Several workshop speakers stressed that evidence that is generated will be useful only if it is strategically disseminated by those who are in a position to apply it to decision making. They discussed current and potential efforts to improve the exchange of evidence-based information for violence prevention between the public, policy makers, practitioners, and researchers.
DISSEMINATION TO THE PUBLIC
“The importance of investing in communications, in messaging, in decodifying what we realize is critical [is] so that those who are not experts feel … an irresistible agenda to support, joining hands with us in moving this process forward,” said workshop speaker Marta Santos Pais, the United Nations Special Representative for Violence against Children. Forum co-chair and workshop speaker Jacquelyn Campbell from the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing noted that community members should have access to violence prevention evidence in a format that will allow them to glean the knowledge needed to quickly develop appropriate responses to violence in their neighborhoods. This would likely involve efforts to present evidence in ways that are meaningful in a variety of communities, taking into account local languages and the cultural relevance of issues and responses.
Santos Pais pointed out that communication with key populations is especially important for engaging community leaders who have the leverage and rapport to make change. She noted that in youth violence prevention,
the youth themselves are often the best advocates and organizers. Increased dissemination to the public does create increased demand, Santos Pais noted, and children, for example, are becoming increasingly impatient for action and are eager to see improved legislation, more resources, and better services to end violence.
Forum member and workshop speaker Michael Phillips from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine added that increased dissemination of information is not always linked to positive outcomes in violence prevention and thus dissemination strategies should be thoughtful and well planned. He discussed the impact of media in perpetrating information on suicide methods, and gave the example of carbon monoxide poisoning becoming a widely used method of suicide in Hong Kong only after dissemination of a publication describing the method and that it is easy and painless.
DISSEMINATION TO POLICY MAKERS
Workshop speaker Daniela Ligiero from the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator acknowledged that policy makers perform a balancing act between the pressures to act based on political considerations and the pressure to act based on what the evidence suggests. Often these considerations can be in contradiction. The violence prevention community could benefit from being mindful of this balancing act when presenting evidence to policy makers.
Forum member Rodrigo Guerrero, Mayor of Cali, Colombia, stated that efforts to inform politicians of evidence should equip them with enough information to be convincing and prepare them to act. Workshop speaker Jerry Reed from the Education Development Center suggested that, to convince politicians to take action, evidence could be coupled with personal stories from those who could be affected greatly by proposed programs and policies. Guerrero reminded the audience that politicians are very practical people and thus benefit most from evidence that is presented in a practical form, and workshop planning committee member Anthony Petrosino from WestEd added that leaders often need information as quickly as possible so that they can use it to respond to current events.
Workshop speaker Brian Bumbarger from The Pennsylvania State University emphasized that it is much easier to get information to politicians if researchers develop trust and positive relationships with the politicians from the beginning of research, rather than approaching them with the final results. His organization the Evidence-Based Prevention and Intervention Support Center (EPISCenter) is an intermediary organization that addresses this need to better connect policy makers, researchers, program developers, and practitioners. Before even beginning their research on violence
prevention, EPISCenter staff members reach out to policy makers and other stakeholders to better understand their needs and perspectives. The goals and motivations of policy makers and researchers may not always overlap, and opening communication early in the research process will more likely facilitate better understanding among groups and a greater collaborative impact in violence prevention.
Workshop speaker Alys Willman from the World Bank noted that, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, efforts need to be made to ensure that policy makers and researchers are speaking the same language. In her experience, policy makers sometimes have assumed that violence prevention means using crime deterrents such as security cameras and fences rather than focusing on primary prevention.
DISSEMINATION TO PRACTITIONERS
Knowledge derived from research can be disseminated to practitioners in a number of ways. Workshop speaker Virginia Dolan from Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Public Schools commented that it is often up to middle and upper management to provide evidence to practitioners through trainings or professional development. Educational best practices guidance, for example, is usually delivered to teachers by state departments of education in the framework of high-stakes testing.
According to workshop speaker Tammy Mann from the Campagna Center, research currently reaches practitioners mostly through an unsystematic trickle-down effect. Professional and social networks play a large role in determining the type of information that practitioners learn, and exposure to the most up-to-date evidence largely depends on whether practitioners are in the right place with the right people. Workshop speakers presented a number of suggestions for disseminating evidence to practitioners methodically and with better communication.
