By Dr Linda McConnon
In June 2017 I attended two DECIPHer Short Courses:
- Developing Complex Public Health Interventions 12/07/2017-13/07/2017
- Evaluating Complex Public Health Interventions 14/07/2017-16/07/2017
I am currently managing two projects at DECIPHer in Cardiff: PACERS and The Jack Trial. The PACERS study, (Physical ACtivity monitors in an Exercise Referral Setting) is led by Dr Jemma Hawkins and funded by Health and Care Research Wales. The study includes a mixed-methods process evaluation of the feasibility, fidelity and acceptability of implementing, trialing and evaluating the use of accelerometry-based activity monitors and an associated web-based support platform within the Welsh National Exercise Referral Scheme. The findings will help guide decisions on whether the intervention could be implemented more widely across Wales in a full-scale randomised controlled trial. The ‘If I Were Jack’ trial is led by Queen’s University Belfast and funded by the National Institute of Health Research Public Health Research Programme. Dr Honor Young is the lead investigator at DECIPHer. ‘Jack’ is a multi-site cluster randomised controlled trial of an interactive film-based intervention to reduce teenage pregnancy and promote positive sexual health. It is especially intended to help young men become aware of their responsibilities in avoiding an unintended pregnancy during adolescence. The trial aims to determine the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of the ‘If I were Jack’ intervention in reducing rates of unintended teenage pregnancy and to better understand the contextual conditions of intervention effectiveness through a process evaluation.
The first two day course provided valuable training and covered everything you need to know if you are currently working on or planning to design and develop a public health improvement intervention. The two days were split into 12 sessions and workshops. Covering a range of topics, delegates theoretically explored: socio-ecological frameworks, complex systems, realist perspectives and intervention theory. More practically, delegates were given the opportunity to understand: the intervention development process, the role of existing evidence, transdisciplinary co-production, logic modelling and standardised methodologies. Leading the course, Ruth Turley and the teaching team (Rachel Brown, Graham Moore, Simon Murphy, Rhiannon Evans, Honor Young, Peter Gee, and Jemma Hawkins) delivered engaging and insightful presentations and practical workshops which facilitated the opportunity to undertake learning activities in smaller groups. Completing the course helped me gain a comprehensive theoretical understanding of the key frameworks and principles that guide complex intervention development. It also gave me the opportunity to develop my knowledge of fidelity processes, intervention integrity and to reflect on the challenges of designing complex public health interventions.
The second three day course focused on understanding the key frameworks and methodologies currently used to evaluate complex interventions. The three days were split into 15 stimulating sessions and practical workshops covering: pilot and feasibility studies and effectiveness evaluation methods, process evaluations, designing and undertaking a randomised controlled trial, policy trials, natural experiments and data linkage. Leading the course, Dr Jemma Hawkins and experts in the field of public health evaluation (Graham Moore, Jeremy Segrott, Britt Hallingberg, Lawrence Moore, Judi Kidger, Simon Murphy, Chris Roberts, James White and Sarah Rodgers) shared their knowledge and experience with delegates whilst offering opportunities for collaborative group work and stimulating discussions. Completing the course helped me develop an awareness of recent moves toward incorporating realist evaluation and complex systems principles within randomised controlled trials and how to address associated challenges and limitations. I also gained an understanding of designing and conducting a process evaluation and recognised the importance of logic models and progression criteria within exploratory pilot trials.
The DECIPHer short courses have played a valuable role in my professional development, offering me the opportunity to form collaborative relationships with other members of the wider DECIPHer team and network with a range of international delegates. The courses have helped me develop my skill sets and will positively impact on the quality of my work by enabling me to undertake a greater variety research projects. I will also be able to apply the mix of theoretical and practical elements of the courses to my current management roles and I am confident that the new skills and knowledge gained will enhance future research proposals and fellowship applications. I would highly recommend both courses to anyone who is interested in working with policy-makers, health professionals and the public to co-produce interventions in education, health and social care settings.