Over the last week I’ve been lucky enough to attend three events, each in a different capital city, which made me think in new ways about key issues my research examines.
Fourth European Society for Prevention Research Conference, Paris
First was the annual European Society for Prevention Research Conference in Paris. It began with a pre-conference workshop on the development and evaluation of complex interventions, in which I ran a session on recruitment, retention and process evaluations. Emma Davies spoke about some of the steps involved in developing a new intervention, while Rosaria Galanti discussed ways in which researchers can map out causality in complex interventions, and identify what should be measured, and when. Both sessions explored the value of using theory to help explain complexity, and of understanding how the processes taking place in an intervention (and the behaviours they seeks to change) operate within broader social contexts.
I enjoyed the workshop format, both as a presenter and as a member of the audience, because it allowed in-depth discussion of key issues, and started off some very interesting conversations, which continued throughout the conference.
The main conference started with a thought-provoking talk by Frances Gardner, who explored the functioning of factors that might moderate the effects of a prevention programme. She suggested that there three key reasons why we might examine such moderators: 1) to understand for which groups a programme works best; 2) to address (and minimise) health and social disparities; and 3) to understand better the mechanisms of change at work.
The second plenary presentation of the day, by Federica Vigna-Taglianti, looked at how prevention interventions might work differently for boys compared with girls. In the data she presented, girls appeared to have responded more positively than boys to aspects of the intervention relating to parental or family involvement. A key question addressed by her talk was the extent to which existing prevention intervention have drawn on theories of change based on data from (and hence possibly applying better to) boys. The main conference theme – understanding differences in prevention outcomes – was further developed in the afternoon parallel sessions papers.
On Friday I spoke at this event, and presented an overview of #Acwri, a Twitter-based writers’ support group which I’m involved in organising. It was really interesting to step outside my normal network, and engage with academics and practitioners who are researching, and involved with, student experiences. Melissa Highton presented the results of a study into university students’ digital experiences (including the technologies they used most) while Eve Stirling shared findings from her PhD on students’ use of Facebook during the transition to university life. There were four key points I drew from the day:
- Technological tools are only as good as the uses to which we put them (I think this was a quotation Melissa used in her talk);
- There can sometimes be ‘suprisingness’ when engaging with students’ experiences – they may not navigate new technologies in the ways it could be presumed or predicted they would;
- The personal and academic lives of students often interweave;
- Online spaces are important, but traditional physical spaces (e.g. the tutorial) still remain of significance – a key question is how the online interacts with the face-to-face.
Drama can provide innovative ways of starting discussion about public health issues.
Finally, on Monday, it was to the Senedd in Cardiff Bay to attend the launch of ‘Decent Night Out‘, a new media campaign seeking to prevent alcohol misuse. A key part of the event was a performance by Theatr Fforwm Cymru, exploring how parents and teenagers negotiate alcohol-related norms and rules, and how teenagers navigate peer pressure to drink alcohol. The company gave their performance twice; the second time, audience members were encouraged to stop the performance at any point they thought things could potentially happen differently. They were then invited to take the place of one of the actors, and to act out what they thought the character in question could say or do. This kind of interactive ‘forum theatre’ is not something I’ve ever seen before, and it seemed to offer a lot of potential for opening up discussion about alcohol communication and norms.
Each of these events taught me different things. At EUSPR there was the opportunity to hear about leading research in the field of prevention across Europe, to meet people thinking about some of the same issues with which my work engages, and to learn about the different local, national, and international contexts in which prevention programmes operate. At SRHE I stepped outside my traditional networks, language and research questions, and found that I could usefully draw on unfamiliar conceptual frameworks to understand my own work in new ways. And in Theatr Fforwm Cymru’s work, I saw how drama might be used in creative ways to promote discussion about one topic on which my research focuses. I was left wondering how this could be drawn upon by some of the interventions discussed at the EUSPR conference.
Perhaps more than anything, I realise how important it is for academic researchers to maintain and develop connections – with researchers in our field, those in other fields which may help us understand our own work in different ways, and practitioners who are developing innovative approaches and interventions.