Gretchen Miller: Hello, Gretchen Miller with you, and it’s a pretty special episode here on Prevention Works today, the 10th anniversary of our publisher, the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre. That’s ten years supporting chronic disease prevention research, but also ten years of playing a unique role, connecting, and bringing together many of the best researchers, policymakers, and practitioners working in prevention from around the country. If we say so ourselves, the Prevention Centre has quickly become a trusted voice on the systemic nature of chronic disease, we’ve improved the translation of evidence, and we’ve established new ways of working to address complex issues. And even though we are publisher of this podcast, we’d like to take an episode to discuss this work and to celebrate it, because when I say we, I’m talking nearly a thousand researchers, policy decision makers and practitioners, 29 other government agencies, 28 non-government organisations and initiatives, 29 Australian universities, eight international universities, and 11 Centres of Research Excellence. It’s a longer episode and introduction, so bear with me, there’s much to reflect on. Coming up, expect to hear the evolution of the big ideas driving the Prevention Centre, including systems thinking and co-design, the intention of CERI, our Collaboration for Enhanced Research Impact, the barriers for early- career researchers and how we support them, how we integrate knowledge synthesis with policy dialogues, and also how strategic communication is a critical part of our process and our offering. With us, three guests, all recognised as some of the nation’s leading experts in chronic disease prevention, and who have been with the Prevention Centre from the start. Welcome to co-director Professor Lucie Rychetnik. Lucie is also Professor within the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, and has over 30 years of experience in translating research and mobilising knowledge for public health policy and practice. With her, co-director, Professor Andrew Wilson, who is also co-director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Sydney. Past appointments include Deputy Director General for both Queensland and New South Wales Health Departments. And we have Doctor Jo Mitchell, the Prevention Centre’s senior Policy Advisor, also an adjunct Associate Professor in the schools of Public Health and Population Health at the University of Sydney and UNSW. Jo’s most recent government role was as a senior executive with responsibility for population health in New South Wales. And of course, all guests have many other strings to their bow, which you can find on our website. Welcome to all and congratulations on the 10th anniversary. Lucie, I wonder if you could give us an overview of the Prevention Centre’s model. You’ve called it the gold that links the jewels.
Lucie Rychetnik: Yes. That was an analogy that I spoke about in my interview, actually, for the role as co-director, and the model is really one of bringing people together, bringing some of the wonderful researchers and policy partners and practitioners to work together collaboratively as a prevention system. So there’s some wonderful initiatives that are happening in different jurisdictions and at different universities and research groups, but I think the Prevention Centre is a mechanism and an opportunity to really create an aligned and powerful voice about prevention, and to bring together the evidence and synthesise the findings of that evidence to inform policy and practice. So if you think of the amazing work that’s done by the different universities around Australia, I think that the Prevention Centre is an opportunity, I think of those as the jewels, the wonderful research teams and the research groups, but the Prevention Centre provides the gold that brings those jewels together into a beautiful necklace, to really create an aligned voice around chronic disease prevention and some synthesised evidence about what that means for policy and practice.
Gretchen: Jo, we’ve discussed prevention and its importance in so many ways on the show, but you’ve been both an academic and worked in policy and delivery. What’s your working definition of preventive health, drawing on both those perspectives?
Jo Mitchell: For me it’s quite a simple proposition. My particular focus is around prevention of chronic disease, preventing issues before they arise, and you can do that at different stages of the continuum, but ultimately it’s about trying to prevent some of the negative consequences of ill-health by starting early. And I think that goes from both the academic as well as the practice side; the interests of academics and policy people are different, and from the policy perspective, I suppose, our interest in research is about being able to take the best evidence to help make or help inform the decisions that can be made to create those conditions for health.
Gretchen: Andrew, I wonder if you could take us back to the early days and explain to listeners what the need was for The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, how it came about and how it’s evolved.
