• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 17th November, 2011

KiVa: Bullying prevention at scale

Professor Christina Salmivalli, joined by the Social Research Unit and an audience at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, tells the remarkable story of the development of an innovative intervention designed and proven to be effective at reducing bullying and antisocial behavior. What is more remarkable is how the intervention has, in just five years, reached 90% saturation of Finnish schools. What is bullying? Bullying can take various forms including, for example, physical aggression, intimidation or violence, name-calling or cyber-bullying. One person uses his or her greater strength, physical or psychological, to get another less powerful person to do something they don’t want to do. “Bullying is a form of proactive, rather than reactive aggression”, says Salmivalli, Professor at the University of Turku, “it is a way to gain status, power and popularity in a peer group”.The consequences for victim and perpetrator in terms of their mental health and school performance are marked. Children who are bullied are five times more likely to suffer from depression in adolescence.It was Salmivalli’s work in the mid-1990s that saw much more attention being paid to the various roles surrounding bullying. She identified that about 8% of school-age children bully others and about 12% are victims of that bullying. But Salmivalli’s main contribution was to bring much greater attention to the role of the ‘bystander’; the child who sees a bullying incident and is caught in a dilemma about whether to back the bully, support the victim or turn a blind eye to events. Being a bystander is the most common of bullying roles, “about one if five children are reinforcers, that is forming an audience, laughing or jeering” says Salmivalli, and about one in four are outsiders, turning a blind eye”. Development of KiVa in FinlandFinland may seem like an unlikely country to take such a proactive stance in the reduction of bullying. It consistently tops the academic performance charts of the OECDs Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Prevalence of bullying is not particularly high, relative to other countries - it hovers around the average. Yet since the 1990s the Finnish Government has taken a proactive approach to reducing bullying. Since 2003 every state-funded school was charged with adopting an anti-bullying policy or action plan. But this made little difference if any to the relatively stable rates of bullying. The drive to take more proactive role was galivinized in the late 2000s when two school-shootings rocked the country, the perpetrator of one being a victim of serious and enduring torment by his peers. The KiVa programSo it was that the Finnish Government reached out to Salmivalli and her colleagues at the University of Turku. In response they developed a programme called KiVa, from the Finnish kiusaamista vastaan, meaning ‘against bullying’ and kiva, meaning ‘nice’.The intervention has two primary components. There is a targeted component in which dedicated KiVa Teams within each school work directly with identified bullies. The main component, however, is the universal school-wide element. KiVa seeks to harness the intervention potential of bystanders, change the norms about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and support bystanders to safely intervene when bullying occurs.Universal components of the intervention include messaging and communication throughout the school, such as KiVa clothing worn by school yard supervisors and posters around the school, a survey completed each year by all children and parent guides and an associated website. The most critical element, however, is the structured student lessons for all children delivered by teachers. Furthermore, Salmivalli and colleagues have exploited children’s contemporary familiarity with computers by creating games that help them negotiate bullying incidents in real life and reinforce the learning from KiVa lessons. The computer game takes players through the levels of ‘I know’ - the basic facts about bullying and its effects; ‘I can’ - how to intervene in many situations to diffuse potential bullying incidents; and ‘I do’ - equipping them to feel confident to use these skills every day in school.“These lessons and computer games”, explains Salmivalli, “reinforce teacher lessons, help raise awareness of bullying, raise collective responsibility to stop it occuring, enhance empathy for victims, and equip children with safe strategies to defend victimized peers”.Evaluation and scale-up of KiVaDoes KiVa work? To answer this question a large-scale randomized control trial was conducted between 2007 and 2009. Over 30,000 children from 234 elementary and high schools took part. 117 schools implemented KiVa and 117 continued with their existing action plan or anti-bullying policy. The results were clear. KiVa was effective at reducing bullying, particularly in mid to late elementary school years. The prevalence of bullying dropped significantly in schools implementing KiVa, and these positive effects were observed across all types of bullying behaviour - intimidation, psychological aggression, violence and cyber-bullying. Following the recent tragic school shootings in Finland and the promising results from the experimental evaluation, the Finnish Government supported the national roll-out of the intervention. Since expansion in 2009 KiVa is now operating in 90% of State-funded schools: an unprecedented achievement. This roll-out has been accompanied by an ongoing evaluation which is demonstrating the same pattern of positive effects, albeit slightly dampened. Nonetheless, if the findings of the KiVa evaluations were generalized to the entire Finnish population of 500,000 students, there would be a reduction of approximately 12,000 victims and 8,000 bullies each school year.Where does an evidence-based intervention with 90% saturation go next? “Of course”, says Salmivalli, “I’m not so naive to think that all schools implementing the KiVa program are doing so with fidelity”. All of the schools got the programme, training and materials free of charge. “It follows that the perceived need for intervention or the motivation of schools to implement KiVa will vary”. Salmivalli and her team therefore plan to continue research into understanding the degree to which KiVa can implemented with fidelity, and to build capacity and resource to support schools faithful implementation of the program. New online training for schools is being developed, automated school-level feedback from online pupil surveys are underway, and biannual KiVa days now take place where schools and the KiVa research team share learning, effective practice and the latest research findings. Unsurprisingly there is also growing interest from the international community, and materials are in the process of being translated for different countries. Stay tuned to Prevention Action for the latest developments. References: Kärnä, A., Voeten, M., Little, T., Poskiparta, E., Kaljonen, A., & Salmivalli, C. (2011). A Large-Scale Evaluation of the KiVa Anti-bullying Program: Grades 4–6. Child Development, 82, 1, 311-330.

Back to Archives