Driving Change in Canada: #PracticeSafeText!

November 24, 2014

Canadian Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield commits to #PracticeSafeText! during NTDSW.

In the spring of 2013, I received a call from Parachute, a national injury prevention charity from Canada. The organization is dedicated to stopping the clock on preventable injuries, helping Canadians to live long lives to the fullest. Parachute formed in July 2012 through an amalgamation of Safe Communities Canada, Safe Kids Canada, SMARTRISK, and ThinkFirst Canada, joining to create one strong voice in injury prevention.

Parachute was interested in launching a National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW) in Canada and wanted to learn about our experience kicking off NTDSW in the States in October 2007. Suzanne Hill, CIRP@CHOP director of Outreach and Advocacy, and I shared the Week’s history with them and explained that NTDSW has successfully evolved into a grassroots movement, with thousands of communities, schools, organizations, parents, and teens using the week as a platform for promoting teen driver safety. After a successful inaugural year, we spoke to our Parachute counterparts about plans for Canada’s second NTDSW and our eighth.

What Parachute was able to achieve in such a short time in building a movement is amazing and shows what can be done through network mobilization, collective action and national organization. With the support of State Farm® Canada and partners across the country, Canada’s NTDSW 2014 achieved its strategic goals: 1) to increase federal and provincial participation in and awareness of NTDSW and 2) to increase the reach of NTDSW to promote safe teen driver behaviors. Initial signs of success: Four provinces announced official proclamations for NTDSW, and the Federal Minister of Health and the Federal Minister of Transport lent their support to the cause, even sharing videos about why they back the Week. Four other provinces and one territory disseminated NTDSW via traditional and social media channels. Finally, thousands of teens and their communities took part in over 250 activities across the country.

Teen driver safety is a huge issue in Canada. While young people make up only 13% of licensed drivers, they account for approximately one-quarter of all road-related injuries and fatalities. Most of these injuries can be prevented.

I recently checked in with Alexandra Kelly, MSc, a senior coordinator at Parachute, to see how their second NTDSW went. What she shared can be translated into clear recommendations that can be used by other organizations working to drive positive health behavioral change:

Develop a clear, concise message with actionable steps to take. The theme for 2013’s NTDSW was to address “aggressive, impaired, and distracted driving.” While important, this theme came across as too general to result in high levels of engagement. In 2014, teens were still reminded to focus on issues important to them, but NTDSW used a specific message, #PracticeSafeText, to highlight a clear tie to distracted driving. The #PracticeSafeText messaging was reiterated throughout all downloadable resources and activities that were developed for schools, organizations, and thousands of teens, supporting them as they raised awareness across the country.

Enlist the support of your entire organization. Planning for NTDSW 2014 began nearly a year before its October rollout. By meeting with all of Parachute’s divisions and State Farm’s public relations partners, the outreach campaign could hit the ground running with a cohesive message and strategy to achieve its goals. The development of an integrated action plan ensured organizational collaboration across all internal departments and external stakeholders.

Develop a dedicated and strategic social media plan. Parachute saw a 20-fold increase in social media impressions in 2014 relative to the inaugural year of NTDSW in Canada. The success was attributed to a strategic social media campaign that mobilized different platforms to target key demographics.Two particularly innovative strategies included a Thunderclap and a Twitter party. Parachute’s Thunderclap encouraged collective online action, working across social media platforms to broadcast messaging across supporter networks. The broadcast happened at a specific time on a certain day, essentially saturating social media networks with aligned, concise messaging. Parachute’s Twitter party featured questions for users to answer, all following the select hashtag for the party, #NTDSWParty. The event provided an opportunity for parents and industry to discuss some of the largest teen driver safety issues in Canada, as well as potential solutions to ensure their children were safe on the road. #NTDSWParty was a success, trending at #4 in Canada over the course of the hour-long event, with nearly 4,000 tweets during that hour.

Branding consistency is key. The selection of key messaging and related branding was applied across all Parachute assets, including the corporate site, social media channels, and all resources created for NTDSW. The consistency in branding ensured clear communication to all users, throughout their navigation on all of Parachute’s sites. Additionally, Parachute made all branding elements available to partner organizations and communities, increasing brand awareness.

Provide turn-key activities and work with great partners. Parachute partners executed over 250 events across the country during NTDSW, encouraging participants to take part in the #PracticeSafeText selfie activity, make a 30-second video explaining why NTDSW matters to them, and participate in a Virtual Classroom event on October 23. By making it easy for groups to take the theme and run with it, participation skyrocketed. Some organizations even changed their original conference or meeting dates to join the movement. They wanted to make their plans fit in with NTDSW, excited that there was a national effort to raise awareness and initiate change.

Be flexible. When the tragic series of terrorist shootings occurred at Parliament Hill on October 22nd, Parachute immediately adapted events scheduled for the remainder of the week. This included shifting an Ottawa-based Virtual Classroom location to a new venue. Other key stakeholders stepped in, and the event still succeeded in raising awareness of the biggest issues facing today’s teen drivers. Similarly, the Twitter Party changed dates out of respect for the day’s events. Parachute’s integrated plan and committed work team responded to these changes immediately, while maintaining the week’s momentum.

Encourage everyone to get in the game. Parachute has an overall plan for Canada and needs everyone’s support in order to stop the clock on predictable and preventable injuries. NTDSW is an important element of this plan, engaging with leading groups on teen driver safety. This was evident in collaboration from federal, provincial and territorial ministries, the transportation industry and related organizations. The Week's success comes from support at the highest level of industry and government, but would not be possible without an army of ambassadors (students, parents, teachers, community representatives) taking a leadership role in their communities on behalf of teen driver safety. This combined multi-level approach was essential to the success of NTDSW.

With results like these, I can’t wait to see Canada’s NTDSW in 2015. There may even be a NTDSW Thunderclap or Twitter Party in the works for 2015 in the States. Parachute may have used our road map to point the way, but we plan to make the most of some of their creative pit stops along their journey.