Andrew Wilson: Well, it was a fortunate confluence of opportunity, people, ideas. We had fairly recently had the National Review of Health and Healthcare under the then Rudd government, and one of the issues that had been identified in that was the need for prevention, a greater focus on prevention in the health system, and the second was this focus on how the dysfunctionality in the Australian healthcare system, and health system more generally, had come about because of our Federation and because of all the different elements of it. And at the same time there was a review specifically looking at prevention, and that had identified some of the pillars that were required for us to build prevention capacity. And as a result of those things, we had established the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, ANPHA, as it was called, didn’t last very long, but it presented an opportunity for all of those different parties to come together and to start to focus on it, and ANPHA initiated this discussion with the NHMRC around the idea of a partnership centre that could bring all these different elements together. So it was a sum total at that point in time of a whole range of things which were happening at that point. And I think Lucie’s analogy before about the gold and the jewels is a really important one because Australia has had phenomenal strength in the prevention space, but it’s always been defined by either a specific condition, specific disease, or specific risk factor, and so all of the groups that we’ve had with the depth that has been developed, in tobacco control and other drug and alcohol issues, in heart disease, for example, these were all defined by little silos. And what the Prevention Centre did was say wait a minute, behind all of these things there are common elements that we need to try to bring together about the prevention of chronic disease. And not only that, that when we thought about these things, we have to think about the relationships, the interrelationship between all the different groups and the different bits of it. And so from the start we were concerned about the systems, it was called a systems perspective on the prevention of chronic conditions, so it was there from the beginning. It actually took us a little while to actually articulate what we meant by systems perspective on this, we all had different ideas that we brought to the table about this, what it was, people had to forego some of those little boundaries around the importance of their own particular areas to start to think beyond that. And it just was one of the most exciting periods to be in as we went through that particular phase, and it was a learning time for all of us who were involved.
Jo: I’d also just like to comment about when we first started, and I do remember being involved in some of the very early discussions where it really was about that storming and norming about what are systems approaches, what does it actually mean, is this something that’s new or have we been doing it for a long time, and certainly, having seen the development of systems thinking in prevention I think that we might have thought that this was something that we were doing, but I don’t think that we were doing that in such a thoughtful and systemic way, I suppose. So the way I’ve seen prevention develop over the last ten years with the experience and expertise from the Prevention Centre is that I think that there’s been a jump forward in that approach, most definitely.
Gretchen: We do often talk about a systems approach on this show, and I was wondering how this is evolving for the Prevention Centre and how it’s becoming more mainstream in health.
Andrew: I have no trouble at all claiming that the Prevention Centre has played a major role in making this just part of the everyday discourse of prevention researchers, but it’s not solely due to that, we have to recognise there have been other people out there who have been working along these lines, people who have brought individual expertise and different types of ways of thinking about this. But as we were sort of flagging before what the Partnership Centre has been able to do is bring together people with different views about what systems thinking is about, and it’s been a laboratory, in a way, to test out some of these different models and to see what validity they had, and work which has been conducted by various academic and industry partners in this regard has allowed these models to be tested, different ways of thinking about this work. We have the perspectives that Professor Penny Hawe has brought to this, along with Alan Shiels, thinking conceptually about the whole notion of systems thinking and the spectrum of systems thinking which leads into complex systems, and what complex systems means, and then what it means in terms of practice, because I think that’s been one of the questions that our practitioner and policy partners have always asked us, they’d always say, well, it’s all very nice to think about those sort of theoretical domains but what does it mean in practice? On the other end of the spectrum we’ve had Professor Steve Allender’s work, which has been very based in community settings, and you can use systems thinking within those community settings to think about different ways of intervening in those sorts of environments.
