About the COMPASS System

The primary objective of the COMPASS System is to effectively guide and continually improve youth prevention research and practice. As a learning system, COMPASS has been purposefully designed to:

  • strengthen the capacity required to plan, act, evaluate, and adapt strategies to advance youth health in multiple domains (e.g., obesity prevention, healthy diet and physical activity promotion, substance use prevention, tobacco control, bullying prevention)
  • engage researchers in studies relevant to “real world” intervention by conducting studies that are designed to capitalize on natural experiments as a means for generating both evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence as interventions are mounted in different contexts and jurisdictions
  • enable stakeholders in local health and education systems to plan, tailor, and evaluate local initiatives based on evidence
  • strengthen our ability to understand and address health inequities among high-risk groups of youth (e.g., off-reserve Aboriginal youth, youth in low socioeconomic (SES) communities)
  • expand our ability to understand how different social and physical environments shape youth health trajectories or impact the outcomes of different interventions over time (e.g., evaluating how different built environments can impact the success or failure of particular interventions)
  • foster more primary prevention action and evidence-based practice through engaged partnerships between researchers and knowledge users. The COMPASS System is clearly focused on enabling the timely and robust generation of knowledge and evidence to advance youth health, by building the capacity to integrate research, evaluation, policy, and practice within the Canadian (and international) prevention system

The conceptual framework guiding the COMPASS System is adapted from earlier research and leadership with the School Health Action Planning Evaluation system (SHAPES) model1,2, but made relevant to (a) longitudinal data systems, (b) incorporating data on the program, policy and built environment surrounding youth, and (c) fostering knowledge exchange to promote contextually appropriate intervention action within schools.

COMPASS System conceptual model. Each section of the model is described in the text below.

Figure 1- Conceptual model of the COMPASS System.

The conceptual model for COMPASS is a cyclical process that includes four staged processes and two overarching processes.

The four staged processes that occur in an ongoing cyclical order are:

  • Data collection activities - collecting relevant data at both the student-and school-levels
  • Knowledge translation and exchange activities - engaging school stakeholders by providing them with
    • A timely syntheses of their school-specific data with corresponding recommendations for action and links to relevant available resources locally
    • COMPASS staff dedicated to working with schools to identify the prevention priorities for the school and to determine the most appropriate and feasible prevention action(s) for their particular school context and student population
  • Intervention activities - mobilizing necessary staff and resources to implement the prevention action(s) identified as priorities by school stakeholders
  • Evaluation activities - for all school-based prevention action(s) that occur as part of this process, COMPASS staff and researchers evaluate the impact of each intervention (both individually and comprehensively if more than one intervention were to occur in a particular school) on student outcomes to generate timely, local, practice-based evidence

The two overarching processes that occur throughout an ongoing application of the COMPASS System are:

  • Ongoing system performance improvement activities - ensuring the methods and tools used in the system are valid and reliable, maintaining data quality and improving data management techniques, continually improving and adapting the knowledge translation and exchange tools, continually updating the recommended actions, advancing the scope and quality of recommended interventions, strengthening evaluation capabilities (timing, complexity, and rigour), and strengthening the trust and relationships between system researchers and stakeholders
  • Context specific adaptation activities – COMPASS researchers work with a variety of stakeholders to establish plans for learning from the actions taken, the practice-based evidence generated from evaluating the different school-specific interventions are shared with other schools and stakeholders (especially schools with similar student populations or contextual environments where the intervention is most likely to be effective if replicated), and the research team works with stakeholders to identify new collaborators to address any knowledge gaps in the different stages of this research-to-action process.


Leatherdale, S.T. 2012. Evaluating school-based tobacco control programs and policies: an opportunity gained and many opportunities lost. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 24:91-108.

Leatherdale, S.T., Manske, S., Wong, S., Cameron, R. 2009. Integrating research, policy and practice in school-based physical activity prevention programming: The School Health Action, Planning and Evaluation System (SHAPES) Physical Activity Module. Health Promotion Practice, 10, 254-261.

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