20 Dec, 2017 Last updated: 10 Jul, 2020

The rise of the alcohol culture change makers

By Emma Saleeba, Manager - Alcohol & Tobacco, VicHealth 

Contact: [email protected]


Guiding a team of social change makers isn’t easy, especially when it comes to a new concept. We’ve funded nine individual projects to inspire alcohol culture change, they share a collective vision, and have plenty to gain from a real time peer-to-peer approach of sharing the lessons learned.

To facilitate this, we set up our Community of Practice (CoP), comprising our nine alcohol culture change project teams who are working to inspire more social support for low-risk drinking (as opposed to high risk drinking behaviour), across different ‘drinking cultures’ across Victoria.

We’ve now reached the six-month milestone of the Alcohol Culture Change Initiative - a quarter of the way through. So far, our change makers have focused on laying solid foundations through fostering productive relationships, developing robust evaluation plans, gaining ethics approval, seeking insights through a co-design and collaboration and moving project ideas from paper and ink to the real world.

Our project teams caught up at the November CoP to share their journey spreading learnings, insights and problem solving challenges. Here, we summarise some key themes:


The power of a leader

We hypothesised that a good and relevant role model could influence the way people are drinking in the development of the alcohol culture change approach. Role models could include celebrities, local community members and business owners, as well as people you know on a personal level who are recognised as influencers by others within the community and can express their reasons for maintaining a low-risk drinking lifestyle to their peers.

Through a broad range of co-design and collaborative methods our change makers agree, role models hold potential for accelerating change. Projects have started identifying their target cultures’ role models and thinking about how best to leverage their influence within the project.

The YARRD project (Youth Action Against Risky Drinking, led by the City of Whittlesea) formed a Social Lab - a team of young people to create a campaign using their own words about alcohol culture change. The Lab brainstormed their role models and discussed how they’d talk about binge drinking. Young people identified Ellen DeGeneres, Mrs Jackson (a local teacher in Whittlesea), Aunt Dotty (an Aboriginal elder), their Mums and Beyoncé. "Risky drinking is not cute," said the hypothetical Beyoncé.

The YAARD project is currently incorporating selected insights into a targeted local social marketing campaign.

The Alcohol Culture Change at University project(led by at Deakin University) facilitated a number of student focus groups which unpacked the influence that a dominant leader can have on drinking norms.

Photo of a powerpoint presentation


Great to hear about @Deakin’s #alcoholculture project whose focus group findings suggest a dominant leader can influence dominant drinking norms pic.twitter.com/tFZ39jaTlL

— VicHealth (@VicHealth) November 15, 2017



While scoping drinking cultures, the project has identified role models as a potential leverage point to inspire change in the university setting.

The Count me in! project (led by Better Life Group) is working with senior staff as role models who have the ability to positively influence the tradie beer economy and drive alcohol culture change.

Diagram: Senior staff have the ability to influence drinking culture


The project is working with two major construction companies, at one company they have recruited 22 team leaders to drive and model change. 

Our change makers agree, there appears to be merit in working with opinion leaders (or brand ambassadors/ everyday heroes/role models) who are recognised as influencers by others within the community and can express their reasons for maintaining a low-risk drinking lifestyle to their peers. Key influencers can contribute to alcohol culture change by sharing the project messages at events and in the course of their daily lives, even interacting with the project on social media. Many projects are incorporating this approach into their work starting with the identification of relevant influencers. 


Co-design, the (not so) secret ingredient

We need to understand people more effectively – we need to know what they want, what their values are, what their lifestyles are like, and what their day looks like. This information is critical in designing powerful and meaningful projects which inspire social change. 

To move ideas to viable campaigns or projects each change maker has prioritised engaging their audience in a range of ways including youth advisory committees, focus groups, surveys, interviews, vox pops videos, incentives for participation and other approaches. Some examples raised at the COP include: 

  • The Who’s it gonna hurt? project (led by City of Wodonga) works with middle-aged blue collared men. The team used collective impact and systems forms to create a shared agenda and systems map of factors that contribute to drinking alcohol. The forums identified four clear motivators to limit levels of risky drinking: to save money, to lose weight and improve overall health, to be a good role model for children and to remain in good standing at work.  It’s these factors that their campaign and workplace program is built upon.
  • The Youth C.A.N. project (led by Horsham Rural City Council) works with teenagers and their parents to influence culture. To engage the community in the early stages of the project team formed a youth advisory group, made connections with schools and conducted a logo design competition for young people in the community. The competition was successful gaining interest and well over 30 submissions received and provided an opportunity to further engage students and schools in the design of the project’s messaging.

Each project team shared the powerful nature of incorporating co-design principals into their design process and the importance of tailoring activities to the target group. Without this element, the target group can be alienated from the message and potential impact limited.


Know the audience to ensure engagement and eyeballs

Throughout the CoP our change makers discussed the importance of knowing who will be reading, hearing or engaging with the projects’ deliverables. Using co-design and collaboration along with authentic role models were the strategies discussed that could lead to the establishment of common ground upon which we and our target audiences could strike a mutual respect for sharing and receiving a story or message. A number of other strategies were also discussed:

  • Capitalising the most relevant medium: identifying, testing and exploring the most appropriate and suitable advertising mechanism for the target culture was identified as a key to success. For example, What’s Your Story? (led by City of Port Phillip, Melbourne and Stonnington) talked to young adults about preferred mediums to deliver messages. Their response was “no coasters, no posters” – so the project is exploring more suitable channels.
  • Data and insights to improve approach: projects discussed the value of collecting insights via data collection for real time understanding about what is and what is not beneficial, then adopting a flexible approach to delivery. For example, if a channel or message isn’t gaining reach or engagement then change needs to be made – the availability of data can provide insights into which direction to take.
  • Choice of words: change makers identified the value in scoping culture and using appropriate language for the group. For example, people often don’t want to be told what to do, or that they are in an ‘intervention project’; rather, more suitable and inclusive language may be more effective.
  • Digital approach to scoping: exploring digital options for participation in focus groups or other formative research appears more effective than face-to-face focus groups for the younger demographic of drinking cultures.
  • Be clear in communication: be clear about your call to action- create a hook and tailor your message to your audience every time.
  • Echoing personal stories: collecting personal stories from real people and share them across a campaign creates a sense of ownership, people like to feel heard and listened to.

We now look forward to the next six months where we’ll see these projects starting to impact the environments where Victorians live, work and play.


VicHealth is supporting nine alcohol culture change projects that seek to inspire social change around drinking and related behaviour in different subcultures and settings. Collectively these projects form the Alcohol Culture Change Initiative and are guided by the Alcohol Cultures Framework.

The CoP offers a semi-structured face to face meet up, where alcohol culture change projects share their learnings through regular interaction.

Find out more on this blog or at Alcohol Culture Change Initiative 2016–2019



About the author

Emma is responsible for VicHealth’s programs and investments in relation to preventing tobacco use and harm from alcohol. Emma holds a Masters degree in Public Health and has considerable experience across health promotion policy and program development, project implementation and advocacy.