Lucie: I remember in the early days I was having a lot of discussions about what do we mean by systems thinking and systems approaches, and there were people that said, look, we’ve always been addressing complexity, to prevent chronic disease you have to address complexity. In some ways, I think, the research has caught up with the complexity of the work in policy and practice, because with new tools and new technologies we’re able to do much more sophisticated modelling to actually map and identify the causal relationships between many different variables. And so research has increasingly been able to both describe the complexity of chronic disease prevention, but then also forecast the impact of potential interventions, and that’s only really been feasible because of the sort of technological advancements, and the innovative work of some of our colleagues like Joanne Atkinson, Matt Occhipinti, who led some of the sort of modelling work in the early stages. But I think as Jo says, even though we’ve always worked with complexity in policy and practice, it has become more sophisticated over the last decade with really recognising some of the system science theory and the system science methods, and the language and concepts of things like feedback loops and boundary spanners. But I think we’ve also been able to lead the way in terms of a better understanding in the field about what systems theory and systems science actually means about how we think about these things in policy and practice as well, yeah.
Andrew: I think Joanne’s work is a great example of the way we took the systems thinking and applied it in a different way. In prevention, we have all these other bits of information that we need to bring to table in a practical sense. How do we incorporate these things within our synthesis? And it was from this that Joanne said I’ve been playing with the system modelling techniques, maybe this is a way that we can do it, and through her work led us down a whole new path of how you can use these system tools.
Lucie: Just to add to that, there’s many different types of evidence that we want to synthesise, and the participatory approach to modelling that Joanne and myself, and Jo, in fact, was also involved in, was really based on bringing together both the policy expertise, the practitioner expertise, the clinical expertise, the research expertise, the published evidence, the evidence reviews, and then that is all synthesised into a sort of a qualitative understanding of the problem, and then quantified and turned into a quantitative model of the problem, and then that can then be used to forecast potential interventions. And it was great that people like Jo, who was working at the Ministry of Health at the time, was willing to partner on some of these early pilot studies and explore what does it actually mean when we explore, say, alcohol. I think alcohol prevention was one of the first topic areas that we worked in.
Gretchen: Jo, yes…
Jo: It was incredibly exciting, we were approached by members of the Prevention Centre to pitch the idea of being involved in developing a model around alcohol, and it was very fortuitous because at that time prevention of alcohol-related harms had just come into my portfolio of work, and there was a question of what do we do in this space? And so, as Lucie said, it was a way of actually bringing together the New South Wales partners who are an incredibly passionate lot in terms of the drug and alcohol clinicians, and they were very interested in the way in which they could engage with the process to look at what would make sense in taking a stronger focus on prevention. So it was a real learning… it was learning from both sides, so we were learning about alcohol prevention because it was a new part of the portfolio, we were engaging with researchers, it was very much the glass-box rather than the black-box approach where, people were involved in a very hands-on way in making those connections, and it did feel a little bit like magic to be able to use that evidence to create a model which helped to explain the world and how things change in certain circumstances. We’re also involved in the childhood obesity modelling, and that was incredibly powerful as a way to be able to explain to other decision makers about the interconnectedness and the need to intervene across a wide range of variables, and also to help us understand the relative benefit of different approaches in trying to meet a particular target. So it was very hands-on, you could see it, people understood what was underneath, and there were arguments about the connections between X and Y, and how did you do this and where did the evidence come for that, but what that meant was that there was trust in the process, and so then once the model was developed there was that sort of sense that it was not just around people’s pet, their pet focus, but that it actually brought together a range of evidence in a way that sort of had consensus from a range of experts with a range of perspectives. So it was incredibly helpful, and I think that it really captured people’s imaginations, both policymakers, practitioners, and decision makers as well. So it was a very useful tool, and I think one of the successes for the organisation too is that was a methodology that was developed for prevention, which has now spun off into another organisation to continue its life. A great success story, I think.
Gretchen: I think a mark of this ongoing commitment to systems thinking, in a way, is CERI, which is the Collaboration for Enhanced Research Impact, and it’s grown from drawing together four Centres of Research Excellence to 11. Can you talk a little bit about CERI and its importance in prevention systems change?
