Alan Woodward has over 20 years’ experience as a leader, a service and program developer, a researcher and is currently a Strategic Advisor for Suicide Prevention Australia.
Life in Mind is profiling Alan to highlight the breadth of experience he has in the suicide prevention and mental health sector and his work in the translation and application of suicide prevention research.
Mr Woodward holds a Master’s Degree in a Social Science and Policy, a Business Degree in Public Administration and a Diploma in Arts/Communication. He is also a PhD Candidate through the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne.
Everymind Suicide Prevention Project Lead, Simon Pont explains that the Life in Mind website is to provide a platform for knowledge exchange, in the hope of better supporting the sector and community respond to and communicate about suicide and its impacts.
“We are working towards a way of further strengthening and bridging the gap between the suicide prevention sector and the communities understanding of suicide,”
“Life in Mind is the national digital gateway connecting organisations and communities to current information, programs, resources and research within suicide prevention,” Mr Pont says.
In this interview, Life in Mind introduces Alan Woodward, Strategic Adviser to Suicide Prevention Australia and newly appointed National Mental Health Commission Advisory Board member.
How has research informed your suicide prevention work?
For many years I have sought to harness research knowledge to inform suicide prevention programs and services, to help improve the performance and effectiveness of these programs and services. I saw the value of this first hand working for Lifeline Australia where research knowledge has been obtained to better understand the profile of people using the Lifeline crisis support services, their needs and preferences in service provision and the extent to which the services are aligned to the circumstances under which people use them. Accordingly, research knowledge has in that case become part of the continuous improvement of the Lifeline services, and has represented a much greater input to service development from the point of view of service users – people who need support.
Research knowledge is also critical in answering the question many of us face in suicide prevention: what works and why? The use of research methods for reliable data collection and the use of that data for measurement of effectiveness and impact is essential if we are to answer that question in relation to particular programs and services.
Suicide prevention is a complicated field to work in, but the incorporation of research methods and measures in effectiveness reviews can provide us with guidance on how to achieve our objectives. Furthermore, the measurement of effect and impact is another way of obtaining systematic feedback from those who use the services provided. Research is a vital tool to inform how we consider the effort we are making against our purpose – to save lives and better support people affected by suicide.
How would you best explain the process of translating research into practice?
Translation as the term suggests is about finding common language and conceptualisation of information. It is perhaps taking things too far to suggest that researchers have a different language to those involved in practical service delivery and community action, but the ways in which research results are explained does come to down to understanding, communication and explanation. There is a definite skill involved and any research project should include, in my view, resources and specific activities for the translation of knowledge.
Those working in program and service delivery need to have a more continuing interaction with researchers so that the exchange of insights can occur fruitfully and meaningfully. I am all for multi-disciplinary approaches and for organisations having specialist research units – to facilitate the translation processes and the partnership relationships that will support this occurring.
I am all for multi-disciplinary approaches and for organisations having specialist research units – to facilitate the translation processes and the partnership relationships that will support this occurring.
How can researchers provide context to the public in communicating the complexity of suicide causes and data?
There is an ethical requirement on researchers to do no harm in the way the data that they collect is presented and explained to the wider community – in the field of suicide prevention this is especially poignant because poorly communicated data results and research findings can distort how people understanding suicidal behaviour and respond to suicidal persons. The Mindframe guidelines are a key resource in Australia to enable safe and appropriate reporting about suicide and related reporting of research and data on suicidal behaviour. Conceivably, we shall continue to build our sector’s understanding of how to use data and research results in our public communications; this is a matter on which we could build better know-how and possibly establish some agreed standards of practice.
Image source: The University of Melbourne.