Last month I attended the annual conference of the Society for Prevention Research (SPR), which this year was held in Washington, DC. The first day comprised a selection of workshops. I took part in the International Networking Forum, which brings together delegates from many countries, and helps generate ideas and discussion about how SPR can promote international collaboration. It’s a good way of making the conference feel open and welcoming to international delegates, and allows people to get to know each other at the very start of the conference, with the following days providing opportunities to build on those new connections.
The workshops were followed by the NIDA International Poster session, at which I presented a poster with DECIPHer colleague Sarah-Morgan Trimmer on behalf of the Project SFP Cymru research team. Although traditionally the oral presentation might be seen as ‘higher status’ than a poster presentation, poster sessions can be a really good way of sharing and discussing research. Our poster reported findings from the process evaluation of the Strengthening Families Programme 10-14 UK (SFP10-14), focusing on fidelity of implementation – whether the programme was delivered as intended. Lots of people asked us questions about the results we presented, and we had the chance to ask delegates what they thought about the findings in our poster.
Over the next three days there was a full programme of plenary papers, parallel paper sessions, posters, and more interactive discussion groups. I’ve drawn out three key themes which emerged during the talks I attended.
Fidelity and adaptation
Many sessions grappled with the complexities of defining, measuring and interpreting fidelity of implementation. There was a general recognition of the need to understand implementation processes – including the way an intervention interacts with its context – and how these influence fidelity. A lunchtime discussion group considered the relationship between fidelity and adaptation (changes made to an intervention), and whether certain adaptations could mean the intervention is more likely to be delivered as originally intended. Another session examined how interventions sometimes need updating because of the nature of target ‘problem’, or developments in our understanding of how the intervention works.
Parents, parenting and family relationships
A number of papers theorised aspects of family relationships and parenting. For example, Gene Brody discussed the potential of parenting/family programmes to reduce the risk of physical health problems (such as cardiovascular disease). The theory underlying this was that high quality parenting can buffer the health effects in adulthood of having grown up in an area of high deprivation. An important issue for me here was the reminder that when developing family-level interventions, we need to maintain a focus on the broader causes of such health and socio-economic inequalities.
It was interesting to note that there were relatively few papers using qualitative methods to explore the lived experiences of family relationships, and the complexity of processes such as knowledge sharing. In the discussions on the study of implementation, there seemed to be an acknowledgement that a more mixed-methods approach could help us understand complex processes.
Many papers presented or reviewed findings from evaluation studies. Mark Van Ryzin, for example, shared results from a meta-analysis of family-based prevention programmes, which showed that these programmes are becoming increasingly diverse. He also pointed out two important trends: a move towards web-based interventions, and the tendency to adapt and develop existing interventions.
Another talk which I found particularly interesting was Steve Kogan’s presentation of findings from an effectiveness trial of the Strong African American Families Programme. SAAFP is an adaptation of the SFP10-14 programme which I am currently involved in evaluating, so it was fascinating to see how the programme has been adapted to this highly different context.
Another key theme was the challenge of recruiting and retaining participants, particularly parents. Ankie Menting presented research from a study examining engagement in a parenting training intervention for mothers released from incarceration. The study looked at reasons participants chose to take up and stay with the intervention, and which of these reasons were associated with the amount of data provided by participants. Monetary compensation was found not to be important compared to participants’ desire to learn new parenting skills and contribute to science.
Anne Mauricio suggested that whilst we know participation in parenting programmes is influenced by family characteristics and aspects of how an intervention is implemented, there has been less research on how the programme and provider affect participation. In her study, overall higher fidelity – an intervention being delivered as intended – was linked to lower levels of attendance. However, this differed slightly according to the language in which the programme had been delivered. Sessions staffed by providers who were skilled and experienced but least like participants (in terms of ethnicity) were linked to mid-programme termination.
Tying it all together…
All in all, I thought it was a great conference. It was really valuable to listen to the challenges, strategies and theoretical perspectives other researchers in the field are grappling with. The conference had an open and inclusive feel to it, and there were lots of opportunities to meet people, and develop networks and contacts. I think what I value about conferences most of all is the chance to reflect on the big picture – why we do the work we do, what are the key methodological, theoretical and empirical questions which need answering, and how our own work sits within this context.