Lucie: Yeah, CERI is a really exciting initiative. So, as you said, it started off with four CREs and the lead investigators from those CREs were already collaborating with each other, but also through the Prevention Centre as lead investigators on some of the projects, and the funding for CREs hasn’t increased over the last decade, and so they’re always having to do more with less. And we identified an opportunity for us to really support those CREs to collaborate under the umbrella of the Prevention Centre, particularly around supporting the early- and mid-career researchers, and also around the sort of science communication and translation of the importance and relevance for policy and practice of their work. And so any individual CRE really has limited capacity to employ science communication expertise, and they’re all wanting to support the early- and mid-career researchers. And so by working together on these, some of these areas, they’re really able to collaborate and making the most of the resources that they have. But we were also able to provide more expert science communication expertise, say Helen Signy, our science communications advisor, taking the lead on that work, and also helping to align some of the communication of the policy and practice implications of the research findings across those CREs. So we started with four but now, as you say, we’ve got 11 CREs, and they’re all generating really important and valuable research that has implications for policy and practice. And our policy partners were very enthusiastic about us being able to provide that support through the Prevention Centre because for them, they would much rather hear a synthesised, coherent message about what the evidence means that’s already been drawing on the multiple different perspectives of those CREs, rather than having to go to each CRE individually and look at that research individually. So I think it provides a really valuable service for our partners to hear about what does the evidence say, and to be able to synthesise, it’s like sort of a meta-CRE in a way, to synthesise it across all of those research groups. But it also provides a valuable service for the CREs themselves, so that they get that expert science communication advice and input. And then, of course, the early- and mid-career researchers across those CREs are really enjoying linking up with each other and collaborating, and have done some great work around, for example, the Emerging Leaders Symposium. So we ran one last year and we’re running one again this year, and that’s all been led by the emerging leaders from those CREs who have got together, identified what kind of professional development that they would like, and have organised the symposium with the support of the Prevention Centre. It’s a way of working that applies that systems approach because you are actually linking up, providing opportunities as a result of that collaboration and partnership.
Gretchen: Well, I’ve got a question on early-career researchers, because we do actually have an episode coming out about the same time as this one about the struggle, actually, in raising up the next generation due to a struggle really in getting a proportionate amount of the funding pie. And I wanted to ask you what the role is for the Prevention Partnership Centre in calling for more equal distribution of grants so that preventive research does get the financial support that it actually desperately needs to prevent more serious illness down the track, on a population level.
Andrew: Yeah, so I think it’s actually a bit more than what you’re suggesting there, Gretchen, particularly if we think about it from an early-career researcher perspective I think early-career researchers struggle within our research funding environment, regardless of the topic or the expertise, the disciplinary background they come, the nature of our system essentially rewards those who are already successful, and that is a real barrier to early-career people establishing themselves and getting started. And we recognise this early, and we have tried within the Prevention Centre to ensure that early-career researchers are part of all of any research that we funded, to try and give them the stepping stone to stepping up in their profile in that research, which helps with their CV in terms of competing for grants and their profile, and I think we’ve always seen that, building the next generation of prevention researchers, as being an important part of our legacy from the Prevention Centre. More broadly, in terms of funding prevention it’s not just prevention research that we’ve been focused on in terms of the investment, but prevention generally, which we see as being under-invested in terms of what we can gain out of it. So we have had a range of projects looking at the funding into prevention, looking at the return on investment in prevention, looking on best buys in prevention, all these have been part of our work, and in fact, another example of the way we brought systems thinking to thinking about that particular problem as well. But we’re also focused, obviously, in terms of trying to ensure that there is a, an appropriate balance of investment into prevention research, but also that funding goes to the things which are most likely to be impactful and that the research is constructed in a way which is likely to be impactful, because I think there’s no end of lovely research projects that individual investigators can come up with, we’ve all got lovely things that we think are really important, but at the end of the day our focus has been on research which is likely to inform policy and practice, and looking for the gems and new ideas out there, and trying to give them more foundation so that people can see how they might be important within the policy and practice context.
