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Re-thinking harm reduction strategies in Sydney’s licensed entertainment settings and outdoor music festivals: A cross-national comparative analysis

image - Music Festival
Date Commenced:
Monday 4th February 2019
Expected Date of Completion:
August 2022
Project Members: 
Project Main Description: 

This project will employ a cross-national comparative analysis to explore the frameworks and variance in services that address harms and risks associated with alcohol and drug use in Sydney and other night life capitals (e.g., London and Amsterdam)’s nightlife entertainment settings and outdoor festivals. In order to identify key learnings in terms of strengths and shortcomings, the variance in each country’s discrete laws, policing measures, urban governance and drug-specific programs will be explored.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Dr Philip Wadds – Faculty of Social Sciences UNSW


Alcohol and other drug (AOD) consumption is linked with a range of social harms, including adverse health outcomes, violence and other offences. In the Australian context, and in Sydney specifically, there has been a renewed inquiry into how the harms associated with risky AOD use can be more effectively mitigated in licensed entertainment settings and outdoor music festivals.  While Australia is committed to applying harm reduction as part of its three-pillar harm minimisation strategy, there has been, and continues to be, a disconnect between policy documentation and implementation in these settings, with, for example, a heavy emphasis on typically punitive legislation and intense policing tactics. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates some of these current policies may inadvertedly increase or exacerbate harm. Consequently, it is necessary to understand the potentialities, constraints, modes of thought and means of making and implementing decisions in relation to AOD risks in these contexts.

One method for comparing practices in different parts of the globe is through comparative policy analysis (Ritter et al, 2016). For instance, structured and evidence-based harm reduction and prevention approaches are now being used in countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK, where a greater emphasis is being placed on coordinated harm reduction efforts between local regulatory coalitions, law enforcements, the nightlife industry, and health services. Thus, this study aims to analyse the various policy frameworks used in different countries to better understand their proactive strategies and interventions, thereby providing Australia and Sydney specifically with a range of alternative frameworks to draw from.  The objective of this research is therefore to: (i) broaden understanding of what harm reduction services could or should look like in licensed entertainment settings and outdoor music festivals, by considering the multitude of alternative policy levers being used around the world, including: laws, regulations, policing, peer agencies, safe spaces, and environmental design; (ii) investigate the degree to which these alternative frameworks have worked to mitigate AOD-related risk behaviours; and (iii) assess the portability of these alternative frameworks within the bounds of the Australian context.  


Component 1: Systematic Review - To ​critically appraise the extant literature on the types of strategies employed and the benefits and drawbacks of different AOD harm reduction initiatives in licensed entertainment precincts, venues and outdoor music festivals.

Component 2: 2020 Global Drug Survey – To construct and administer a new NTE module to a global sample of patrons, and thereby assess patron use and perceptions of AOD related harm reduction programs in NTEs in 30> countries including any cross-national variance.

Component 3: Field observations and Stakeholder interviews:  To canvass and analyse key stakeholder perspectives on the utility of pro-active harm reduction initiatives via detailed qualitative interviews and on-site field observations in Sydney and two comparator cities. To better understand the difference policies that underpin each city’s governance structures designed to address drug-related harms the NTE, the context of each city’s political economy, historical and socio-cultural dynamics, laws, and approaches to policing will also be examined.

Design and Method: 

A systematic review will be conducted to identify and appraise the studies of different pro-active interventions around the world, aimed at reducing harms associated with risky AOD-use in licensed entertainment settings and outdoor music festivals. Furthermore, a concurrent triangulation mixed-methods approach with embedded case studies will be used in this research, to allow for comparison of data types to validate or corroborate qualitative findings (in-depth semi-structured interviews, participant observation) with quantitative results (a new module on harm reduction in the NTE in the 2020 Global Drug Survey) . This design will help in addressing gaps in knowledge and add to the proven benefits of employing comparative policy analysis for drug policy research (Ritter et al 2016; Hughes et al 2018).


Component 1: The systematic review has been registered with Prospero, and the review is ongoing: 

Christopher Eassey, Caitlin Hughes, Monica Barratt, Phillip Wadds. A systematic review of intervention frameworks to reduce harms associated with alcohol and other drug use in licensed entertainment settings and outdoor music festivals. PROSPERO 2020 CRD42020140004 Available from: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?ID=CRD42020140004

  1. To discern the multiple levers that could be used to reduce AOD-related harms in licensed nightlife entertainment settings and outdoor festivals.
  2. To contribute to evidence-informed policy reforms in Sydney’s night-time entertainment districts and outdoor music festivals.
Project Status: