The following observations are derived from the Internet-Based Tobacco Control Communications Program, conducted in the Czech Republic during June 1999-December 2000. The lessons are based on the experience of the project participants and evaluators:
- Professional standing and commitment of Czech partners and placing them in leadership roles are key to successful project implementation: CECHE's main Czech partners Drs. Rudolf Poledne of IKEM and Hana Sovonova of NIPH are highly respected and well established health professionals in the Czech Republic. NIPH is the lead agency responsible for tobacco control in the country and IKEM is the primary agency for cardiovascular disease control. The partners' professional know-how and commitment and their agencies' standing in the Czech leadership assured wide access within and outside the Czech government. Placing Drs. Poledne and Sovonova in leadership roles gave them incentive, ensured local adaptability of new approaches being proposed and enhanced project credibility.
- Partnerships with key international organizations and players in the grass roots movement, tobacco control and Internet use ensured needed tools and optimal training. Acquiring UICC-GLOBALink of Geneva - the leader in international Internet-based tobacco control networking - as a major partner from the start was instrumental in obtaining critical training in Internet and tobacco control communications. GLOBALink "trained the Czech trainers" who in turn conducted additional Internet training workshops for new TOB-CCP Network members. GLOBALink also helped set up a special listserv for the project, which was a central mechanism used for networking and it enhanced the project website. This insured continued availability of up-to-date tobacco control information via email and the Internet and the project website (http://www.szu.cz/drogy) and continued action on tobacco control issues. This service also facilitated project monitoring. Other international partnerships with leaders in tobacco control, in addition to CECHE, especially the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Advocacy Institute, both in Washington, D.C, secured training in tobacco control and enabled relationships with a widening group of international experts. Finally, the American Heart Association's (AHA) involvement was critical to the formation of the Czech Heart Association. These relationships facilitated program activities and contributed to building organizational capacity including fundraising and volunteerism.
- Partnerships with key local organizations involved in tobacco control within and outside the Czech government are necessary to ensure project viability, wide scale impact and future sustainability of the program. Working with the local District Hygiene Stations of the Czech Ministry of Health, medical and research institutions, with NGO's and professional societies, and health and tobacco control professionals throughout the Czech Republic proved essential to consensus building on priorities and strategies and the formation of the network. Contacts with the Czech Ministry of Health proved important in ensuring the nationwide implementation of initiatives and are deemed important in future efforts of the TOB-CCP Network and the CHA.
- Collaborating with Czech TV, radio and print media played a central role in enhancing the project's outreach and impact. Favorable reception by the media of the frequent press events and wide scale press coverage of project activities are a testimony to the importance of media relations in enhancing project dissemination. Previous collaborative work with Czech TV such as on CECHE's TV series, "Elixir of Life" proved helpful. The project also demonstrated that continuing to network with journalists and serving as experts resources for health-related stories helps to promote coverage of critical issues, events and legislation, and to bring tobacco control to the forefront of news for Czech audiences.
- Collaboration and support of Czech cardiovascular disease-oriented professional societies and Czech cardiologists was central to the successful formation of the new grass roots organization-the Czech Heart Association (CHA). A focus on tobacco control by public health specialists alone was not sufficient to gain public confidence in the network, our Czech partners determined. Involvement of cardiologists in the program and especially in CHA, was needed to ensure CHA leadership in the tobacco control arena, credibility, impact and long-term sustainability.
- An ongoing plan of action coupled with assurance of funds is necessary for sustainability of the Tobacco Control Network. Although the network has developed its own agenda for future action, participants agreed on the importance of a follow-up mechanism, for example annual surveys to assess the network's status and role. Assistance in fundraising (e.g. planning and conducting training programs for a fee, obtaining corporate sponsorships) was deemed necessary to enhance network sustainability, especially membership building and strengthening the community of tobacco control health professionals, focusing future meetings on school outreach, collaborating with Czech State TV, Internet training, fundraising and continued policy advocacy efforts.
- Ongoing needs assessment ensured targeted training and project evaluation. The training program encompassed ongoing needs assessment as the network grew. Regular feedback ensured that specific training needs could be addressed. The resultant series of Training workshops (October 1999; April 2000; June2000) assisted in establishing a baseline of skills, resources, and needs; setting training goals; targeting specific deficits identified during the assessments as well as forming a basis for ongoing project evaluation.
- Periodic project evaluation assisted in mid-course corrections. Evaluating the impact of the training workshops assisted in fine-tuning future training efforts to meet the requirements and interests of participants. In addition, these monitoring efforts provided data to assess whether the objectives of the workshops were accomplished.
- This Internet-Based Tobacco-Control Training and Communications Program could serve as a model for neighboring CEE-NIS and other countries and organizations concerned with tobacco control. The program's resultant corps of Internet and computer literate public health practitioners is experienced in using the Internet for research and communication on tobacco issues and could be called upon as resources on tobacco control and communications training. The project's various components including the targeted information technology and skills transfer workshops, data collection and evaluation system, international partners and resources, program activities and events and the legislative advocacy agenda, provide a road map that could be modified to suit local circumstances and tested for establishment of Internet-based networks.
- Early availability of a promotional materials to publicize the project and published programs for workshops could have improved recruitment of participants and dissemination of project. A project brochure was produced approximately midway through the 18-month program. Had this been available at the beginning to all the District Hygiene Stations and health-focused NGOs, more participants, supporting partners and/or sponsors could have been recruited into the project. Similarly, early development of definitive workshop programs would have enhanced participation and project dissemination. The information could have been more effectively used in news releases to the public, other CEE countries and Czech legislators.