Lucie: I think another important role that the Prevention Centre does has been, yes, not only supporting the work of early- and mid-career researchers through PhD scholarships, or the last round of strategic grants were all targeted at mid-career researchers, but also being able to fund new, innovative ideas that would be difficult to get funded in the first instance through the more traditional schemes. So some of the early modelling work, I think, would have been hard to get up and funded through NHMRC or through some of the other schemes, whereas we were able to demonstrate its value by funding it through the Prevention Centre because it was addressing very applied questions, as Andrew says. And I think sometimes, certainly in prevention and public health, some of the more applied research questions, and that really are asking questions around complexity and how do we address complexity, how do we address chronic disease, it requires some new, innovative methods, and if they’re not methods that are established then they might get scaled down or rated down when they’re being reviewed through the more normal processes. So I think some of the early work around modelling; Billie Giles-Corti’s fantastic program of work around liveability, she’s always said it was some of the early funding from the Prevention Centre that allowed her to really get that program up and running, and then funded from many other sources once there was a proof of concept. So I think being able to fund both applied research but also very new research has been a really important legacy of the Prevention Centre.
Jo: I think the only other thing that I would add to that as well is that it is both the applied nature of the research that was very helpful from a policy perspective, because there’s a lot of research that happens which is quite discrete on particular, most research isn’t about intervention, but that intervention research that does exist, a lot of it is actually about something small and you do something small, you put it into practice, and you get this kind of a result, but the way in which my experience in working in a Department of Health is that you’ve got a portfolio of things that are in place and there’s sometimes potential to add more to that or to change that portfolio. And so those individual discrete projects aren’t as useful as the more applied and broader-based research as well. So that’s where the synthesis becomes really important as well, so it’s not just about looking at results from an individual project, drawing from a range of sources as well, it gives a much better set of tools and better range of information for making decisions about what’s going to be best in an environment where it is resource constrained, and so there’s a real desire to make the best investment that you can to get the best return as well. But it’s not as simple as if we inject this, we’ll get this result as well, because one of the key things, certainly working at a state level is how you’re able to deliver something at scale, and if you’re not taking a practice perspective you can design something that’s beautiful and makes a big difference in a controlled setting, but it would be impossible to deliver at scale as well. So I think that’s one of the things that the Prevention Centre has been very good at being able to do, is to think about the real life, both local and state, as well as national context within which the research has the potential to make a difference.
Andrew: And I think if I could just add, because Jo just reminded me, a couple of other critical elements that the Partnership Centre has brought to the research. One is we don’t kick off research unless we’re clear where the existing research has got to, and understanding what the research questions that are needed now on the basis of what we already know, is a critical element in our formulation. And then the other bit of it is once the research is done, it’s not finished from our perspective that we have the whole process of research translation, of getting the information out there, of communicating it, of making it understandable, of putting it in terms of what are the policy practice implications of this, and working with our partners, so at least it’s seen. We can’t always guarantee that it will be taken up, but that’s a whole range of other things that are involved in that decision, but we can at least make sure that it’s known in the decision-making process.
Gretchen: I think that leads us to the point that the Prevention Centre has really strong connections with policymakers and it speaks directly to policymakers and practitioners. As I mentioned in the introduction, there are more than 900 researchers, policymakers, and practitioners involved with the Prevention Centre, including nine funding partners and 29 other government agencies, as well as numerous organisations and initiatives and Australian universities, even international universities, and the CREs that we’ve discussed earlier. Can you speak to the importance of that connection with policymakers and practitioners who are going to take that research and roll it out on the ground? Lucie, would you like to speak to that first?
