Background: In a time of dwindling resources, people can travel to meetings less often for professional development and peer exchange. To address this challenge, two Education Development Center, Inc. technical assistance projects, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) and the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention (ICRC-S) have developed innovative strategies to virtually connect professionals, helping them apply new information and best practices.
Program background: SPRC and ICRC-S have eight years of combined experience in developing and facilitating virtual events to strengthen state, tribal, campus, and community initiatives for suicide prevention. To maximize the impact of their suicide prevention training and technical assistance efforts, both projects utilize communities of practice (CoP) and didactic webinars to strategically help networks of practitioners and researchers increase their impact in the field. CoPs convene professionals currently conducting research or incorporating newly emerging information into their programs. Professionals meet monthly in small virtual sessions, breakout groups, and conference calls during the year to explore specific suicide prevention topics, share challenges, and discuss strategies for advancing research and practice. Whether addressing research, evaluation, program implementation, or practice, these communities foster connections and support systems across settings. Didactic webinars accommodate larger groups (up to 1,000 participants) and focus on translating cutting-edge research, highlighting practical solutions to common challenges, and outlining concrete steps for participants to apply new suicide prevention findings to their local prevention work. All webinar archives (didactic and CoP) are made available and reinforced through online Web sites and forums.
Evaluation Methods and Results: SPRC and ICRC-S evaluate all webinars and CoPs using participant feedback to improve future events. In all three years of SPRC’s post-CoP evaluations, attendees reported an average of 28% knowledge gain and 19% increase in their site’s capacity to address suicide prevention. The 2014 CoP, focused on rural settings, culminated in an article published in the Journal of Rural Mental Health on challenges and strategies shared by the group. In the 2014 ICRC-S CoP, 63% of members find the meetings useful to their work, intending to incorporate new information into research or to develop new partnerships. An average of 63% of the participants in SPRC’s didactic webinars said they were Very Likely or Mostly Likely to use the information in a variety of ways, from sharing the information with team members to incorporating it into their own staff trainings or direct work with clients. Across all ICRC-S webinars, an average of 78% of attendees rated the webinars as Excellent or Very Good at providing them with new ways of thinking about suicide prevention.
Conclusions: With forums to learn about new information and best practices, as well as to discuss concrete strategies for implementation, practice, and research, our virtual events allow professionals to readily disseminate and apply new information and approaches in the field while receiving support from an online community of peers.
Implications for research and/or practice: Additional research is needed to understand how gains in knowledge and capacity translate to improved program implementation and prevention outcomes.