• By Sarah Blower
  • Posted on Tuesday 03rd June, 2008

The importance of being methodological

Methodology gets the pulse going for only half of Prevention Action's audience. For the other half it has the opposite effect. But few dispute the critical role of methods in understanding causal pathways and in the design, implementation and evaluation of new programs.The value of method was evident at this year's Society Prevention Research (SPR) meeting. Several symposia and presentations shared important methodological developments and this year’s recipient of the SPR Early Career Award was Stephanie Lanza from the Methodology Center at Penn State University. She made several contributions at last week's meeting including better use of computer packages in the analysis of data relevant to prevention and improved statistical models of adolescent dating and sexual health.Prevention science has come a long way from studying associations between variables such as social support and emotional well-being. Most work is testing predictions about complex processes and mechanisms that appear to underpin children's social and psychological development.Omnipresent in the meeting were examples of the way risks to children's well-being are mediated and moderated. Rand Conger of Iowa State University, for example, reported on the way community, family and friendship resources altered the extent to which parental divorce affects children's health and development. For some it is a catastrophe. Others appear relatively unphased. Ken Dodge from Duke University gave one of several illustrations at the conference at the way in which genotypes moderate the impact of environmental risks of child outcomes. Dodge's particular contribution was to point out that genes are too often viewed as the risk that is altered in some way by the context of environment. From his perspective environment is the risk moderated by an individual's genotype.A significant challenge for the Society of Prevention Research shared by Prevention Action is how to communicate methodological advances to policy makers and practitioners. Understanding how risk gets into the body is of as much importance to a teacher, psychologist and social worker as to a prevention scientist.Elizabeth Stuart a methodologist from John Hopkins University observed it was more important to understand the match between methods and questions than to know how to apply the approach in a scientific context. A methodologist can be employed to do the work but everyone working with children will want to know if the analysis strategy was correct.As much will depend on the ability of methodologists to communicate to a broad audience. Analysis is a highly technical process. It is natural for a technical language to emerge. But several participants this week talked about, and in some cases demonstrated, the value of communicating new methods more effectively. This will be a recurrent theme in future editions of Prevention Action.

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