Lucie: The important thing is that the policymakers and practitioners really are partners in the co-design of the work, so they’re not just the end users or the audience, they were part of the investigators that put the Prevention Centre together, they contribute funding to the pooled funds, and they co-design the work. It is a co-design, collaborative-partnership approach, and I think that’s fundamental that the decisions about how we allocate the resources, how we allocate funding, how we develop the research questions, how we synthesise the evidence, is very much done in partnership, and maybe it’s a good opportunity to talk a bit about some of the knowledge synthesis approaches that we’ve been trialling. Traditionally, you can do systematic review, review the evidence, and then publish that, and that’s the sort of process, you synthesise all the published evidence and you report on the findings. And now that we’ve been going for a decade, we’ve been wanting to look at how can we synthesise the body of work in any given area, and especially now that we have a collaboration and a partnership with the 11 Centres of Research Excellence, can we draw on all of their expertise and their bodies of work as well, and so we developed a knowledge synthesis process that’s sort of bookended by research-policy dialogues. So there’s a research-policy dialogue at the beginning that helps to identify what are the key questions in this area? So one example was the first 2000 days of life, or another one has looked at public health law.
Gretchen: Both of which we’ve explored on this podcast so listeners can check that deeper content out.
Lucie: Yes, exactly, and there’s another one now that we’re focusing on implementation and implementation science. So we start with a research-policy dialogue and that actually identifies the questions and the problems that our practitioners and policy partners are grappling with, so that the synthesis of evidence is really going to address those questions. And then at the end there’s another research-policy dialogue where our policy partners help us interpret the findings and help us to write the final report by saying what does this actually mean for policy practice, what are the implications? It’s going to be valuable, it is answering their questions, and they help us actually interpret the evidence at the end. So I think that sort of collaborative approach is really important because it’s too easy for researchers to be answering questions that they think are important from a research perspective, the key is to always try and keep it as applied and relevant to decision making.
Gretchen: And that application and relevance and co-design goes in two directions, it goes to the policymakers, but it also goes with the community which the policy is being designed for. And I wondered if you could maybe speak to the evolution of that approach over the past decade as you’ve observed it, and the co-benefits.
Jo: I’m happy to jump in here because my sense is that was always part of the design and the expectation of the Prevention Centre, but that’s got stronger over time, and that there’s a much more strong relationship and strong engagement across a range of people, either in practice or policy, and that sort of continues to develop trust, it’s those trusting relationships, it’s enduring relationships, where people can feel that they’re able to ring up and ask advice, either of the Prevention Centre or some of the other research partners, and that the Prevention Centre itself has fostered a broader range of connections amongst all of the partners. The other thing that I’d just stress as well, I do agree that there’s benefits in both directions, there are benefits for the researchers because we know that researchers are really keen to have their research listened to and put into practice, and we know that policy and practice people are really keen to do the best work that they can which is informed by evidence as well, and one of the things that I’ve seen over this time as well is that there’s been a greater understanding of the different roles that different parts of the system play and, I suppose, an increasing recognition that policymakers are experts, they’ve got a particular part of the system that they can influence, but researchers have their part of the system too in terms of influencing research, but also about making arguments outside of the jurisdiction of Departments of Health, building community support for change, etc. I think that there’s been that recognition that, together, we each play a part, and we can each help each other to play our part.
Gretchen: Look, we’ve touched on the role of communication a little in this conversation, but I’d like to speak about it in a little more depth in the work of the Prevention Centre, and how did you come to see the need for actively educating in this way? And I do think that this podcast has been a part of that, we’ve had many an early-career researcher on the show practicing their communication effectively about the important work that they do.
