Building systems to promote prevention science: challenges and strategies
Background: Substance misuse prevention interventions are now recognised as an important part of public health policy. A key focus is the delivery of prevention interventions to children, young people and their families. These take place in a range of settings (e.g. health care services, schools) and aim to strengthen protective factors and reduce risk factors. Development and evaluation of new interventions depends on bringing together multiple sets of expertise (e.g. epidemiology, trial methods, implementation science). Adoption of evidence-based interventions requires collaboration between academic researchers and policy makers/practitioners. This paper considers how the development of prevention systems – connecting academic researchers, policy makers/practitioners and community members, can help to realise these goals, some of the key challenges, and strategies for overcoming them.
Methods: The paper draws on the concept of Transdisciplinary research (Stockols, et al. 2013) to consider key elements of prevention systems and the ways in which they promote the development and adoption of evidence-based interventions. Transdisciplinary Research is “an integrative process whereby scholars and practitioners from both academic disciplines and non-academic fields work jointly to develop and use novel conceptual and methodological approaches that synthesize and extend discipline-specific perspectives.” We use as a case study the European Society for Prevention Research (EUSPR) - a scientific society which was established in order to promote evidence-based prevention.
Results: We examine three key challenges to developing prevention systems, the strategies employed by the EUSPR to address them, and future directions for connecting prevention research and practice. First, intervention development and evaluation require a range of subject and methodological skills, but research capacity and structures to bring together different disciplines is often limited. Actions prioritised by EUSPR to address this challenge include organising training workshops, knowledge exchange activities at annual conferences that purposely integrate different disciplinary perspectives, and a dedicated programme of capacity building for early career researchers. Second, translation of research into practice is often challenging. EUSPR has created systems and structures to promote knowledge exchange between researchers and policy makers, including joint workshops, conference sessions focused on translating evidence into practice, and building links with organisations concerned with practitioner workforce development. Third, a key challenge facing the prevention field is to understand how interventions found to be successful (and feasible to implement) in one setting may be transferred to other settings, and the kinds of adaptations which are needed. EUSPR’s work facilitates sharing of new knowledge on both intervention effectiveness and successful strategies for implementation. The Society’s international membership – and links with other organisations around the world, helps promote understanding of how interventions can be transported, and ways in which local contexts may affect implementation.
Conclusions: The paper identifies future directions for building prevention systems – to connect ‘better research’ with ‘better practice’, and the value of frameworks such as Transdisciplinary Research to identify processes that will achieve these goals.