My pre-conference day was spent doing all things international. In the morning I attended my first meeting of the Advisory Group for the Society for Prevention Research’s International Task Force. It was good to hear about what the Task Force is doing to help facilitate and promote international collaboration.
The afternoon was taken up with the International Networking Forum (organised by the International Taskforce). It’s a great idea, as it helps connect prevention researchers from different countries, and is an excellent way to make people feel welcome. This meeting included an overview of what the International Task Force would be working on during the coming year, the four priorities being:
- Contributing to the development of a prevention hub which includes a registry of prevention researchers around the world
- Work on defining what we mean by prevention science – both in different countries and in different areas of research which might constitute it
- Drawing together information on links to websites which summarise effective interventions and strategies
- Developing the structures and strategies of the efforts to build international collaboration through and beyond the International task force.
Some highlights for me were the discussions we had about the challenges of international collaboration, potential sources of help (such as the International Association of Addiction Journals mentorship scheme), the work of the UN ODC which tries to ensure prevention is based on research and evidence, and the plans for the future development of the EU SPR.
Then it was time for the international poster session, at which I was presenting our work on an exploratory trial of the Kids, Adults Together Programme.
So, then to Wednesday – day 1 of the main conference.
A fantastic start, with some really good plenary papers on the crucial role of the social and environmental determinants of health. Leonard Syme argued that social class is often controlled for in studies, but rarely studied. His key point was that we have to move away from a narrow focus on individual behaviours and risk factors. Sandro Galea described the need to avoid allowing the 'urgent' crowd out the 'important', and suggested that focusing on individual behaviour interventions (rather than looking at social determinants) was a form of 'riveting distraction'. He made the point that unless we address social determinants we will always have social gradients.
Then was a parallel session on engaging high risk youth and their families into preventive interventions. The papers in this session and the interesting summary at the end highlighted the importance of understanding what we mean by engagement, and how best to promote it.
After lunch there was an excellent session on the transportability and adaptation of parenting interventions. Frances Gardner from Oxford University presented the results of a systematic review which examined the effectiveness of interventions in new countries (i.e. countries to which they had been transported from their original place of development). The take home message was that the four interventions included in the studies reviewed indicated that they were at least as effective in the new country - sometimes more so, with stronger effects in non Western countries. Helen Baker Henningham described the adaptation of Incredible Years for Jamaican schools, and highlighted the importance of understanding the environments in which teachers worked, and how to optimise the intervention so that they could implement it fully.
In the last parallel session of the day I attended, Jonathan Pettigrew gave an interesting paper on the relationship between implementation quality and the outcomes in a trial of Keepin It Real - a school-based substance misuse prevention intervention. His results indicated that the quality of intervention delivery mattered as much (if not more so) than levels of adherence (the extent to which all programme activities were delivered).
So what have I learnt so far? It's striking just how much research at the conference has been about parenting and family relationships, and it brings home for me the real impact which processes like parental communication can have on young people's health and wellbeing. Secondly, sometimes our research findings can surprise us and raise questions as well as answers. Why for instance, should programmes which are adapted for new countries be more effective than in their original country of development? Thirdly, studying implementation is crucial - it tells us so much about how our interventions work, the contexts they operate within.
So less of a conference diary, and a more a rather random set of thoughts. I think the best thing about this conference is the willingness of people to talk to others - to share,and to ask questions.