Lucie: I think the science communication has been a really important part of the work of the Prevention Centre right from the beginning, I think it was the second or third positions that were appointed was a communications manager, and one of the things that those of us who come from a research background, we’ve learned a lot about science communication from our wonderful science communication team, and I’ve learnt the difference between science communication and corporate communication. So the focus of our science communication is very much about what does the science mean and why is it important, why are the findings important, and what does it mean for policy and practice, which is quite different to organisations that take more of a corporate communication approach, which is about PR and promoting the value of the organisation itself. And I think the science communication has been embedded at the beginning in most projects, so that both the investigators and the partners learn from the science communication team and vice versa, so there’s a real sort of development of trust. And we know that science communication is not about dumbing down the ideas, but it’s just about being really clear, and not getting too bogged down in your research methodology but really focusing on why is this problem important, what did you find, and what does it mean for policy and practice, and really applying some of those journalistic skills that our team bring to the science communication, but also design and new, innovative ways of presenting data, and just being able to communicate the findings in a clear and concise way has just been integral to everything that we do, and our website is really a treasure trove now of resources that the science communication team have led, and like you say, Gretchen, this podcast series has been very much part of the science communication approach.
Andrew: I think one of the other things that’s come out of it for me is the value of having our science communicators on the journey with us, that what they were doing, perhaps, even eight years ago, is not the same as what they’re doing now, that they themselves have developed expertise, developed a whole approach to communicating, which is in some ways specific to our area. I’m sure there are elements which are generalisable, but I also think that being part of the journey, being part of the team, and being engaged with our researchers all the way along, has made a difference to what the communication products look like.
Gretchen: As we look to the future of the Prevention Centre. I’d like to speak just briefly a little more about early-career researchers and the Emerging Leaders Network, which you spoke to earlier, Lucie. We’ve now got 300 members, I believe, including roughly about two-thirds researchers, but a third policymakers, can you speak to that Emerging Leaders Network and what it’s doing, and what your hopes are that it will continue to do?
Lucie: I think one of the really important things is for people working in chronic disease prevention, whether it’s research or policy and practice, is to have opportunities to get to know each other and build those relationships early in their career. And we hear feedback from some of our more senior investigators and partners saying I work with people that I’ve known for 20 or 30 years and those long-term relationships based on trust are really important. So I think one of the key goals of the Emerging Leaders Network is to create opportunities for people to meet and get to know each other and understand each other’s work, whether they’re coming from different research centres, but also whether they’re coming from policy and practice. And in fact, it’s one of the things that our research colleagues say they particularly value about the Prevention Centre is that they get to better understand the context in which policy and practice partners are working, and get to meet and know the problems and the issues they’re grappling with, and get to know each other as people, and the same, vice versa, policymakers are saying we really value the Prevention Centre because it gives us a mechanism to link in with some of the best minds and some of the best researchers in chronic disease prevention. So I think it is about providing those opportunities early in people’s careers and creating supportive environments for them to maybe collaborate on projects; there’s no better way of getting to know someone than working with them on something that’s interesting and exciting, so creating those opportunities early on.
Jo: The only thing that I would say is that I was very fortunate in my early career to be introduced to, and have some connections with researchers who were already doing really great work, and so I can certainly attest to the value of those relationships and how important that was for my own personal career in being able to draw that expertise into the work that I was doing over many years. So it really is a very powerful approach, I think, and it does create dividends on both sides for the future, as well, so there’s real benefit.
Gretchen: Look, before we go, I’d like to talk to the shape of the National Prevention System in 2023, bearing in mind what the Prevention Centre and CERI is calling for from your funding bodies, can we speak to the National Preventive Health Strategy, can we speak to the Centre for Disease Control, the National Tobacco Strategy, how do you see the Prevention Centre contributing to all of these different parts of the system?