Using All Types of Current Communication Tools
Mann reminded the audience that younger generations of professionals find and digest information much differently than older generations. Research is still widely disseminated using traditional formats, but the violence prevention community needs to make an effort to package information in ways that can be delivered to practitioners through blogs, tweets, podcasts, and other social media. Workshop participant Ellen Schmidt from the Education Development Center echoed the need for more social media in violence prevention, and called for a better system of information exchange within the field to decrease duplication of efforts.
Translating Research More Clearly for Practitioners
Several speakers suggested that practitioners are more likely to use information if it is presented in a manner that is easy to digest and relevant to their work. Workshop speaker Jim Bueermann from the Police Foundation suggested that barriers to effective dissemination are not lack of access or practitioner intelligence, but are related to technical language barriers and time pressures.
Throughout the workshop, speakers repeated the need for translation of lingo and jargon between sectors. Technical words and phrases that replace descriptions of entire concepts in one community are often meaningless in others, and thus do not convey the depth of information necessary to make the research useful. Bueermann mentioned several evidence-based policing and criminology projects that are addressing this problem by translating evidence reports from the scientific language to plain language, thus making the information more useful to practitioners and the community.
In addition to language barriers, practitioners often are faced with time pressures that prevent them from delving more deeply into research. Bueermann shared experiences from his work as a police chief. He observed that police do not have the time to sort through large bodies of research and thoughtfully dissect multiple studies. He challenged researchers with what he referred to as the “guacamole dip paradigm”; that is, to take one study they have completed and “reduce it to the three to five things … that you could tell me as a nonscientist at a party over the guacamole dip.” Bueermann and workshop speaker Dean Fixsen from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill agreed that practitioners are not necessarily interested in study methodology and evaluation rigor, and Bueermann maintained that research will be used in practice only if they can be convinced to investigate further after hearing a short summary of the key points. Speaker Joan Serra Hoffman from the World Bank added that highlighting successful program elements such as the resources used or the implementation timeline will make it easier for practitioners to more quickly assess whether program components would be useful to them.
Developing Organizational Systems of Learning
Another way that useful information could reach practitioners is through organizations and partnerships that systematically connect research with practitioners. Mann recommended that organizations concentrate on developing cultures and structures that create an environment of wanting to learn and improve. She suggested that one way for agencies to accomplish this is to partner with local academic institutions to take advantage of emerging information. She also emphasized that learning organizations
dedicated to the implementation of research-based practices for violence prevention do not need to be created from scratch. She reminded the audience that a constant search for the next best program shuts out the opportunity of working with people and organizations that are already knowledgeable and committed to preventing violence.
DISSEMINATION BY PRACTITIONERS
Dissemination practices often remain largely unidirectional, and several workshop speakers discussed the need for improved methods of communicating practitioners’ experiential evidence to the wider violence prevention community. Access to information from experienced practitioners could help researchers to identify biases, confounders, or alternative conclusions of findings in their research, as well as inform the development of research questions and selection of test populations. Workshop speaker Lisbeth Schorr from the Center for the Study of Social Policy noted that “people working at the front lines understand that experimental evaluations provide essential information about what works, but so do the insights that come out of other research and practice.” Workshop speaker Thom Feucht from the National Institute of Justice echoed this, saying that the violence prevention community needs to learn from the wisdom of practitioners. Fixsen noted that practice-policy feedback loops should become institutionalized components of organizations, and Schorr called for more thought on other ways of systematically collecting and disseminating experiential evidence to improve prevention programming.
Key Messages Raised by Individual Speakers
- Communicating with communities and community leaders can provide critical contextual information and provide leverage within the target population (Campbell, Santos Pais, Schorr).
- Practitioners have a wealth of knowledge from experiential evidence that should be disseminated to researchers and policy makers (Feucht, Fixsen, Schorr).
- Opening communication with policy makers early will likely facilitate better collaboration and effectiveness of violence prevention interventions (Bumbarger).
- Policy makers are pragmatic and efforts to disseminate evidence to them should be convincing and equip them to take action (Guerrero).