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Chief Investigators honoured for outstanding prevention paper

25 September 2017

Prevention Centre Chief Investigators Professors Penny Hawe and Alan Shiell are among the group of co-authors awarded the President’s Award for Outstanding Prevention Science Research Paper in the past year from the European Society for Prevention Research.

Professor Alan Shiell

The paper, which appeared earlier this year in The Lancet, is the result of a workshop in Oxford last year led by Dr Harry Rutter from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and funded by the UK Health Foundation.

Professor Diane Finegood, a member of the Prevention Centre Scientific Advisory Committee, was also an author of the paper.

The paper, ‘The need for a complex systems model of evidence for public health’, builds on Professor Hawe and Shiell’s work in complex systems models for intervention development and evaluation.

The judges felt the paper raised potentially far-reaching implications for prevention science in relation to: how interventions are conceptualised and designed; methods to evaluate system-type interventions and potential for the role of RCT designs; and implications for broader prevention systems and how researchers, policy makers and practitioners interact.

Specifically, the paper argued that the current rule-based hierarchy for judging quality of evidence in intervention effectiveness is doing the field of public health a disservice.

Professor Hawe said some of the most important questions in public health, such as policy interventions like taxes and regulations, could not be answered with randomised trials.

Professor Penny Hawe

“But funding bodies persist with awarding the highest scores to proposals to design and test the most minimal interventions simply because the researchers are testing them in the familiar ‘gold standard’ design,” she said.

Professor Shiell said: “A few years ago we came up with the idea that interventions should be modelled as events in complex adaptive systems. What’s exciting now is that people around the world are doing this, as the computational capacity has grown. It means policy makers can be shown the real-world impact of their decisions and how effects might be spread differentially.”

The President’s prize was awarded in Vienna on 22 September. Lead author Dr Harry Rutter is visiting the Prevention Centre later this year.