Andrew: The Partnership Centre has been involved in informing a range of those, including the National Preventive Health Strategy, its predecessor policy, and a number of the other ones that we’ve been asked about. It’s a frustration for everybody who works in the prevention space to see these documents without the sort of resourcing behind them, to make them as impactful as they could be, but that’s the reality that we live with across the health system, not everything gets funded where it is most impactful. I think what the National Preventive Health Strategy does, because of the work that’s gone into trying to ensure that it’s evidence-based, is that it is relatively easy to identify some areas for selective investment, if you’re not going to invest in all of it, what can you invest in, it’s pretty easy to identify some easy wins where the return on investment’s going to be good, where you get good bang for buck, and I think the sort of work that we’ve been doing has really been trying to inform those sorts of decisions, and trying to develop, and trying to at least put some ideas about how a robust way of making those investments can work, and I think that’s happened, and hopefully, going forward, those sorts of concepts will continue to inform the investment decision-making in these spaces.
Jo: The thing that I’d add too is that sometimes opportunities, they come upon us, and we have to be ready to take those opportunities as well, and so the work of the Prevention Centre can be drawn on for that, but then also in those partnerships too, that if there is some kind of policy opportunity, some policy window that opens, which does from time to time, you’ve actually got a network of people who can help support the thinking very quickly, which needs to happen, and help to guide that opportunity as well. So, I suppose, it’s a bit of preparedness and being ready to take advantage of those opportunities when they come, and having that sort of aligned, that thoughtful, aligned voice from a range of experts is really very powerful in those circumstances as well.
Lucie: I guess, I would say although the NHMRC Partnership Centre scheme no longer exists and the NHMRC grant is going to be coming to an end at the end of this year, it’s really great that our policy and practice partners see the value of the Prevention Centre and want to continue to invest in some of those core functions of the Prevention Centre, the translation and convening and evidence synthesis and science communication. The Sax Institute has been the administering organisation since the beginning, and they are going to continue to host the work of the Prevention Centre. So I do think there’s opportunities going forward. The new Centre for Disease Control, we know that it will have a big focus on communicable disease, but there is a commitment for that to include, the CDC to include a focus on prevention, although that might be in the next year or two, there’s thinking developed around that, but I think there’s a role for the Prevention Centre going forward to contribute to that thinking. We’ve developed a discussion paper, which is available on our website about sort of the prevention lens on the CDC, so people can have a look at that. So I think it’s important for Australia to have a national space or mechanism for researchers, policy partners, and practitioners, to collaborate around chronic disease prevention, and I’m glad to know that our partners are wanting to continue to invest in that. And I got some lovely feedback from someone who sent me an email the other day saying that they really value the culture and the values of the Prevention Centre, and I think that’s down to all of the people who have contributed to its work over the years. It provides an opportunity, I think, for people to collaborate in the modern world where everything is very competitive, whether that includes research, there’s competition between organisations, between universities, you have to compete to get grants, and I think the Prevention Centre is kind of a neutral space where organisations can come together and collaborate, and I think as people, we naturally prefer to collaborate than compete, or at least many of us do, and especially in public health and prevention, it’s the values of public health. I do think it plays an important role.
Gretchen: I would like to say congratulations and happy 10th birthday to all of you on this really important project that’s just going from strength to strength, the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, which is of course the publisher of this little podcast called Prevention Works. Thank you all, and thanks for your time.
Andrew: Thanks, Gretchen.
Lucie: Thank you.
Jo: Thanks, Gretchen.
Gretchen: That’s Professor Lucie Rychetnik. With her, Professor Andrew Wilson AO, co-directors of the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, and one of our senior advisors, Doctor Jo Mitchell. We have a website, which is a rich resource, so do check us out to dig further into some of the areas of discussion today, and to find all the previous episodes of Prevention Works. I’m Gretchen Miller, it’s been my pleasure to be your host, and I’ll see you next time.
[End of recording – 45:00]
Co-directors Professor Lucie Rychetnik and Professor Andrew Wilson and policy advisor Adjunct Associate Professor Jo Mitchell discuss the evolution of the ideas driving the Prevention Centre, including systems thinking, co-design, integrating knowledge synthesis with policy dialogues, our collaboration for enhanced research impact, supporting early career researchers, and how strategic communication is a critical part of the process.