This paper describes the planning and evaluation of Transdisciplinary Conference for Future Leaders in Precision Public Health that was held in October 2021. The planning committee consisted of a team of international early-stage investigators. Through this conference, we sought to: (1) gain advanced content and methods expertise in precision public health, (2) develop research priorities, and (3) establish transdisciplinary networks that will convene regularly.
Our conference evaluation revealed that attendees were able to increase their knowledge related to precision public health. This was achieved through the presentation of high quality information, visual aids, and engagement with individuals who are working in precision public health. Specifically, participants found that sessions helped advance their knowledge of the field and covered materials that could be useful in their work. Participants were highly engaged as part of the one-hour presentations, asking questions through the chat feature of the virtual platform, and all sessions were recorded and publicly available to ensure ongoing access to speaker materials.
The organizing committee leveraged our networks to identify and invite individuals across public health disciplines who are leading researchers in precision public health. Providing an introductory keynote session to define terms and review the history of precision public health, as well as a concluding keynote session to summarize the conference themes helped participants to increase their knowledge of precision public health and its application within various fields of research. We decided to provide these sessions “live” to allow for participant engagement in real-time; however, we recorded each session and posted them to a publicly available YouTube channel. Publicly accessible presentations have allowed for interested individuals to review materials and extended the reach of speakers (e.g., Muin Khoury recording currently has > 300 views). One opportunity for future virtual conferences would be to pre-record expert presentations or reduce the length of these talks and host “Q&A” sessions that allow ample opportunity to discuss the presentation content and maximize interaction between early stage investigators and leaders in the field.
Another key objective was to develop research priorities. Our three-part consensus building workshop was designed to provide participants with the opportunity to identify research priorities to advance the field. This resulted in three priorities: equity and access, evaluation, and implementation research (In-press manuscript). Overall, these sessions were rated lower than speaker sessions in terms of their quality. Our initial conference plans would have engaged individuals in-person through break-out sessions and additional discussions. While we tried to facilitate a similar experience for participants in a virtual setting, conducting break-out think tank style sessions virtually is challenging. For example, we had substantial differences in time zones (up to 14 hours), resulting in challenges in identifying times that were accessible to all audiences and limited attendance for certain sessions. We used best practice for facilitation of the consensus building workshop (e.g., provided instructions and worksheets) and included an external facilitator; however, attendance across consensus building workshops was low due to the time of day for attendees (e.g., late in the evening for those in North America or early in the morning for those in Australia). One strength of our approach was the use of a survey to request all conference attendee’s feedback about which of the 10 research priorities the group should focus on describing as part of the final consensus building workshop. Efforts are now underway to continue working on the research priorities through two work groups: 1) Implementation and Evaluation, and 2) Health Equity.
Our final aim was to establish a network of early-stage investigators who will convene regularly. We facilitated networking opportunities throughout the conference, including as part of the consensus building workshop and Twitter poster session. The availability of networking opportunities was ranked as 3.67, demonstrating opportunities to improve networking in future conferences. We sought to identify times for networking that were accessible to individuals from time zones across the world. Our original conceptualization of an in-person conference would have allowed for further networking; however, this was a difficult task in the virtual setting. Additionally, we sought to increase engagement and networking via Twitter, with 46 followers. Given these findings, we have incorporated networking activities into upcoming work group meetings about research priorities and continue to share resources and build engagement with the conference attendees through email and Twitter.
Our future activities include three one-hour presentations that will take place virtually, meetings to facilitate workgroup discussions about Health Equity and Implementation and Evaluation, a six-month evaluation of the utility of the conference, dissemination of conference information, and planning for future conference meetings. Future efforts will also be designed to help increase participation in evaluation to improve the response rate and representativeness evaluation responses.
The Transdisciplinary Conference for Future Leaders in Precision Public Health was a first-of-its kind conference designed to provide a space for individuals who are invested in precision public health research to convene. We successfully brought together early career researchers working in the field of precision health to learn from established experts, network, and identify opportunities for the future of the field. Our aim is to continue this conference on an annual basis to provide a unique space for the growing field of precision public health.