Archived: Hands-on modelling workshop tackles complexity of alcohol misuse

A Prevention Centre research project has held the first of two intensive workshops that will contribute to the development of a unique policy analysis tool for the prevention of alcohol-related harm in NSW.

Held in conjunction with NSW Health, the workshop in late July brought together local and national alcohol experts including academics, policy makers, program planners and clinicians to begin the process of mapping and quantifying the complex problem of alcohol misuse in our community.alcohol-workshop_2_675x415-for-web

The workshops are part of a Prevention Centre project that is developing a dynamic simulation model to explore the likely impact of a variety of strategic responses to reducing alcohol-related harm in NSW. The model will address the problems of binge drinking and high overall (or average) consumption.

The workshop last month was facilitated by project leader Dr Jo-An Atkinson, a Research Fellow with the Prevention Centre’s Synthesis Capacity, and Professor John Wiggers, a Centre Chief Investigator from the University of Newcastle.

alcohol-workshop_table-action-675x415-for-webDr Atkinson said the workshop exposed participants to several systems science modelling methods. The approach allows hands-on development of a transparent and sophisticated dynamic hybrid model that analyses policy and strategy options to determine the most efficient, effective and equitable solutions.

Dr Atkinson was impressed by how quickly and enthusiastically participants embraced the methods.

“The published evidence can only tell us so much,” she said. “Every participant holds an important piece of the puzzle in understanding the complex causes of alcohol misuse and its consequences, so their insights and input are vital to the success of this work.”

Adjunct Professor Lucie Rychetnik, academic lead of the Synthesis Capacity, said participants brought a wealth of expertise to the process.

“It was wonderful to listen to their rich discussions,” she said. “As each person brought their slightly different disciplinary or policy and practice perspective, we started to build a combined model of the problem of alcohol-related harms.”

Associate Professor Rychetnik said it was exciting to see this innovative modelling approach being trialled as a truly participatory process.

“The final model will provide policy makers with a far more dynamic and useful tool to support decision-making for complex problems than systematic reviews alone,” she said.

“We hope the final model can inform much wider evidence-based engagement on the best way to invest preventive health resources.”