mean that no one cares about that. I might help prepare them. and I might talk to community leaders about, you know, what I see in the data. Which is often not as important as what as they see in the data. and then they’re able to go and do this presentation. So I think this idea of really capturing the whole community or the vast majority of the community is helpful. Cause it makes it actually is very real and very representative and it, it makes it hard to be like, you know, if you do a survey and it’s 1500, even if you use great sampling, it’s easy to p say, well maybe you know, that was just that 1500. and what you never wanna do is start debating, you know, the virtue of random sampling at that point. It’s just, you know, it feels more relevant when we can say No, this is really pretty much who’s in our community. And so I think that is super helpful. I think this idea, and we’ve seen this so much in the past few years, especially around the pandemic, and again, I’m not wanting to cast stones cause this stuff is hard. but I think, originally my family’s from Alabama and, and oftentimes, older people in my family might have the sense of, of the minute you start talking over my head, I stop trusting you. and you know, if, if you can’t say it plain and straight, then, then what you’re saying is suspect to me. And I think another thing that this approach has been really good at is how do we present data in a way that’s not going over people’s heads? And it feels practical and relevant and real in that, in that anyone can use it to make decisions to help benefit their children. So I think this idea of thinking about how we communicate with folks is important. And I think the last thing I’ll say is I think this idea of, you know, you mentioned the idea of culture earlier. How do we create a culture in. This becomes the new normal. So the gravity that that often people face is we say, well, we’re gonna get together once a year and look at data and most of the families are gonna show up, in a lot of places, the gravity it would take to get everyone out, right? The incentives we would have to use, you know, figuring out the barriers or how we’re gonna provide food. We’re gonna have childcare, we’re gonna get transportation. Like in the beginning, all of that feels like a really, really heavy, hard lift. But if people buy in and it becomes a part of the culture, then that just becomes the new normal. Well, every August we’re gonna hear this data. Every August we’re gonna reflect on how things are doing. every August we’re gonna have the bus pick people up and have food available and have childcare. And it just becomes like this thing that if we didn’t do it one year, it would feel incredibly strange to everybody. And so I think that is part of it too, is, you know, part of the way you sustain the attention is we create. These traditions, you know, these, these, you know, you know, showing up and doing this is like Christmas, you know what I mean? We, it’s, it’s something we’ve set aside as is, is almost sacred to us, to, to, to draw our attention to a value that’s deeply important to us, which is our children and their wellbeing. And we’re gonna devote this time and energy to it, and then we’re hopefully gonna carry that with us throughout the year until, you know, this, this, the tradition happens again. And so I think that is another really important part of it, of how we sustain it. You know, we build it into the culture. It just becomes over time, what we always do around here. And, and, and if for some reason it doesn’t, you know, we bristle at that and, and make sure it does. And I’m not suggesting any of that’s easy. I mean, you know, it, it, it takes, a herculean amount of work to break the gravity of what we’re used to and get into a new pattern. but I think that’s, I, I think once you achieve that sweet spot, that’s, that’s kind of what you’re shooting for. Absolutely. I had something witty I was gonna say, and I lost it. You’re awake. I’m just impressed by that alone. That’s great. So we should probably wrap this up,. my last question, though, to close us out is that if you were to tell our listeners, if you’re gonna remember one thing from this podcast episode, remember this, what would that be? Yeah. I, I can boil it down to two and I’ll, I’ll try and be brief. I hate, I, I hate to blow up the premise of the question, but, and I just think they’re just so close related that it’s hard for me to even think about in a separate, I think the first thing I’d encourage us of is that, There are some things that are so important to us that we just have to work together to make them happen. It’s okay to say, man, I, I care so deeply for my child and, , and their friends and the children in this community, I can maybe change what I normally would do , and work with the people in my neighborhood. Just to make a great neighborhood for those young, so, you know, that’s okay. I think sometimes we’re, we’re at a place, especially like post a pandemic that has people weary and, and on edge and, and suspicious of, of making a sacrifice for somebody else. And what I would say is it’s not lump everything into one category of suspicion or fatigue, and instead just realize that there’s some things that are just essential to us. And, and, and certainly, you know, being able to join together to do great things for kids is, is one of them. And then the closely related second thing is, is that, , being able to sustain our collective attention over time. and although I do think, I’ll talk about the states, I do think the United States makes great investments in children. I’m not trying to say that we, always fail to put our money where our mouth is. But I would say that the way we go about it often interrupts and breaks that attention and sometimes falls short of, of providing the resources necessary to get something done. And so for us not only to sustain attention in terms of us as individuals in a community, but to create the institutional capacity to have some organization be able to, you know, maintain the capacity they need over time to solve generational problems, I think is, is really important. So, you know, , what’s the one, two punch? You know, one is us being able to say there’s something so important that of course we’re gonna work together and children is definitely gonna be one of them. And I think the other is to say, , how do we express that through sustained attention and strong institutions that are able to get the job done that we, we know is super important to us? and those are both really hard things, but I think that’s, you know, what we’re pulling for. Yep. And like you said, when you gotta do hard things, gotta do it together. You gotta do it together. Well, this has been awesome. Awesome. I, I could sit here for hours and pick your brain , and talk, but I know we both have a, a lengthy to-do list cuz we’re some go-getters. So I will thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to, to share your wisdom with me and with our audience across the globe. I will put links in the show notes for y’all to be able to learn more about the Icelandic model and planet youth. Keep up the great work, Mike. It’s been an honor. Oh, thank you so much. And I’m a very small part of this, so grateful to the people who’ve done most of the work and grateful you for you, for setting aside time to talk about this and, and just share, you know, a little bit of what’s made, a difference in the lives of all young people. So thank you very much.