Earlier this year the independent evaluation company, Cogo, were engaged by the New Zealand Drug Foundation, who manage Living Sober, to carry out an evaluation of our site. Below is a summary of the results.
Living Sober is an online mutual aid community for people looking to manage their relationship with alcohol. It is a forum and community where people offer support and advice about their journey with alcohol, using a peer-support model which is led and guided by Lotta Dann.
This evaluation of Living Sober surveyed project documentation, site analytics, Living Sober members, new visitors, and key stakeholders.
Summary of findings:
The evaluation found that many survey respondents who use the Living Sober website have experienced positive changes in their alcohol use, and attribute this to being a part of the community.
The free-of-charge Living Sober model, with its “ethos of tolerance, understanding and kindness”, where people can anonymously share their stories and interact in conversation to support each other is working:
- 68% of LS Community members have become sober since first visiting the website, and another 24% have had periods of sobriety.
- Beyond alcohol use, 84% have also experienced other positive changes, such as “better emotional wellbeing” (65%), “better mental health” (63%) and “being more optimistic about their future” (59%).
- Furthermore, most of these LS Community members attribute these changes directly to the website, with 88% reporting that at least one area of the Living Sober website had contributed “A great deal” to one or more of the positive changes that they had experienced.
Living Sober reach:
Google Analytics data shows that the Year Ending March 2021 saw a total of 117,876 website users active on the website over a total of 263,409 sessions, making 1,505,524 page views.
62% of all website users are currently accessing Living Sober via mobile, 6% via a tablet, and 31% via a desktop device. Based on IP addresses, website users were most commonly from the United States (41%), followed by New Zealand (22%), the United Kingdom (15%) and Australia (6%), with all other markets combined making up the remaining 15%.
45% of website users from New Zealand were in Auckland, 18% in Christchurch, 16% in Wellington, and the remaining 22% in other locations in New Zealand.
19,001 website users were returning visitors – and these returning users more commonly came from New Zealand (35%), followed by the United States (32%), United Kingdom (14%) and Australia (7%).
This means that 25,707 people located in New Zealand visited the site during this one-year period, and 6,640 of these New Zealanders were return visitors, having visited Living Sober more than once.
(Note: Most of the statistics below relate to NZ visitors.)
Living Sober has been successful at reaching women in particular, a fast-growing demographic for alcohol harm
Based on Google Analytics, 75% of website users for the year ending March 2021 were female, 25% were male. 89% of the 448 respondents to the Cogo online survey were female, with over half (57%) of all respondents aged between 40 and 59 years.
Living Sober is supporting people to make positive changes around their use of alcohol, and improving their mental health and wellbeing
90% of members surveyed selected at least one of the positive changes presented in the survey answer options, when asked “Since visiting the Living Sober website, has anything changed around your use of alcohol”:
- Over two-thirds (68%) reported that they “have been sober for a period of time” – 33% of these respondents for at least a year.
- Another 24% “have had periods of sobriety”
- 17% “feel better equipped to change my drinking habits in the future”
- 11% “have reduced the amount of alcohol I drink”.
Beyond alcohol use, 84% have also experienced other positive changes, such as “better emotional wellbeing” (65%), “better mental health” (63%) and “being more optimistic about their future” (59%).
“Living Sober saved my life and I recommend it to anyone who feels they want help with their alcohol consumption” (Cogo online survey respondent)
“My whole life has changed for the better. Definitely would be dead if it wasn't for this group” (Cogo online survey respondent)
Most of the members experiencing these positive changes, attribute them directly to the website: 88% of respondents reported that at least one of the Living Sober website areas had contributed “A great deal” to one or more of the positive changes that they had experienced.
The Living Sober culture and brand is a success
An “Ethos of tolerance, understanding and kindness” is a core value and brand that has been embedded in the Living Sober site and key messaging. This is shown to be the most important aspect of Living Sober to its community, and therefore a key success factor: it was rated as “Very important” by 85% of members.
The way the Living Sober site is structured around peer support is a success
Peer support is shown to underpin Living Sober’s acceptability and appropriateness as a model and is a key success factor. “People who have had similar experiences to mine sharing their stories” is an important aspect of the site for community members, with 77% saying it is “Very important”. Supporting this finding is the importance of peer support as a drawcard for many Living Sober community members: “Get advice/support from people who have had experiences similar to mine” was the most common reason for their first visit, with 85% selecting this option.
Living Sober operates at no cost to the user
Living Sober is free for members to join and “No join-up fee or subscription charge” was rated as “Very important” to 69% of members and underpins its acceptability as a model. The survey explored the appetite of the Living Sober community for different funding sources and sought feedback from project stakeholders. It appears that most would be comfortable with anonymous donations, with sponsorship and paid advertising less popular.
The active and effective moderation is a success
A key achievement for the Living Sober website appears to be effective, active moderation from an individual in the role of Moderator. The skillset required includes excellent communication skills, the ability to be empathic to members, and the ability to moderate member comments in a way that maintains the Living Sober culture i.e. warm, welcoming, tolerant, understanding, kind, and focused on recovery.
62% of all New Zealand respondents to the online survey “Strongly agree” or “Agree” that the Living Sober website is welcoming and respectful of Māori and tangata whenua of Aotearoa New Zealand, with no respondents selecting “Strongly disagree” and only 1% “Disagree”.
In order to present conclusive findings around the cultural responsiveness of Living Sober, a larger sample of NZ Māori survey respondents would be required. Results from the sample of 33 are positive however, with 11 NZ Māori respondents saying that they “Strongly agree” that the Living Sober website is welcoming and respectful of Māori as tangata whenua of Aotearoa New Zealand, 7 “Agree”, 10 “Neutral”, 1 “Disagree” and no NZ Māori respondents saying that they “Strongly disagree”.
Living Sober has been running for seven years; the concept of an online mutual aid network for a recovery community has been tested and shown to work. It’s been shown to support large numbers of people to stop drinking and has had many other positive impacts for members beyond their alcohol use, including improved mental health and wellbeing.
The New Zealand Drug Foundation manages the Living Sober contract and is actively examining the results of this evaluation.