A National Public Health Programme on Gambling Policy Development in New Zealand: Insights From a Process Evaluation
Background In New Zealand, a public health programme on gambling policy development is part of a national gambling harm reduction and prevention strategy mandated by the Gambling Act 2003. Funded by the Ministry of Health, the programme directs workplace/organisational gambling policies, non-gambling fundraising policies, and local council policies on electronic gaming machines (EGMs). We carried out a process evaluation of this programme to identify practical information (e.g. advocacy approaches; challenges and ameliorating strategies) that can be used by programme planners and implementers to reinforce programme effectiveness and serve to guide similar policy-focused public health initiatives elsewhere.
Methods Evaluation criteria, based on the programme’s official service specifications, guided our evaluation questions, analysis and reporting. To identify informative aspects of programme delivery, we thematically analysed over 100 six-monthly implementer progress reports (representing 3 years of programme delivery) and transcript of a focus group with public health staff.
Results Identified output-related themes included purposeful awareness raising to build understanding about gambling harms and the need for harm-reduction policies and stakeholder relationship development. Outcome-related themes included enhanced community awareness about gambling harms, community involvement in policy development, some workplace/organisational policy development, and some influences on council EGM policies. Non-gambling fundraising policy development was not common.
Conclusions The programme offers an unprecedented gambling harm reduction approach. Although complex (due to its three distinct policy focus areas targeting different sectors) and challenging (due to the extensive time and resources needed to develop relationships and overcome counteractive views), the programme resulted in some policy development. Encouraging workplace/organisational policy development requires increased awareness of costs to employers and society and appreciation of policy value. Although encouraging non-gambling fundraising policies will likely remain challenging, public debate on ethical aspects could stimulate policy consideration. Influencing council EGM policy decisions will remain important for minimising EGM accessibility among vulnerable communities. Public involvement in EGM policy decisions has strong implications for policy effectiveness. Given the expanding range of gambling activities (including online gambling) presently accessible to communities worldwide, both organisational and public policies (as advocated through the programme) are needed to minimise gambling harms.